Yet the spin-off still beat 'This Is Us' and ranks as the top 'new' comedy debut of the season

By James Hibberd
October 17, 2018 at 11:04 AM EDT
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ABC’s Roseanne-without-Roseanne spin-off The Conners couldn’t come anywhere close to the blockbuster premiere rating of its predecessor, yet still had a very strong number that led Tuesday night in the ratings.

The debut airing delivered 10.5 million viewers and a 2.3 rating among adults 18-49.

That’s down 55 percent from the premiere of Roseanne last spring, but was on par with Roseanne‘s finale and even managed to edge out NBC’s This Is Us for the night.

When Roseanne returned on ABC earlier last March, the first episode delivered a staggering 18.2 million viewers and a 5.1 rating among adults 18-49 in the overnight Nielsens. The series then fell from that height and its finale concluded with 10.3 million viewers and a 2.4 rating.

ABC did not expect Roseanne premiere-level numbers, of course. Internal industry marketing research suggested audience interest in the spin-off was tracking about half that of viewer interest in Roseanne before its return.

The episode, titled “Keep on Trucking,” confirmed previous reports that Roseanne Conner died of an opioid overdose. Roseanne Barr didn’t much appreciate that plot twist, saying in a statement that the “opioid overdose lent an unnecessary grim and morbid dimension to an otherwise happy family show.”

ABC has had some rough sledding this season. The network understandably axed its top comedy Roseanne due to Barr’s tweets in May but also less understandably canceled Last Man Standing — which Fox picked up and is now using it to easily pummel every other show on Friday night. In the overall ratings so far this fall, ABC has slipped into fourth place behind Fox (and that’s even if you take the sports coverage that boosts ABC’s rivals out of the equation). Among ABC’s other Tuesday premieres was Nathan Fillion’s promising drama The Rookie (5.4 million, 1.0 rating) which came in second to NBC’s New Amsterdam.

Still, The Conners should help matters, at least in the short term. If this was any other new comedy premiere, last night’s numbers would be a total home run. ABC sent out a release Wednesday morning touting The Conners as “as TV’s top new comedy debut this season” — though that “new” should obviously come with air quotes around it. There’s a big question mark moving forward in terms of how many The Conners viewers are merely curious about how Roseanne Barr’s character was killed off and how the family reacts vs. how many are actually interested in sticking with the show. Our critic Kristen Baldwin has actually seen The Conners first two episodes, and says there’s a pretty big mood swing coming next week after this morbid debut — check out her review.

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