ABC rolled the dice on a new version of “Roseanne” with Roseanne Barr, and thanks to the star’s unmanageable nature, wound up getting burned. After taking a principled stand by canceling the show because of Barr’s racist tweets, the network has opted for another revival –a Roseanne-free “Roseanne,” indicating its new priority is simply cutting its losses.
It’s a bad idea, one that risks undercutting ABC’s previous action, and despite Barr’s blessing in a statement, could open a Pandora’s box of new headaches.
By ordering “The Conners,” a spinoff featuring other characters, ABC is clearly hoping it can retain a portion of the audience that made “Roseanne” the recently concluded TV season’s breakout hit. But like the deal with Barr originally, the network might not have entirely thought through all the potential ramifications of striking such an agreement.
For starters, ABC is naïve if it thinks that cutting Barr out of the show will completely divorce her from the hoopla surrounding it. If the network received a hard lesson that being in the “Roseanne” business comes with its share of publicity heartburn, it’s hard to imagine that she’ll stay completely silent and spare them further Maalox moments as “The Conners” unspools.
Second, those who became convinced that Barr was punished for her politics – and conspicuous support of President Trump – will likely be irritated by this turn of events, eager to pounce on any sign of creeping liberalism in the show’s profile. There are already signs that the spinoff will be divisive.
Basically, then, ABC will still be courting controversy, just on different fronts, and likely with a significantly smaller audience, after the inevitable curiosity about what a Roseanne-less “Roseanne” will look like.
Ultimately, the decision appears to have been motivated less by the jobs saved (a lot of those people would have found work elsewhere, in a business where cancellations and turnover are facts of life) than the simple fact that ABC was on the hook for a lot of money in salaries to the other stars – an expense that would have been thrown away had the network completely washed its hands of the whole experiment.
But if network executives meant what they said about Barr’s comments being an affront to their values, that would have been a relatively small price to pay, especially for a company with the overall scope of ABC parent Disney.
“Roseanne” is hardly the first show to part ways with a recalcitrant star and move on, from “Valerie” surviving the exit of Valerie Harper to “Two and a Half Men” continuing without Charlie Sheen.
Few, however, have come with the sort of ancillary baggage that Barr’s Twitter account brought to the party. And the truth is that such stitched-together efforts – what Indiewire’s Michael Schneider called “Frankenshows,” in a plea to let “Roseanne” stay dead – have a mixed track record at best.
Practically speaking, keeping a semblance of the series alive solves a scheduling problem for ABC, which was left with a gaping hole in its Tuesday-night lineup. But at 10 episodes (matching the original order for “Roseanne”), “The Conners” feels like a short-term solution that’s fraught with the possibility of unintended consequences, just waiting to happen.
Then again, that’s a pretty good description of the entirely foreseeable nightmare that the network braved by jolting “Roseanne” back to life – and getting back into business with its mercurial namesake – in the first place.