ABC’s decision to order a spinoff of Roseanne—last season’s top-rated new comedy—without its controversial star was welcomed by media buyers still working on upfront negotiations for next season.
“I think that having The Conners back creates a positive spin out of everything that’s happened, given that the cast and crew are now back,” said Francois Lee, executive VP, investment director, at media agency Assembly.
After a huge debut in March with more than 18 million viewers, Roseanne’s ratings slipped as it's short season went on and buyers said their estimates for next season would be colored by the later performance.
“I’m guessing a certain percentage of the audience will refuse to watch because they are on Roseanne’s side of the political spectrum and will feel she was treated unfairly,” said David Campanelli, co-chief investment officer at Horizon Media. “But I also think there will be people who never tuned in who will now out of curiosity, if nothing else.”
ABC abruptly cancelled Roseanne after its President Trump supporting star Roseanne Barr fired off a racist tweet she later said was partially the result of sleeping pills. (The pill maker famously tweeted that racism is not one of its drugs’ side effects.)
Barr had opened up ABC’s big upfront presentation on May 15, and the show’s success was referred to many times. The cancellation on May 29 was big news, but its financial impact on ABC and the effect it would have on ABC’s upfront ad sales was more modest buyers said.
Kantar Media estimated that ad sales in Roseanne last week were $35 million over the course of its short run of eight episodes. In April, after the show’s popularity was established, advertisers were paying $167,159 for 30-second spots on Roseanne, according to research company Standard Media Index. That’s more than the $154,708 spots were selling for on ABC’s Modern Family and the $108,523 average for primetime comedies on the broadcast networks.
Had Roseanne stayed on the schedule ABC would have looked to raise that price in upfront deals. When Roseanne was cancelled, upfront negotiations had already begun. While losing Roseanne might not have had a big effect on how much agencies and clients were willing to spend on ABC, losing a high-rated show would make it more difficult for the network to satisfy it’s the guarantees it makes to advertisers.
Having The Conners will help ABC’s lineup in the fall, buyers said. “Long term ABC will be fine, but it was a big hole to fill in 4Q and this is probably a good way to try and fill it,” said Campanelli.
“Even though the show is named Roseanne, it is an ensemble cast. Everyone else is back. That’s a good way to approach the show. Obviously they’ll have to manage the transition and the storyline,” said Lee.
ABC probably won’t be able to command as high a price for The Conners as it might have for Roseanne, buyers said.
Despite late order for The Conners, spots in the show will wind up in even upfront packages that largely have already been negotiated. “Most upfront deals are bigger-picture and conceptual. Plans with show-by-show allocations are just being sent to agencies now, so this will surely be included.”
Lee added that most upfront packages are subject to change. “Even after the upfront is done, we see schedules being jockeyed around and our shows getting taken off or put in. that happens all the way up to primetime premiere. There’s no question this will be slotted in,” he said.
ABC on Thursday announced that it ordered the spinoff that it tentatively titled The Conners. The cast, led by John Goodman, Laurie Metcalf and Sara Gilbert will be with the new show as will the producers and writers including show runner Tom Werner.
Barr, a creators of Roseanne, agreed to a financial settlement. Terms were not disclosed.
In a statement Barr said: “I regret the circumstances that have caused me to be removed from Roseanne. I agreed to the settlement in order that 200 jobs of beloved cast and crew could be saved, and I wish the best for everyone involved.”