Over the years, ABC has been able to use its May upfront event to ignite enthusiasm among buyers for new shows like Modern Family and Designated Survivor, both of which built buzz after the network screened all or some of its pilot for the Lincoln Center audience. But other times, the network’s upfront presentation has the opposite effect, potentially scaring buyers off a show after a disastrous first impression.
That was the case with its revival of Roseanne, which led to one of the most awkward moments during last year’s upfronts, when Roseanne Barr and the show’s cast—John Goodman, Laurie Metcalf, Michael Fishman and Lecy Goranson—came out on stage for some painfully stilted banter.
As Roseanne returns tonight, ABC hopes buyers will judge the show on its merits and not how the cast fizzed onstage last May.
“It wasn’t scripted, and it was actually the first time that everyone had gotten back together, so they hadn’t really re-established that chemistry,” said ABC Entertainment president Channing Dungey of the upfront.
However, reviews for the revival have been strong, and Dungey said buyers shouldn’t be worried about the finished product.
“What I can say is, having been a part of that journey, is now that they’re back into it, it’s as though they haven’t missed a beat,” Dungey said. “The comic timing is there, and the wit, the humor and the heart. If [buyers] feel like they need to wait and see, they should wait and see, but I really do believe we have the goods.”
Last fall, several buyers told Adweek they were concerned about the revival after witnessing that awkward upfront appearance.
“If you looked at the cast of Roseanne on the stage, there was not one drop of chemistry, and they were all completely awkward and uncomfortable with each other,” one buyer said. “That’s the death knell for a program.”
Added another, who was seated next to a mortified client at the event, “If your clients say, ‘Oh geez,’ that’s not a good sign.”
Goranson, who plays daughter Becky on the sitcom, said the cast had a feeling ahead of time that they wouldn’t fit in with the other actors at ABC’s upfront.
“If you looked around the green room at the upfront, before we went on, you saw a bunch of Hollywood, together, individuals, and then you saw us,” she said. “We were kind of the misfit toys of the upfronts. We knew that; we laughed about it. That’s part of our charm, and the charm of our show—none of us are polished.”
The audience at Lincoln Center was quiet during the cast’s appearance, which echoed the response backstage, according to Goranson. “My manager said you could hear a pin drop, because everyone was like, ‘What is going on with that?’”
Producers said in January that the show, which tackles the country’s political divide head on in its first episode, could help “heal” families who have had rifts over Donald Trump’s election.
ABC has made plenty of noise with its nostalgia-themed campaign for Roseanne’s return. Last month, it turned a New York subway train into Roseanne’s living room (afghan included) and brought the iconic living room set to SXSW.
The network has a lot riding on the revival. Building on the momentum from breakout freshman hit The Good Doctor, which wrapped its season last night, ABC is looking to the midseason revivals of Roseanne and American Idol to get the network out of fourth place among broadcasters in the 18-49 demo, where it has been stuck since the 2015-16 season.
This season’s Roseanne order is for nine episodes. Dungey told Adweek she’s open to ordering additional seasons if the revival is a hit. Goranson said the cast is also eager to continue.
“The consensus is that we would all love that,” she said.