Conners Debut Sends Mixed Signals to ABC

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Ever since it was announced that “The Conners” would replace long-running and recently revived sitcom, “Roseanne,” with the forced departure of the show’s creator and star, opinions have been lining up on both sides of the “Roseanne” divide to see what would happen when the first episode aired. Now, that question has been answered, and it seems to have given narrative ammunition to both sides of the argument.

On the side of ABC, which fired Roseanne and banished her from her own show after the comedian published a tweet many found racist, you have people touting 10.5 million viewers tuning in to see the show. Those ratings are more than “pretty good.” In fact, those numbers made “The Conners” the most-watched ABC show of this season so far. In fact, “The Conners” was the biggest new program on any major network.

That, surely, had people in favor of Roseanne’s firing and the additional dagger of being banished from her show, feeling hopeful.

Of course, that’s not to say there aren’t still questions. Prior to Roseanne’s ouster, the updated version of the program netted 18.2 million viewers just this past spring. That’s nearly double what “The Conners” brought in… and therein lies the problem for ABC.

Well, one of two problems, actually.

The first issue is “why,” as in, why did viewers actually tune in to the first episode of The Conners? Was it idle curiosity? Did they hope to see a train wreck, or were they genuinely interested in what the writers planned to do to explain Roseanne’s absence? 10.8 million doesn’t begin to answer those questions, and they won’t really be answered until several more shows have aired.

Of course, there’s an even more serious issue for the producers of The Conners. In doing what they clearly felt was the best move, they have effectively alienated a good portion of their fan base. These fans, a huge percentage of those 18.2 million, tuned in to see political humor, honest conversation and the blunt delivery Roseanne’s cast was famous for.

The show had a lot of heart, but it also appealed to many Americans who didn’t see themselves anywhere else on the TV dial. And those are exactly the people who are feeling left behind by this decision. Many may not have liked what Roseanne had to say… though more than a few seemed to agree with her comments, seeing them as political, not racial, but they liked that there was a family “like them” on TV… and now that’s gone.

While The Conners is still there, viewers understand the soul of the program has been excised. It’s definitely possible that the remaining cast could transform the program into something new and win back all those disaffected fans. In fact, that may need to be their primary goal. Sitcoms are about entertainment, sure, but first you have to get people to keep watching.

Ronn Torossian

Ronn Torossian is the founder and CEO of 5WPR and one of the most well-respected Public Relations professionals in the United States. Ronn is the author of "For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results with Game-Changing Public Relations."

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