The comedy “Roseanne” wasn’t a big moneymaker for Walt Disney Co.’s ABC, but was nevertheless a crucial part of the network’s business.
ABC canceled the sitcom Tuesday after a racist tweet by show star Roseanne Barr about former Obama administration official Valerie Jarrett.
“Roseanne” drew a large audience, averaging about 18 million viewers per-episode when it returned this spring after more than two decades off the air. This season, the show took in $45 million in advertising revenue over its nine episodes, according to consulting firm Kantar Media. Next season, it was projected to take in $58 million over 13 episodes, a person familiar with the show said. That figure will likely drop by more than 40% with whatever replaces “Roseanne,” the person said.
But the show was pricey to make. TV networks typically pay production studios under $2 million per episode for a new sitcom. ABC had to pay the producers behind “Roseanne,” Carsey-Werner Co., about 75% more, or $3.5 million per-episode, because of the show’s legacy and the network’s willingness to spend more because of its need for a hit, people close to the show said.
Those costs were partly inflated by high salaries for the stars including Ms. Barr and John Goodman, both of whom were making about $250,000 per-episode, say people close to the show. Actress Sara Gilbert was also well-paid. Ms. Barr and Ms. Gilbert also received producing fees in addition to their acting salaries, and there were higher-than-normal additional costs such as marketing and promotion of the show.
Furthermore, when ABC brought “Roseanne” back, the original deal was for nine episodes only, not multiple years like the typical agreement between a network and a production company. That meant that when ABC decided it wanted a second season, the cast and Carsey-Werner had leverage to further raise fees, according to executives close to the show.
So if it wasn’t yet generating big profits, what was valuable about “Roseanne”? For one thing, it had a measurable “halo effect” on other ABC programming, helping to boost viewership on Tuesdays. Before “Roseanne” returned, ABC’s Tuesday prime-time lineup was averaging 5 million viewers. After its debut, that number grew to 8.2 million, a 64% gain. That allowed ABC to charge more for commercials in that programming.
Furthermore, “Roseanne” provided ABC with a strong platform to promote shows on other nights as well.
Also, over the longer term, the higher the ratings a network has the more ability it has to negotiate for bigger fees from the pay-TV distributors that carry its content.
Carsey-Werner, which produced the original “Roseanne,” will also be impacted by losing the program. The producer is the entity that generally reaps the benefits when a show’s reruns become popular. After Ms. Barr’s tweet, several channels and streaming services that were carrying reruns of the show announced they would pull it. However, those platforms may still be on the hook to pay fees under existing contracts for reruns, TV executives said.
For Carsey-Werner, this is the second hit show in its library to be devalued by controversy. The company also made the 1980s hit “The Cosby Show.” Star Bill Cosby was convicted last April on three counts of sexual assault. That show, too, has vanished from TV screens.
Carsey-Werner principal Tom Werner declined an interview request. On Tuesday he said he supported ABC’s decision to cancel “Roseanne.”
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