Words and actions have consequences.
Roseanne, the reboot of one of the most popular network shows in the 90s and the #3 show this last season, has been canceled by ABC following a racist tweet by its star and creator, Roseanne Barr. Barr tweeted a comment about former Obama aide Valerie Jarrett likening her to monkey from Planet of the Apes. She later sent a mea culpa apology calling it a “bad joke” in “bad taste.”
ABC president Channing Dungey felt it was more than that and issued this statement after a furor for the show’s cancelation hit Twitter.
“Roseanne’s Twitter statement is abhorrent, repugnant and inconsistent with our values, and we have decided to cancel her show,” she said. Dungey is the first African-American president of the ABC network.
Disney CEO Bob Iger added on Twitter that “There was only one thing to do here, and that was the right thing.” Production on the hit show’s 11th season was already underway at the time of cancelation.
ICM Partners followed suit dropping Barr as a client soon after she sent the racist tweet that led to ABC canceling her show.
“We are all greatly distressed by the disgraceful and unacceptable tweet from Roseanne Barr this morning,” ICM Partners said in a statement today. “What she wrote is antithetical to our core values, both as individuals and as an agency. Consequently, we have notified her that we will not represent her. Effective immediately, Roseanne Barr is no longer a client.”
This is a good move, obviously, but let’s not forget that ICM retained Barr after this similarly racist tweet about Susan Rice in 2013.
Here is the offensive tweet from today (which has since been deleted).
Immediately following the tweet (which was part of a larger Tweetstorm of offensive comments that included lies about Chelsea Clinton and George Soros) Roseanne consulting producer Wanda Sykes posted on Twitter that she will not be returning to the show in the fall. Sykes is an Emmy nominee for black-ish, also on the ABC network.
Whitney Cummings, Roseanne‘s showrunner, also announced she would be exiting before the cancelation.
Sara Gilbert, co-star and one of the main reasons the show received a reboot, first expressed her disappointment at Roseanne’s comments then, following the cancelation announcement, lamented that they had created a show they were “proud of” and that the comments were that of “one cast member.”
ABC has been under race-based scrutiny before, having shelved an episode of black-ish that dealt with NFL football players kneeling during the national anthem. That episode remains to be aired.
While the news of this quick turnaround was met with applause it’s important to discuss that this was not an isolated instance. Roseanne Barr has trucked in consistently debunked right-wing theories from QAnon to Pizzagate, all with the support (and retweets) of the President of the United States (“Over 18 million people! And it was about us!”) and his family. ABC and the show’s creators decided to ‘separate the art from the artist’ and jump on the reboot bandwagon and this was, by far, the most successful example of it to date. The show’s initial ratings, through support for Roseanne and morbid curiosity, were through the roof. ABC had a bonafide hit on their hands for the first time in two decades. They had just canceled Tim Allen’s Last Man Standing, much to the dismay of right-wing viewers who saw it as the network shutting down its only overtly Republican lead. That show bounced back with Fox picking it up for a new season this fall.
Where ABC, and every network and film studio, goes from here is going to be an important next step. While celebrating their quick decision to cancel is a good thing, it doesn’t erase that they’ve valued dollars over people with this very show. ‘Put your money where your mouth is’ has probably never been more relevant as today but it’s moving forward that will tell the next chapter.
While its clear that ABC was attempting to diversify its lineup that includes television’s only Asian-American family (Fresh Off the Boat) and the aforementioned black-ish, the “they’re just like us” diss on Roseanne of both shows showed us that network knew where its TV bread was buttered. The reboot of Roseanne was intended to explore the lower-middle class woes of the blue-collar working class, just as the original did (and did a good job at). But instead, it was a ‘good people on both sides’ attempt to validate the offensive and racist beliefs of Trump’s base with a figurehead like Roseanne Barr. Maybe they didn’t know she’d continue her years-long conspiracy theory-pushing and vicious attacks, or at least not to the extent that they went to today. It’s reasonable to believe that they wanted to her to continue that because it stoked the fires of hate both from the left and the right (for obviously different reasons).
The greater argument is that networks still have a lack of diversity among its showrunners. Producers, directors, writers and creators that come from the same shallow pool will come up with the same shallow results. Advancements are happening, to be sure, but old guard needs to make room for new voices. Voices that represent what the world looks like now and allowing opportunity and representation to flourish. When you’ve never seen yourself represented on-screen before, seeing it for the first time is a watershed moment. On the other side, seeing a person or a family that looks nothing like yours opens the door to empathy that might have otherwise remained locked. Television is a powerful medium. It’s littered with moments of unforgettable history; the first interracial kiss on Star Trek, the first view of two gay men in bed together on thirtysomething. These were landmark moments that stayed ahead of the curve because they knew it was the right thing to do. TV can be a catalyst for change, of hearts and minds, that moves us all forward and you know what, still be entertaining.