My initial reaction to ABC’s decision to cancel “Roseanne”: Well, it’s about damn time.
The right-wing provocateur’s racist tweet comparing former Obama-advisor staffer Valerie Jarrett to an ape is hardly her first offense; she said the same of Susan Rice in 2013 in a since-deleted tweet, according to Salon.
ABC should never have been willing to work with an offensive comedian whose horrific statements were well known. But now I’m conflicted on killing off a show that had a phenomenal cast that was refreshing to watch. Laurie Metcalf, Sara Gilbert, John Goodman and a diverse array of new castmates and writers brought something thoughtful to a show that was unfortunately under the shadow of Roseanne Barr.
While Barr’s show definitely earned some of the highest primetime ratings in years, terminating her contract proved that the company has put its reputation above the numbers. ABC has a roster that boasts hit shows from diverse writers and talent such as “Blackish,” “How To Get Away With Murder” and “Fresh Off The Boat.” Having a show with a star as polarizing as Barr clashed with the efforts the network was trying to make to appeal to new audiences.
The network could use this opportunity to revive the show without Barr. Many popular shows have killed off problematic characters without penalizing an all-star cast.
For example, Fox recently fired actor Clayne Crawford from its “Lethal Weapon” TV adaptation after he reportedly created a toxic work environment with his behavior on set (for which he apologized in a long Instagram post). In light of the #MeToo movement, other showrunners have let go of actors, such as “House of Cards’” Kevin Spacey and “Transparent’s” Jeffrey Tambor, without firing the entire cast.
The cast and crew of “Roseanne” has made it clear where they stand on her politics. Shortly after Barr apologized and vowed to leave Twitter, writer/comic Wanda Sykes announced she was quitting the show.
Gilbert, who played Roseanne’s daughter Darlene, tweeted before the show’s cancellation that Barr’s comments were “abhorrent.” She also made it a point to distance herself from Barr, saying the show is “separate and apart from the opinions and words of one cast member.”
Emma Kenney, who played Roseanne’s granddaughter Harris, also said she was “hurt, embarrassed, and disappointed” by Barr’s tweet. She also added that she was about to quit the show before she learned it was canceled, in a now-deleted tweet.
Other writers and castmates of the show have also disavowed Barr’s antics, further showing that the cast shouldn’t be punished for one person’s error.
I think this could be a teachable moment for network television executives as they evaluate their priorities and navigate a new politically polarizing climate. Instead of canceling the show and sending the cast away for good, ABC should reignite the show to highlight ways to address the destructive racism endorsed or tacitly accepted among Trump supporters like Barr. They could use this controversy to challenge the viewpoints of Roseanne’s polarizing following.
Roseanne’s presence on the show kept it from being what it could be – a way for the entire country to connect with was once called Middle America’s “silent majority.” She essentially used her fame to regurgitate harmful, racist stereotypes and incite a heightened fear of cultural differences she can’t be bothered to read up on before opening her mouth or reaching for her smartphone.
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Although they’re late to the party, ABC did the right thing by immediately distancing itself from Roseanne’s brand, which proved to be toxic. Let America see John Goodman’s Dan Conner, who some might see as a 21st-century Archie Bunker, continue to support his gender non-conforming grandson. Let them see the messy, complicated ways that families find to love each other.
ABC, don’t let Roseanne’s appalling views have the last say.