LOS ANGELES - Roseanne Conner's return to her famed couch may be giving agita to anti-Trump activists and bringing discomfort to some ABC employees.
But it's heartening to another group: the many television insiders with 1990's revivals in the pipeline.
For the past year or so, television has been engaged in a quiet bid to resurrect the decade of flannel, as executives address ratings woes by packaging Clinton-era characters for nostalgia-thirsty audiences.
— Erin Patrick O'Connor and Nicki DeMarco/The Washington Post
Murphy Brown and her "FYI" team will be prepping new investigative stories for CBS this fall. "Will & Grace," who began hearting and hugging in September, will continue doing so on NBC not only for a second but a third season. Netflix is currently shooting a new "Sabrina the Teenage Witch," which, unlike the revivals (same tone and cast), will be a reboot (different tone and cast).
Even musicians are getting in on the act. Next week TBS will bring back a second season of its reboot of classic game show "The Joker's Wild" with that most quintessential of 1990's pop-culture figures, Snoop Dogg.
Yet while many see salvation in the 90's revival craze, others question whether the early success of "Roseanne" can be replicated-and how much the business would benefit even if it could.
"I think any time you get those kinds of numbers it's good for those shows but also good for television as a whole, because it means people are watching," said Greg Berlanti, the film director and television producer, articulating the pro-revival camp's position. Berlanti ("Love, Simon") is behind the new "Sabrina," a more darkly inflected Netflix series titled "The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina."
But others wonder about both the trend's appeal and long-term health.
"I understand that networks want brands to hold on to," said Jane Rosenthal, the longtime producing collaborator of Robert De Niro and co-founder of the Tribeca Film Festival, which later this month will premiere a "Karate Kid" TV revival titled "Cobra Kai." "But does it make for something original?"
"Roseanne's" popularity has been hard to deny. The first two episodes in the revived ABC series garnered a whopping 18.2 million viewers two weeks ago. That's more than any other show drew in the entirety of 2017 save one. The follow-up episodes notched solid totals of 15.2 million and 13.5 million viewers, respectively, though whether nostalgia or politics has fueled the series' success remains up for debate. This all after a revived "Will & Grace" debuted to more than 10 million viewers on NBC last fall.
"There's a comfort food (appeal) from a simpler time, like why people still eat Lucky Charms or Honeycomb," said Snoop Dogg, taking a break on a recent afternoon from taping on a Sony soundstage, where in a velvet maroon jacket he had been presiding over Dogg-ish game-show categories like "Fro Back Thursday" and "Go Yeezy On Me." "And people need comfort food right now," he said.
This television mac 'n cheese couldn't come along at a better time for Hollywood. It has been a rough era for the major broadcast networks, which rely on ratings to sell ads and ads to pay the bills. Last year, every network suffered declines in the key 18-49 demographic. NBC did the best, and even it dropped 8 percent from the prior year. Fox performed worst, down 17 percent.
A well-calibrated revival might change that. "Roseanne's" debut earlier this month reignited interest not just in the series but the very concept of big "overnight" ratings - the idea, thought obsolete with the advent of streaming and DVRs, that the right scripted programming can draw a large audience to simultaneously watch a show the first time it airs.
Hoping to drum up similar mojo, the WB has ordered a pilot for a "Charmed" reboot, recasting the witchy sisters who first took to the airwaves in the late 1990s and making them 2018-ready. Danny Jacobson and Paul Reiser, who created NBC's 1990s marital staple "Mad About You," have been in talks with studio Sony to revive the show; reached by The Washington Post, a Sony spokesperson confirmed talks but said no deals have been signed.
The barrage of throwbacks can partly be chalked up to demographics, creators say. The '90s land in that sweet spot of appealing both to adults who spent their formative years watching these shows and their children who are now old enough to enjoy them - a kind of millennial reproductive effect. If you were 9 in 1990, you well could have a 9-year-old of your own to recruit to these programs now.
The love for the era was recently evident with a glossy magazine reunion of "Dawson's Creek," which nearly melted the internet without so much as a frame of new footage.
"I don't think networks want to be seen as looking backward," said Bruce Helford, an executive producer on "Roseanne" who also worked on the original series. "But I think with the timing of a show like ours you can get a lot of people who liked the first go-round at the same time as you get a lot of young people to discover the new show," added Helford, who also created "The Drew Carey Show." (No revival of that in the works - yet.)
If "Roseanne" can't be replicated exactly, it can certainly be mimicked, say executives, who see 1990s nostalgia as much of a minable TV commodity as the police procedural.
Shows with figures from that era are "an antidote to times that feel chaotic and negative," said Holly Jacobs, the Sony Pictures Television executive who developed "Joker's Wild." "People want anything that reflects a time when they have a positive, safe association," she added, noting that Snoop conjured thoughts of the 1990s and the 1990s conjured thoughts of prosperity and tranquility.
These reboots can even feel original, advocates point out, noting how a known property like the "Fargo" film has been winningly reimagined for FX by Noah Hawley.
But others warn those are the exceptions. The dangers for the TV business, they say, could mount if TV bosses go too hard on the trend.
"A lot of network executives love reboots because it's safer for them, job-wise, if they don't work," said a longtime Hollywood manager who has steered clients away from reboots, requesting anonymity so as not to offend potential partners. "But if they keep doing them we could see a lot of failures. I don't think that would be healthy."
Like others, the manager points to film, whose executives became so addicted to the branded property in recent years they ended up overdoing it, leading to box-office drops from "sequelitis."
TV revivals also face another barrier in reproducing success: built-in audience disappointment.
"I notice when people reminisce about old shows they don't think about full episodes - they think of moments," said Sara Gilbert, a star of the first "Roseanne" who also serves as an executive producer of the revival. "You're not competing with the whole series but with the highlight reel. It becomes an almost impossible standard."
Even "Sabrina's" Berlanti is not sure whether the trend has staying power. "The question with these revivals is simple: Are they going to stick around beyond a couple of shows?" he said.
Netflix helped start the 90's craze by bringing back a new "Full House," titled "Fuller House," about the Tanner children all grown up. Executives said they were motivated by proprietary data that showed a high rate of consumption of old episodes of those programs.
But traditional networks don't have that feedback mechanism, and their belief that consumers want all these new episodes is based mainly on intuition, which can prove faulty.
The returned "Will & Grace" had lost more than 60 percent of its debut audience over the course of the season, according to the overnight ratings. Simply waking up the same characters in a new era may not ultimately hold the appeal network executives hope it does.
Perhaps the most buzz-gathering '90s revival of all would be "Dawson's." Berlanti laughed when presented with the idea -"I get asked about that more than anything I've ever worked on"- and said he'd defer to creator Kevin Williamson. Williamson, via a spokesman, declined to comment for this story. But he recently encapsulated the feelings of the anti-reboot movement when he explained in interview with the Hollywood Reporter why he had no interest in resuscitating the philosophical teen drama.
"Why would you? I don't see it and I don't feel it. The finale was such a beautiful moment in time," he said. "Let it stay there and live in its nostalgia and its nostalgic universe."
Tribeca's Rosenthal voices a related fear, uttered quietly by many Hollywood producers: In the rush to revive shows, networks could crowd out new ideas. "I know there are 150 or something shows every year in this peak-TV era," she said. "But come on."
Producers on others 1990s shows may ignore that advice. "NewsRadio," "The Nanny" and "Frasier," to name three comedies, all have devoted followings and some of the same world-building appeal as "Roseanne's" Lanford. Principals from these shows didn't respond to a request for comment by The Post; neither did those from the new "Will & Grace" and "Murphy Brown."
But Rosenthal offered a suggestion about a show from even earlier last century that might be updated for this one.
"Why can't you reboot 'My Mother, The Car,'" Rosenthal said, referring to the 1960s camp sitcom, "with a self-driving car?"