Decision stuns industry – but it had to be done
In a stunning and unprecedented move , ABC pulled the plug on the revival of the 1988-97 sitcom Roseanne – because of tweets sent by the namesake’s star, making racist and anti-Semitic statements. The series was to return this fall for its eleventh season.
The tweet Roseanne Barr wrote Tuesday morning was about Valerie Jarrett, a former President Obama senior adviser who spent time in Chicago, working in the city’s transportation, planning, and housing departments under Mayor Richard M. Daley. On Twitter, Barr falsely claimed she was Musilm and then compared her to an ape (“vj” refers to Ms. Jarrett):
Earlier, she responded to a Chelsea Clinton tweet and called billionaire George Soros a Nazi:
Barr deleted the tweets and apologized.
I apologize to Valerie Jarrett and to all Americans. I am truly sorry for making a bad joke about her politics and her looks. I should have known better. Forgive me-my joke was in bad taste.
— Roseanne Barr (@therealroseanne) May 29, 2018
By late morning, the wheels were in motion. Wanda Sykes, who was a consulting producer on the show, announced shortly thereafter she was leaving:
I will not be returning to @RoseanneOnABC.
— Wanda Sykes (@iamwandasykes) May 29, 2018
On social media, there were calls for ABC to cancel the show – and apparently, they listened to screenwriter Craig Mazin:
— Craig Mazin (@clmazin) May 29, 2018
ABC Entertainment President Channing Dungey – the first African-American woman to be appointed as president of any broadcast network, released a statement via Walt Disney Chairman Bob Iger:
Looking at this from a historic perspective, this marks the first time a TV series has been abruptly canceled on top in the ratings: first in adults 18-49 (6.4) and first among total viewers, with 22.2 million – all live-plus-seven day numbers. Second, it marks the first time any TV series was canceled because of an offensive tweet. The nine-episode run was also a big revenue generator, drawing $36.7 million in ad sales.
More reaction came from co-star and executive producer Sara Gilbert, who played Roseanne’s daughter on the show:
Roseanne’s recent comments about Valerie Jarrett, and so much more, are abhorrent and do not reflect the beliefs of our cast and crew or anyone associated with our show. I am disappointed in her actions to say the least.
— sara gilbert (@THEsaragilbert) May 29, 2018
This is incredibly sad and difficult for all of us, as we’ve created a show that we believe in, are proud of, and that audiences love— one that is separate and apart from the opinions and words of one cast member.
— sara gilbert (@THEsaragilbert) May 29, 2018
And Barr was called out by legendary actress Rita Moreno:
@therealroseanne, you break my heart — You are a sorry excuse for a human being. How odd that you, as a comedienne, have forgotten then meaning of a "joke" and a personal comment. Your meanness is staggering and will earn you a ticket to a sad, lonely and sorry life.
— Rita Moreno (@TheRitaMoreno) May 29, 2018
ABC really had no choice in the matter: if they didn’t fire Barr, the network would have risked alienating advertisers and viewers – especially those of color. And the effect would trickle down from the network level to the local one. In Chicago for example, ABC-owned WLS-TV sponsors the annual Black Women’s Expo and carries the Bud Billiken Parade. Any continuing link to Barr would have put those strong relationships with the African-American community at risk – a lesson learned after the Harry Porterfield debacle at CBS-owned WBBM-TV in 1985, resulting in a boycott costing the station ratings and revenue as black viewers tuned out.
And news flash: Barr’s boss was an African-American woman.
Predictably, ABC is dropping all repeats of Roseanne immediately, including Tuesday night’s episode. Reruns of the original series have been pulled from Viacom’s cable networks, including CMT, TV Land, and Paramount Network, and from digital broadcast network Laff, seen locally over WGBO-DT (Ch. 66.3). Streaming service Hulu also dropped the show.
In Canada, CTV owner Bell Media has removed the series from all of its platforms.
Barr was also dropped by her rep agency, ICM.
While all of this is indeed shocking, we all knew it would be a matter of time before something like this would happen. Back in 2013, Barr sent a racially insensitive tweet about another Obama advisor, Susan Rice. Barr was also a staunch supporter of President Trump, as her real-life persona was woven into the show.
A few weeks ago, an episode mocked other ABC sitcoms featuring diverse casts such as blackish and Fresh Off The Boat, angering fans of those respective shows and others. And unfortunately, there seems to be a growing trend of allowing such behavior in the industry, as Bill Maher and former politician Joe Walsh have said the “n-word” on the air and kept their gigs.
But while HBO and Salem Communications would condone their behavior, ABC was having none of it. After all, they have licenses to protect – not to mention parent company Disney is currently in the process of buying certain 21st Century Fox assets while fending off a fierce bid from Comcast and there was too much at stake to have a distraction like Roseanne. While ABC got a instant financial pop in the short-term, at the end of the day being associated Roseanne Barr and her racist, anti-Semitic tweets and the accompanying headaches weren’t worth it in the long run.
As for the company behind her show, Carsey-Werner Entertainment – one of the last independent shops in Hollywood – is also now home to two of the most tarnished names in Hollywood: Bill Cosby and Roseanne Barr, making the bulk of their once-hot product worthless. My guess is, the rest of their library product will be looking for a new studio home as like Cosby’s and Barr’s careers, the Carsey-Werner name will soon be a memory.
Editor’s Note: An earlier draft incorrectly stated Wanda Sykes’ job title on Roseanne. – T.H.