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25 June 2024

Plug pulled on "Roseanne," a rare TV look at Trump's America


Given the boot after a racist rant by its star, "Roseanne" was a rare TV series depicting conservative America despite the election of President Donald Trump, which could have popularized the genre.

In its first episode at the end of March, the series dared to set up a constructive dialogue between Roseanne, a Trump supporter and her sister, a fervent Democrat.

The bet largely paid off, as "Roseanne" was the most-watched series of the year on major American TV networks.

The show had been off the air for 21 years before its reboot, which premiered with almost 22 million viewers, according to ABC.

Nonetheless, the network cancelled "Roseanne" after its lead actress Roseanne Barr used Twitter to liken Valerie Jarrett, an African American former White House aide, to an ape.

"Roseanne" was one of the few depictions of working-class life on US television, and also of Trump supporters, who have been largely ignored by Hollywood.

The number of other popular US television series that present a non-caricature image of conservative America can be counted nearly on one hand.

There is the police drama "Blue Bloods" on CBS and Netflix's "One Day at a Time," which in different ways present issues at the heart of the family.

Traditionally, comedy and especially sitcoms were considered the best vehicle for showing conservative America.

Several series considered classics in the United States were based on interaction between Democratic and Republican viewpoints.

These included "All in the Family" (1971-1979) and "Family Ties," which aired from 1982-1989.

For Dom Caristi, a professor at Ball State University, a television landscape that used to be concentrated around the three main channels, ABC, CBS, and NBC, drove them to compete for a larger audience share.

- Roseanne-free 'Roseanne?' -

But "that's no longer true," he said.

Today, "a few million viewers is good enough," and "they can try to appeal to a smaller segment."

About 500 series are competing on US television.

According to several studies, the programs that succeed in uniting supporters of the left and right are non-political.

These include reality shows, talent competitions such as "The Voice" or "America's Got Talent," as well as sitcoms such as "The Big Bang Theory.

The polarization of American political life makes it difficult to address the subject without leaving a show open to rejection by one part of the electorate, a factor amplified on social media.

"We live in a fragmented media world," where the mere fact of suspecting that a series could be conservative or progressive will automatically turn off a segment of the public, said Dannagal Young, an associate professor of communication at the University of Delaware.

But Robert Thomson, of the University of Syracuse, says the success of "Roseanne" as well as the new CBS series "Young Sheldon," a spin-off from "The Big Bang Theory" that takes place in conservative Texas, will encourage similar efforts by channels, platforms and producers.

"You've got a lot of other network executives that are going to be looking to develop shows like 'Roseanne' that don't have Roseanne in them," Thomson said.

Indeed, the entertainment website TMZ is reporting that ABC is considering re-rebooting Roseanne without her as the central character.

Instead, the show would focus on daughter Darlene, the report said.