Roseanne Has the Last Laugh, Drawing 18.2 Million Viewers in Its Return

It’s the most-watched comedy telecast since 2014

More people watched Roseanne's Tuesday premiere than the show's then-series finale in 1997. Adam Rose/ABC
Headshot of Jason Lynch

If any network executives were still on the fence about the ratings potential of a well-timed revival, the gargantuan numbers from Roseanne’s return on ABC last night should put the matter to rest.

The hour-long premiere of Roseanne in its former Tuesday 8 p.m. time slot garnered a whopping 18.2 million viewers and a 5.1 rating in the 18-49 demo, making it the most-watched comedy telecast since September 2014. UPDATE: The demo rating adjusted up to a 5.2 in Nielsen’s final numbers.

Roseanne’s premiere also had higher ratings than its then-series finale in May 1997, which was watched by 16.6 million.

In comparison, the season’s other eagerly awaited scripted series revival, Will & Grace, returned to a 3.0 demo rating last September, with 10.2 million viewers. Two years ago, The X-Files’ revival drew 16.2 million viewers and a 6.1 demo rating. However, that show received a huge boost from its NFC Championship game lead-in; Roseanne was a self-starter.

The ratings validated ABC’s decision to slot Roseanne’s nine-episode season in the show’s former period, which the network hoped would improve the ratings of its other sitcoms on the night.

“It’s Roseanne’s time period—we just gave it back to her,” Andy Kubitz, evp, programming strategy, programming, planning and scheduling, ABC Entertainment, told Adweek ahead of the show’s return.

Kubitz explained that the timing worked well with The Middle, which had been airing on Tuesdays at 8, preparing to sign off after nine seasons. The sitcom, which is moving to 8:30 to make room for Roseanne, is also about a family in the Midwest. That’s why the network thought “there was no better way to send off The Middle than by giving a very compatible Roseanne lead-in to it,” he said.

“I’m excited for the entire night, because I think Roseanne is a great leadoff for the night that can lift all boats,” Kubitz added.

That’s exactly what happened. Black-ish, which aired after Roseanne at 9 p.m., had its second-largest audience ever since its series debut in 2014, with 8.7 million; it had a 2.6 in the demo. New sitcom Splitting Up Together debuted to 7.2 million and a 2.2 demo rating, giving ABC its highest-rated comedy debut on Tuesday since The Muppets in 2015.

Last fall, several buyers told Adweek they were concerned about the revival after witnessing the cast’s awkward appearance at last May’s upfront. But ABC said it wasn’t worried. “It’s as though they haven’t missed a beat,” ABC Entertainment president Channing Dungey told Adweek. “I really do believe we have the goods.”

Judging by those numbers, and the strong reviews, it’s only a matter of time before Dungey renews Roseanne for another season. Dungey previously told Adweek that she’s open to ordering additional seasons if the revival is a hit.

Lecy Goranson, who plays Becky, said the cast is also eager to continue. “The consensus is that we would all love that,” she said.

Producers said in January that the show, which tackled the country’s political divide head on in its first episode, could help “heal” families who have experienced rifts over Donald Trump’s election.

ABC made plenty of noise with its nostalgia-themed marketing 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 is hoping that Roseanne, along with American Idol, will build on the momentum from breakout freshman hit The Good Doctor and finally get the network out of fourth place among broadcasters in the 18-49 demo, where it has been stuck since the 2015-16 season. While Roseanne numbers aren’t likely to remain this strong all season, the sitcom’s impressive debut proves ABC has a real shot at making that happen.

@jasonlynch Jason Lynch is TV Editor at Adweek, overseeing trends, technology, personalities and programming across broadcast, cable and streaming video.