On the morning after the 2016 election, a group of nearly a dozen ABC executives gathered at their Burbank, Calif., headquarters to determine what Donald J. Trump’s 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, the president of Disney and ABC’s television group, said in an interview.
They began asking themselves which audiences they were not serving well and what they could do to better live up to the company name — the American Broadcasting Company. By the meeting’s end, they had in place the beginnings of a revised strategy that led the network to reboot a past hit centered on a struggling Midwestern family, a show that had a chance to appeal to the voters who had helped put Mr. Trump in the White House.
On Tuesday night, the strategy proved more successful than the executives had hoped: “Roseanne” premiered to the highest ratings for any network sitcom in almost four years.
The show’s approach to sociopolitical issues — its star and co-creator, Roseanne Barr, plays an unabashed Trump supporter who spars with her liberal sister, played by Laurie Metcalf — especially reverberated among heartland viewers. The top markets for the debut read like a political pollster’s red-state checklist: Cincinnati; Kansas City, Mo.; Tulsa, Okla. Liberal enclaves like New York and Los Angeles did not crack the top 20.
Channing Dungey, the president of ABC Entertainment, said the success of “Roseanne” was a direct result of the post-Election Day initiative to pursue an audience that the network had overlooked.
“We had spent a lot of time looking for diverse voices in terms of people of color and people from different religions and even people with a different perspective on gender,” Ms. Dungey said. “But we had not been thinking nearly enough about economic diversity and some of the other cultural divisions within our own country. That’s been something we’ve been really looking at with eyes open since that time.”
As the Nielsen numbers for “Roseanne” rolled in, ABC executives went from gobsmacked — Mr. Sherwood said he thought the early figures he had seen were a mistake — to euphoric.
“People gather round and they see themselves in this family,” Mr. Sherwood said. “It speaks to a large number of people in the country who don’t see themselves on television very often.”
By Thursday, this dusted-off sitcom centered on a highly opinionated matriarch had become a flash point in the nation’s culture wars. It had also spurred a cathartic response from many conservatives, who counted its opening-night success as their own.
Among those celebrating was President Trump, who called Ms. Barr to congratulate her on the “huge” ratings. On Thursday, he gave a shout-out to the Emmy-winning star during a rally in Ohio.
“Look at Roseanne! Look at her ratings!” President Trump told the crowd of union workers, adding: “They were unbelievable! Over 18 million people! And it was about us!”
Right-wing pundits praised the show as a mike-drop moment for conservatives weary of being portrayed unflatteringly or ignored altogether on network shows. On Fox News, Sean Hannity congratulated her on her “massive audience,” and Laura Ingraham approvingly played a “Roseanne” clip, saying, “Funny what can happen when Hollywood makes programming that’s not condescending toward half the country.”
On Thursday, via Twitter, Mr. Hannity invited Ms. Barr to guest-host his show. “DM me,” Ms. Barr replied.
Ms. Barr, 65, supported Mr. Trump in 2016, but she makes for an unlikely conservative standard-bearer: Aside from her support of same-sex marriage and abortion rights, she was once denounced by the elder President George Bush as “disgraceful” after delivering a lewd, off-key rendition of the national anthem at a 1990 baseball game.
On television, however, she plays a grandmother who is worried about paying the bills and grappling with a grandson who prefers to wear girl’s clothing. The onscreen Roseanne makes for a sharp foil to Ms. Metcalf’s character, who wears a “nasty woman” T-shirt and accuses Trump supporters of “wrapping yourselves up in the flag and clinging to your guns.”
“The show doesn’t advocate for Trump voters, but it respects them,” said Alex Castellanos, a veteran Republican strategist based in Florida. “Apparently, this is still news to people in the entertainment business, that there is an American working class.”
For years, the ABC focused on other demographic groups. With series like “The Bachelor,” “black-ish,” “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Modern Family,” the network’s lineup was notably diverse. But it was also geared toward upper-middle-class viewers, Ms. Dungey said.
By November 2016, ABC was coming off a TV season when it had finished in last place among the four major broadcast networks, with little hope of escaping the ratings basement in the near future. Like other networks, it was also losing viewers to Netflix and other streaming platforms.
The meeting that took place on the morning after Mr. Trump’s surprise victory led the network to reconsider its strategy. Mr. Sherwood summed up what was going through his mind that day: “Given the declines of broadcast television, the year-after-year declines, are we programming in a way that is turning people off?”
In response, ABC decided to back the singing competition show “American Idol” less than two years after it had been canceled on Fox, its original network home.
“We went after it because that’s a show that, fundamentally, is about the American dream,” Mr. Sherwood said. “It’s about a girl with a cowboy hat and a boy with a banjo and people from small towns where music has saved their lives in different ways.”
“Roseanne,” which had its first run on ABC from 1988 to 1997, was another prime candidate for a reboot. It was a top-rated comedy that had won its share of Emmys and Golden Globes — not to mention that the woman who played its title character had become a vocal Trump supporter.
Even as the president portrayed the success of “Roseanne” as a win of his own, however, ABC executives and “Roseanne” producers rejected the notion that the show’s popularity was mainly because of its appeal to Trump supporters.
“I would compare this to ‘All in the Family,’” said Tom Werner, an executive producer of “Roseanne” and other hit sitcoms like “The Cosby Show” and “3rd Rock From the Sun.” “A number of people watching ‘All in the Family’ said, ‘Archie’s a conservative and therefore it’s a show about a conservative.’ Well, it was made by Norman Lear.
“Part of the reason the show is successful is because it taps into the frustration and disappointment that working-class people feel about the economy right now,” he continued. “But if you watch all the episodes, we don’t really mention politics as much as we did in the pilot.”
Mr. Werner pointed out that “Roseanne” will deal with the opioid epidemic and immigration in its seven remaining episodes, adding that the president does not come up much as the show goes on.
As a topical, working-class sitcom led by a Trump supporter, “Roseanne” is unique — for now. Its early ratings success is likely to spur copycats in Hollywood, which is not known for its high percentage of conservatives.
“Money is the ideology of Hollywood,” said Martin Kaplan, director of the Norman Lear Center for media and society at the University of Southern California. “I can’t imagine an executive who would turn down something for ideological reasons that they think has a chance to do a good number.”