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Sara Gilbert on ‘Roseanne’ Ratings Success: ‘Broadcast TV Is Not Dead’

The revival of “Roseanne” arrived with a jolt Tuesday night, nabbing over 18 million viewers — so much so that series star Sara Gilbert says she was “in shock” when the numbers were first reported.

“I knew that we performed better than people expected, but I didn’t understand that they were such phenomenal numbers at first,” Gilbert tells Variety. “It took me a minute.”

Gilbert, who not only stars in the sitcom but was one of the architects of the revival, says once it all sunk in, she was “thrilled” by the response. “You want people to connect and want to reach your audience and so often in this life and in this industry you fall short of achieving of what you want,” she says. “I’m just thrilled that people let us into their homes… I never expected this kind of response and I feel beyond grateful. There are no words because the words all sound cliche. I think the entire cast and producers, we’re all extremely grateful that America showed up.”

She credits the show’s success with audiences’ familiarity with the issues that face a working class family like the Conners. “I think that the Conners have always been a real family with real struggles and never a picture perfect family,” she says. “That’s something timeless, and hopefully that’s what they related to.”

Gilbert thinks viewers also responded to the political divide explored in the first episode, which found Roseanne Barr’s titular character, a Trump supporter, at odds with her sister, Jackie (Laurie Metcalf) over the results of the 2016 election. “Almost every family is divided over politics right now in our country,” she says. “We really wanted to show a family dealing with the divide over politics that can still love each other and come together in the end.”

The rest of the season will bring coverage of other issues facing the family, from the high cost of health care to drug addiction. “We tried to tell stories that people are dealing with in this country and with their families in a humorous and heartfelt way,” she says. “I’m hopeful that people will continue to show up. We definitely put our heart and soul into it and I hope they go on the ride with us.”

Gilbert says it’s ultimately a vote of confidence for broadcast TV given the current cluttered landscape of over 500 scripted series. “It’s hard to compete in that landscape,” she says. “It helps to have a show with a built-in audience. People’s long relationship with us certainly gave us a leg up, but we’ve seen from other shows too that broadcast television is not dead. it’s just a harder landscape to survive in.”

And while other reboot attempts may have struggled, she credits “good timing” and the show’s creative team with making sure “Roseanne” still felt relevant. “Hopefully we stay true to the original show,” she says. Ahead of the premiere, Gilbert told Variety that maintaining the integrity of the original series was paramount to her and the rest of the creative time. “We got to address really important issues through the family relationships and through the comedy,” she said. “It really wasn’t ever hitting people over the head with a message or trying to convince anybody of anything. … So we wanted to tackle the issues of today through the family dynamic and through the humor of the show.”

The cast has been texting each other all day, Gilbert reports. “Everyone’s thrilled that it was born of love — a love for the work, a love for the show, a love for each other, and a love for the people who watched,” she says.

And though she won’t comment on prospects for a second season, she allows that “it has crossed my mind.” And she’s confident the rest of the cast would be on board. “I know we all loved doing it,” she says. “It’s all of our dream jobs. So I think everyone would love to make more.”

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