After two decades, ABC’s award-winning sitcom “Roseanne” (1988-1997) will return to television for an eight-episode revival in 2018. The decision seems to have been largely influenced by a politically energized, and conservative leaning, working-class demographic that came out in droves to support President Trump and his job growth agenda. Network executives have suddenly changed their tune about ignoring this demographic, whom they now see as a lucrative built-in audience.
The original “Roseanne” series broke new ground by giving viewers a more raw and realistic perspective of an average working-class family—the Conners—and all their joys and struggles in raising three children. The show was lauded for simply taking an unlikely subject and making it widely identifiable to American audiences through honesty, warmth, and quippy humor. For fans, it was true entertainment without all the pretentious liberal social messaging we so often see on television today.
What Politicians Sound Like to Middle Americans
Take, for example, the following exchange between Roseanne and a slick politician who’s going door-to-door hoping to sell his constituents on a jobs plan that no one in her blue-collar town can afford:
Politician: Hi, I’m Mike Summers, your state representative. How ya doin’?
Politician: Good. I’m going door-to-door trying to get to know my constituents.
Roseanne: Oh. Door to door, huh? That takes a lot of time. Why don’t you just go down to the unemployment office and see everybody at once?
Politician: I hear you. And you’re right. We can’t let this area’s workforce lay idle. That’s why bringing in new business is my number one priority.
Politician: Through tax incentives. See, we’re going to make it cheaper for out-of-state businesses to set up shop right here in Lanford.
Roseanne: So they get a tax break?
Politician: Yeah, that’s why they come here.
Roseanne: Well, so who’s going to pay the taxes that they ain’t paying?
Politician: Well, you will. But you’ll be working—good, steady employment.
Roseanne: Union wages?
Politician: Well, now, part of the reason these companies are finding it so expensive to operate in other locations…
Roseanne (interrupting): So, they’re going to dump the unions so they can come here and hire us at scab wages and then for that privilege we get to pay their taxes.
Politician: Is your husband home?
Roseanne: Well, he’s on the phone trying to keep us from losing our house. Hey, let’s talk about that. See, we’re broke. I can’t even afford to go buy groceries unless it’s double coupon day.
Politician: You know, we should talk about that. Oh, but I have several houses I have to get to before I quit for…
Roseanne (interrupting): Oh, hey, great. I’ll come with ya.
Although Roseanne is pro-union, the scene attempts to show the fiscal complexities and struggles affecting Middle America. The larger issue, of course, is big government bureaucracy, which drives up taxes and regulatory costs far more than union wages alone, forcing businesses and jobs elsewhere. Perhaps this newer “Roseanne” series will find ways to offer additional insight into the real issues that more directly affect job growth regardless of who is in the White House.
What Will Have Happened to the Conners?
In the original series, the Conner family resided in the fictional town of Lanford, Illinois. Roseanne (Roseanne Barr) worked at a plastics factory, but also took on other odd jobs to make ends meet. During the show’s fifth season, she opened a small sandwich shop with her sister and a friend. Her husband Dan (John Goodman) made a living primarily as a drywall contractor.
But how will the Conners’ lives be portrayed today? Will Roseanne’s sandwich shop still be open, outlasting the 4.5 year median lifespan of a typical eatery? Perhaps she will have found herself unemployed or back to working at the factory. Maybe the factory has become another statistic by relocating overseas and taking all the jobs with it. As for Dan, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, he would likely have seen his wages decline, especially relative to inflationary factors.
Making matters worse is the devastating housing market downturn. The Conners’ home state of Illinois was among those with the highest number of foreclosures and the slowest recovery, which would put families like the Conners at an even higher risk of losing their homes. Today, Illinois takes the trophy for having the highest property taxes in the country, yet the state’s out-of-touch politicians—on both sides of the aisle—recently supported a massive income tax hike to boot.
Given that overall employment and income levels of the working class have not improved over the years, it would not be surprising to find that in the show’s revival version the make-believe Conner family is still navigating the economic challenges of living paycheck to paycheck. Ironically, after eight years of liberal bliss with all manner of government regulations and debt increasing at the highest rate ever recorded in American history, ABC promises that audiences will indeed see an economically struggling Conner family in the 2018 “Roseanne” revival. Hmm. Could this be Hollywood’s strange way of admitting—without admitting—that liberal fiscal policies don’t really work that well?
Hints of Unrealistic Social Concerns
Nevertheless, as I await the new “Roseanne” with great anticipation, I can’t help but wonder about the endless assortment of contemporary social and cultural issues that will drive the sitcom’s new storylines while still trying to appeal to Middle America. If the show’s latest casting call is any indicator, loyal “Roseanne” fans may be in for a real surprise. Network executives at ABC have apparently given the okay to make one of the new characters, who will be playing Roseanne’s nine-year-old grandson, a “sensitive and effeminate” boy who displays “qualities of both young female and male traits.”
Clearly, ABC thinks it’s no longer enough to merely be a middle-class family concerned with the paramount importance of maintaining a good job, housing, and food on the table. That family is now expected to spend a certain amount of their daily time and resources—factors inextricably linked to economic productivity—discovering new ways to embrace a more genderless society. There’s just one problem. Regardless of any intent, while every family in Middle America can relate to the fictitious Conner family’s daily economic struggles, very few can relate to the far less important issues surrounding an uncommon fourth grader with a metrosexual flair—however wonderful he may be.
If you’re familiar with the original series, then you know the show tackled everything under the sun, including drug abuse, mental illness, abortion, even a little homosexuality at a time when other networks shied away from it. Still, the series became America’s most-watched television show in 1989-90 and continued to remain in the Nielsen top four well into the mid-90s. In its final season, it even picked up both a Peabody and Golden Globe Award for best television series. The final episode in 1997 ended on a high note, reportedly drawing in nearly 16 million viewers.
This Could Be a Big Opportunity for TV
Unfortunately, much of Middle America has already given up on Hollywood, with the last straw likely being ABC cancelling the hit sitcom “Last Man Standing,” starring Tim Allen, replacing it with a more politically correct show with half the ratings. Now ABC wants to woo back into the fold the very audience they insulted. With all that’s going on in Hollywood today, it’s hard not to be suspicious.
Still, as someone who is very familiar with the Hollywood casting process, I suspect all the recent hubbub over the new “Roseanne” show, and in particular any controversial characters that have yet to be firmly cast, is really more about the network using social media to test market response to an idea before signing off on the final cost of production.
Will the “Roseanne” revival help unite America, or make subtle attempts to pull everyone more to the Left? Whatever the real motive, the last thing Middle America wants is to be lectured by television elites in their own living rooms. Hopefully, savvy “Roseanne” executives will reflect on this and understand the incredible opportunity before them—to bring back entertaining television for millions of tax-paying blue-collar and middle-class families whom liberal Hollywood has pushed aside for far too long. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.