Can the 'Roseanne' Revival Also Be an Overseas Hit?

ROSEANNE S10E02 Still Roseanne Goodman - Publicity - H 2018
Adam Rose/ABC

The monster success of ABC's Roseanne reboot — boasting 25 million viewers with Nielsen's live-plus-3 figures factored in — has international TV buyers feeling nostalgic. It's been a long time since a U.S. network series, at least one that didn't feature the initials "CSI," had the potential to translate domestic success into a worldwide hit. The original Roseanne, which ran from 1988 to 1997, was a primetime staple across the globe.

American series that work overseas are still the most cost-effective programming for international networks: Licensing a U.S. show, even one from a big network, is cheaper than producing your own in-house. The problem is, fewer American series are working abroad. Among new U.S. sitcoms, only The Big Bang Theory spinoff Young Sheldon could be called a bona fide international hit.

Which is what makes Roseanne so interesting. The show would fit nicely alongside Big Bang and Sheldon on Channel 4's U.S.-heavy E4 network in the U.K. or on Dutch channel Veronica, which airs Big Bang and Two and a Half Men reruns back-to-back. If it can repeat its U.S. success abroad, Roseanne could do wonders to revive global buyers' faith in American-made TV.

"Foreign markets are always interested in whatever is a big thing in the states. Roseanne, I suspect, was probably a pretty big show overseas because it was so universal," says Bruce Helford, the co-showrunner of the Roseanne revival, adding that "I wouldn't be surprised at all that people would be very interested and having this show. It's a very balanced show. There is no political agenda, we present all sides equally and hopefully fairly. And I would think that that's something that would be good shown anywhere in the world."

A big question is whether Roseanne — which has sparked debate due to star-creator Roseanne Barr's pro-Trump politics and incendiary tweets — will play as well in Berlin, Lisbon and Bristol as it has stateside.

But securing a deal for France, Spain or Russia on the new Roseanne may be complicated. Disney Media Distribution, the studio's international sales arm, has a narrow one-year window during which it can close global sales for the show. After that, rights revert to Roseanne producer Carsey-Werner and its sales division Carsey-Werner Distribution. It's rare for an independent producer and a major studio to share international distribution in this way and could make for longer negotiations.

Disney may also have underestimated the show's international appeal. In Germany, for example, Disney sold Roseanne to its own Disney Channel, and not the much larger ProSieben network, with which the studio has an output deal. “We would have been interested in Roseanne, but only having the second window [after the Disney Channel] would have been too little and too risky,” said ProSieben acquisitions head Rudiger Boss.

Doing a deal for Roseanne "will be a real headache," admits one European acquisitions exec, adding that "everyone is being a bit more cautious" after recent hits Empire and This Is Us flopped outside America. 

A version of this story first appeared in the April 4 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.