I was surprised ABC canceled 'Roseanne' over tweet - here's why I shouldn't have been
Even a top-rated TV show can't be worth the headache that Roseanne Barr's racist Twitter post posed for Disney.
"Abhorrent, repugnant and inconsistent with our values."
By midafternoon, the show's entry on the network's media website had been erased, and streaming episodes later disappeared from abc.go.com.
Barr's post, for those who don't spend their days on Twitter, had described Valerie Jarrett, a former senior adviser to President Barack Obama and an African American woman, as "Muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes had a baby."
I'm repeating that, yes, abhorrent and repugnant description from Barr's later-deleted tweet to her more than 674,000 followers because you may read elsewhere that this was a "racially charged" statement, and I think that if we can't all agree that this was full-on racist, we are not going to be able to agree on anything ever again.
And yet I'll admit I was surprised by the swiftness and finality of ABC's response. It came only a few hours after Barr's not nearly good enough follow-up, in which she wrote, again on Twitter, "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." She also tweeted, "I apologize. I am now leaving Twitter."
Comedian Wanda Sykes, who knows a joke when she sees one, apparently wasn't buying it. Sykes, who has a home in Media and who was a consulting producer for the rebooted Roseanne this past season, had tweeted, before ABC's cancellation announcement, that she would not be returning to the show.
That part was hardly a surprise: The first run of Roseanne, which, thankfully, preceded Twitter, featured plenty of exits by writers, not all of them voluntary, and I couldn't imagine Sykes, who has played a recurring role on ABC's Black-ish, putting up with this nonsense.
ABC, though, surprised me. Because although Dungey is a woman and the first African American to head a major network entertainment division, she's also an executive whose job is to attract a crowd to her network's shows, and Roseanne drew one.
So this had to be hard for her.
I'd expected, after a certain amount of social-media outrage, that the network would put Barr in Twitter jail and possibly delay the show's return next fall to put a little more distance between its star's hateful social-media presence and the top-rated comedy she headlined. Maybe send her to diversity training, Starbucks-style.
Writing about television can make a person cynical. Or maybe I just wasn't being cynical enough?
Roseanne, whose return after more than two decades drew more than 18 million viewers in March and whose nine-episode season averaged more than 21 million in Nielsen's live-plus-seven-day ratings, is a very big deal for ABC. This month, it kicked off its annual presentation to ad buyers in New York with a performance that included Barr singing "My Way" and then introducing Ben Sherwood, president of the Disney-ABC Television Group.
But its polarizing star has always had the potential to become a very big headache for the Walt Disney Co., which owns not just ABC, but things like theme parks and Marvel and Pixar and cable networks and maybe even the company that makes the chips implanted in children at birth that makes them beg to be taken to Disney World as soon as they can form sentences. (Yes, that last bit really is a joke. I hope.)
This is the company that's brought us everything from Black Panther to Frozen and helped form memories for generations of children. It can't want — or afford — to be associated with racism.
No one can say ABC didn't know what Barr, whose Twitter feed has trafficked in far-right conspiracy theories, was capable of. In 2013, she also used ape in reference to Obama national security adviser Susan Rice, following that, too, with a deletion and an apology. Even the actress and producer herself acknowledged her social-media use might be a problem.
In a meeting with reporters in January to promote the new Roseanne, Barr said, "I'm not on Twitter anymore, and, actually, it was my children took my Twitter password away from me. … I did not want it to overshadow the show, so I'm taking a little bit of a break."
It could be argued that people who do bad things can still make good TV. I've been known to argue it myself, as I mourned, for instance, the damage done to our memories of The Cosby Show, even asking in 2014, whether amid the allegations against Bill Cosby, we also needed to lose Cliff Huxtable.
Most of the responses I got from readers then were that, yes, we needed to lose him because it was just too hard to watch Cosby Show reruns and not think about its star drugging and sexually assaulting women.
The character Barr portrayed in the 2018 Roseanne wasn't the working-class progressive I remember from the original (like the woman playing her, she was a supporter of President Trump, and she seems to have forgotten how she once felt about corporal punishment). But I enjoyed seeing Roseanne Conner back with Dan (John Goodman), and the core cast remains one of the best in sitcom history.
It would be too hard to keep watching, though, after this latest reminder that Barr is using her fame to spread not laughter, but bigotry.