THR’s awards columnist sorts through the the Conner family’s return to TV, which rocked the ratings, to explore how the TV Academy may respond to the controversial reboot.
A year and a half after Donald Trump exceeded virtually all expectations and shocked America (with his election as president), a rebooted version of Roseanne, the trailblazing and beloved TV sitcom about a blue-collar family, which ran on ABC from 1988 through 1997, has done the same.
The return of Roseanne‘s Conner clan registered ratings on a scale rarely equaled over the two-plus decades since the show was last on the air: 18.2 million viewers, including 5.1 million in the key 18-49 demo, making it the highest-rated regularly scheduled scripted show since Empire was at its peak, as well as the highest-rated sitcom broadcast in over three years. When factoring in time-shifting, its numbers soar even further: It drew a record 25 million viewers and 7.3 million in the 18-49 demo. Not surprisingly, it was renewed for a second season within days of its return.
Which raises the question: Can Roseanne also now expect to be a player at the 70th Emmys on Sept. 17?
There could be a few obstacles in its wake. During its original nine seasons, Roseanne was never an Emmy darling. It did earn 25 nominations, winning four times in the acting categories. But it attracted only one writing nom and never was nominated for best comedy series. By comparison, the original eight seasons of Will & Grace, which partially overlapped with those of Roseanne (and which also returned to TV this season), amassed 83 noms and 16 wins.
Roseanne Barr, an executive producer and the eponymous star of the show, was widely viewed as controversial back then, and she’s only become more so with the passage of time, emerging as one of Trump’s most ardent, vocal and not-infrequently misinformed supporters — both in real-life and in the reboot itself. The new season’s first episode never mentioned the 45th president by his name, and apparently none of its other episodes will either, but there was no doubt about the identity of the “him” who Roseanne was championing throughout the premiere episode. Indeed, President Trump himself clearly concluded as much — he rang up Roseanne after the ratings were announced to congratulate her, and also told supporters, during an Ohio stump speech the following day, that Apprentice producer turned political backer Mark Burnett had called him to share news of the blockbuster ratings. Gesturing out toward the crowd, Trump proclaimed that the show is “about us.”
While this sort of thing may be helpful in hotbeds of conservatism like Tulsa, Oklahoma, where Roseanne‘s return attracted massive viewership, it certainly won’t be in the liberal bastion of Hollywood, where most Emmy voters are based. In fact, some high-profile members of the community — among them, Shameless‘ Emmy Rossum (see here) and Will & Grace‘s Debra Messing (see here) — have already taken the unusual step of publicly denouncing a fellow denizen.
That being said, one cannot write off Roseanne‘s Emmy prospects.
Why? First and foremost, because the rest of the current season will apparently be very different from the opening episode (and Barr’s own Twitter feed). Whitney Cummings, another of the show’s exec producers, recently volunteered, “We keep saying that the first episode is going to piss off liberals and the other eight are going to piss off conservatives.”
Additionally, there is a whole generation of people working in TV today — many of whom are TV Academy members — who came of age with and greatly admired the original Roseanne, and really want to like the reboot, too. Take, for example, SMILF‘s left-leaning creator, writer, director, executive producer and star Frankie Shaw, who recently told me that Roseanne was the most important show of her childhood and helped to inspire her own acclaimed new show. As long as people like that feel that they can enjoy the show without feeling like they are abdicating their values, their ballot may be in play.
Last, but certainly not least, there are plenty of ways of rejecting Barr (who won the best actress in a comedy series Emmy once during the show’s maiden voyage) without rejecting Roseanne. The show involves a lot of people who Hollywood types actually do like, from co-stars John Goodman (who was nominated for the best actor in a comedy series Emmy seven times the first go-around, but never won) and Laurie Metcalf (she was nominated for best supporting actress in a comedy series four times, winning three in a row) to Cummings and head writer Wanda Sykes. There’s no reason to believe they couldn’t find backing, whether or not Barr herself can.
And, as hard as it may be for some to believe, one can’t even count out Barr herself. The reigning queen of the best actress in a comedy series category, Veep‘s Julia Louis-Dreyfus, is ineligible this cycle, leaving a gaping void. One can safely assume that breakout star Rachel Brosnahan (The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel) and veterans Allison Janney (Mom) and Messing (Will & Grace) will claim three of the category’s seven slots, but after that? Things are pretty up for grabs.
Hollywood has a long of history of forgiving, if not forgetting, behavior it dislikes when it is followed by good work — of separating the art from the artist. Just ask Mel Gibson, who, like Barr, got himself into hot water over anti-Semitic behavior, went away for a while and returned with something that people couldn’t help but feel excited about. Hacksaw Ridge wound up with six Oscar noms, including one for best picture and another for best director — and Gibson didn’t have the excuse that Barr has for some of her more erratic behavior, namely, publicly acknowledging that she has suffered from mental health issues in the past.
And guess what? There’s one more factor: There are actually some conservatives among the TV Academy membership. They include, as The Hollywood Reporter was the first to report, Trump himself.