On the Cancellation of the ABC Hit Show "Roseanne"

The speed at which the cancellation of Roseanne occurred is quite astonishing. “I apologize to Valerie Jarrett and to all Americans,” the sitcom star Tweeted. “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.” That was too little too late. Trying to slough off the tweets that led to her cancellation as in “bad taste” was not nearly enough.

Let’s recap what happened. Roseanne Barr went on a tear of racist and anti-Semitic tweets early Tuesday. The anti-Semitic tweets, it should be noted, were re-Tweeted by Donald Trump, Jr. By Tuesday, the comedienne had escalated, making racist comments about Valerie Jarrett, former senior advisor to President Barack Obama. Barr wrote, now deleted, on her Twitter account: “muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes had a baby”.

Then came the backlash. The twitterverse exploded. Even Sara Gilbert, a co-worker, turned against the show’s starOn Tuesday Wanda Sykes quit as a consulting producer (two days a week) on the Roseanne Show after a racist Twitter rant by the show’s namesake. "I will not be returning to @RoseanneOnABC," Sykes tweeted. Roseanne’s debut episode was the highest rated sit-com in years. And then, after about a half an hour (oh to have been a fly-on-the-wall), the apology. “I apologize to Valerie Jarrett and to all Americans,” she wrote. “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.”

It was not in bad taste and it was not an isolated incident. She also made racist “jokes” about Susan Rice. It was a clearly racist statement in the era of Starbucks in the age of Trump. Also – there is the anti-Semitic aspect to the story. After midnight, Barr started oddly tweeting conspiratorial, anti-Semitic tweets about George Soros insinuating that he was seeking to “overthrow of the US constitutional republic by buying/backing candidates 4 local district attorney races who will ignore US law & favor 'feelings' instead-and call everyone who is alarmed by that 'racist'.” Huh?

It gets worse. Barr, furthering the anti-Semitism of the alt right, continued to focus on Soros, claiming he was a Nazi and, even more bizarrely, that Chelsea Clinton was married to one of them. Clinton very politely set Roseanne Barr straight. "Sorry to have tweeted incorrect info about you!I Please forgive me!" Barr wrote to the daughter of Hillary Clinton. "By the way, George Soros is a nazi who turned in his fellow Jews 2 be murdered in German concentration camps & stole their wealth-were you aware of that? But, we all make mistakes, right Chelsea?" What the f***?!

In the end, even having a hit show at the network did not make Roseanne Barr invulnerable. She was promptly fired by ABC. "Roseanne's Twitter statement is abhorrent, repugnant and inconsistent with our values, and we have decided to cancel her show," ABC Entertainment president Channing Dungey said in a statement. And then something very, very curious happened. An extremely rare media event. The CEO of Disney, a man of immense power and prestige, decided to weigh in -- on an issue of morality – on Twitter. "There was only one thing to do here, and that was the right thing," Bob Iger tweeted.

After her cancellation, even the Reverend Al Sharpton was “pleasantly surprised” on MSNBC live less than an hour after the corporate memo was released on Tuesday. “To compare a learned, respect public servant to an ape … reminds us of all the instances of blacks being compared to monkeys,” Sharpton said. The highly rated show had just been picked up for a second season. "The ninth and final episode of the series' 10th season averaged a 2.4 rating among adults 18-49 and 10.3 million viewers," wrote The Hollywood Reporter.

“My mind is honestly blown,” Tweeted Emily Nussbaum, Pulitzer-winning New Yorker TV critic. “That took real guts and integrity.” And speed, to be sure. There was no lumbering at this major media corporation. ABC made the right decision, and they made it quickly. ABC, of course, is owned by Disney, which is about as family-friendly as it is imaginable to be in corporate America. And that was a major factor in the speed of the decision. “Obviously, I wish they hadn't green-lighted the show in the first place,” Nussbaum responded to me on Twitter. “But it is a *big deal* for a corporation to cancel a hit. I can't think of an example of something quite like this happening in the past. Good for them.”

So – what is next for Roseanne Barr? Roseanne Barr, who has been on 'The Oprah Winfrey Show' before, would probably do best at explaining herself and the fallout on the neutral network television grounds of 60Minutes at CBS. She should certainly not expect softballs, if/when this event occurs.

Who are we kidding? 

It will occur, it will be must-watch TV, and it will be a contentious interview. Stay tuned.


Cover photo via Fortune