In a recent piece in the New York Times, ABC Network chiefs described how the decision to reboot two successful shows–Roseanne and American Idol–was part of a strategy to reach working class Americans, many of whom voted for Donald Trump.
The morning after the 2016 election, the NYT describes, a group of nearly a dozen ABC executives gathered at their Burbank, California, headquarters to determine what Donald Trump’s presidential victory meant for the network’s future.
“We looked at each other and said, ‘There’s a lot about this country we need to learn a lot more about, here on the coasts,’” Ben Sherwood, president of Disney and ABC’s television group told the NYT. Sherwood asked himself, “Given the declines of broadcast television, the year-after-year declines, are we programming in a way that is turning people off?”
The result of the meeting was a revised strategy that led to the Roseanne reboot–a show about a struggling Midwestern family. ABC brass figured the revived series had a chance to appeal to the voters who had helped put Trump in the White House. The show’s creator, Roseanne Barr, is an avid Trump supporter, as is the character she plays on the show.
But that’s not all. The ABC decision to bring back American Idol less than two years after it had been canceled on Fox, was also part of the “appeal to the heartland” strategy in the wake of Trump’s win. “We went after it because that’s a show that, fundamentally, is about the American dream,” Sherwood said.
The strategy has had uneven results. The Roseanne premiere garnered the highest ratings for any network sitcom in almost four years, drawing 18.2 million viewers with an impressive 5.1 rating among adults between 18 and 49, according to Nielsen data.
American Idol has maintained modest ratings since it debuted on March 11 with a 2.3 in the demo. Both shows were #1 powerhouses at their zeniths. But the big difference? Roseanne took a 21 year break, while American Idol merely skipped a season after FOX cancelled it.
There were a few entertainment writers who drew straight line comparisons between American Idol and Trumpism. I dismissed it as lazy thinking. And even with ABC straight up admitting Trump’s win inspired American Idol’s return, I STILL don’t buy it.
Sure, the premiere featured sweeping shots of America’s heartland and talk of realizing the American Dream. But are those fantasies for conservatives only? It’s true the rebooted version of American Idol may not be for the cynical pundits who write for mainstream publications. The reception for the barely gone competitive reality show has been brutal at times.
But I believe, while TPTB are appealing to the apple pie set (which is nothing new, to be honest) they’ve also made an effort to cast a diverse set of singers. Among the corn-spun country singers and White Guys with Guitars who have advanced to Hollywood are Idol’s first ever singer competing in drag, and an African refugee straight from one of Trump’s sh*thole African countries. There’s an out lesbian whose wife is deployed in the military and a young south asian singer who has the talent to win it all. As always with Idol–there’s something for everyone here, red and blue types alike.
One could argue that Roseanne has also made an attempt to reach out across the political divide. The show’s extended family include a staunch Hillary supporter, and one child who is biracial and another that is gender fluid. But there’s no getting around that the woman helming the ship is not only a die hard Trump fan, but espouses some of his followers’ crazier rhetoric, including downright dangerous conspiracy theories. No matter what the more liberal minded producers and writers bring to the table, it’s going to be difficult to assess the show outside of the Trumpism responsible for its return.