TV News

The Utter Inevitability of the Roseanne Controversy

Somebody said something bad on Twitter and got punished for it.

I’m still letting that sink in. Roseanne Barr cracked a truly awful joke and hours later her show was canceled, wiping out the jobs of her entire cast, writers, and crew in the process. TV’s #1 comedy in the 18-49 demographic is now just TV’s most recent cancellation. I’m not stunned Roseanne took to Twitter to say that Obama advisor Valerie Jarrett looked like “the muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes had a baby.” That’s exactly the kind of hate mongering, conspiracy theory-courting thing Roseanne has been saying on Twitter for years now. I’m also not stunned ABC’s boss Channing Dungy responded the way she did. I just can’t quite believe how fast this all went down. As Buck Savitch broke down:

Ever since Trump was elected, we’ve been stuck in this endless cycle where our President says something cruel, misleading, or just blatantly untrue on Twitter, and then the media, Congress, and the members of his Administration spend weeks if not months debating and sometimes bending over backwards to validate what he said (e.g., all that wasted time because Trump went ballistic after losing the popular vote to Clinton and latched onto a baseless conspiracy theory about voter fraud). As such, I’d sort of forgotten there are actual consequences for Trumpian behavior on Twitter.

Yet, here we are. Roseanne is canceled because, as Dungy put it, “Roseanne’s Twitter statement is abhorrent, repugnant and inconsistent with our values, and we have decided to cancel her show.”

In a way, this is actually familiar. The internet’s perpetual outrage cycle demands near instantaneous contrition from any celebrity or public figure who misspeaks (like Jason Bateman seemingly defending Jeffrey Tambor in a New York Times interview and then backtracking later) or even likes questionable social media poss (like Bachelorette’s Garrett Yrigoyen liking Twitter posts mocking undocumented immigrants, feminists, and Parkland students). Wrong or right, that’s just where the internet is these days.

However, the offend-and-apologize act has grown so familiar the Twittersphere no longer trusts it and demands more action. Jason Bateman apologized, sure, but that wasn’t enough. So, Netflix stepped in and canceled Arrested Development’s entire European press tour to spare the cast from any further controversy. Multiple Fox News personalities have been put on unannounced vacations after spouting something controversial. HBO took Bill Maher off the air for a week. Roseanne, like Bateman, apologized, but no one believed her. So, ABC killed her show, at likely great financial cost and in defiance of the likely considerable conservative backlash to follow, and now Paramount Network, TVLand, CMT, and Hulu have pulled all of their Roseanne reruns, explaining:

“While we believe viewers have always distinguished the personal behavior of the actress Roseanne Barr from the television character Roseanne Connor, we are disgusted by Barr’s comments this week. Therefore, we are removing the original Roseanne series from the Laff schedule for the time being, effective immediately.”

Should Roseanne the show really be canceled because of a bad joke Roseanne the person made on Twitter? That’s ABC’s decision. Should the reruns be scrubbed from the face of the internet ala The Cosby Show? That’s up to the syndicators who want to get out in front of the controversy. Same goes for the NFL banning players from kneeling during the National Anthem, although their legal standing on that decision is about to be contested.

I personally hate not being able to watch the old episodes of one of the best sitcoms of all time that was often the background noise of my youth, but I also hate that Roseanne, a once trailblazing voice for the underclass, has become an ultra alt-right conspiracy theorist. She’s free to say whatever she wants, be they her legitimate beliefs or perhaps a side effect of her admitted mental illness and drug dependency, but she’s not free to say whatever she wants without consequence. After all this is over, she’ll probably continue on saying whatever she wants, which is her right.

ABC had an embarrassingly large supply of evidence suggesting this exact situation was inevitable. As THR pointed out:

Roseanne Barr’s Twitter feed has been abhorrent, repugnant and inconsistent with what should have been ABC and Disney’s values since long before the show was picked up, and also subsequently. Barr’s Twitter feed has trafficked in vile and disproved conspiracy theories and ample content that walked lines many considered racist or xenophobic or prejudiced or judgement-clouded in a number of ways. She’s engaged in hostile and insulting fights with Twitter followers high and low. She’s shown no interest in controlling herself. This is not new and nobody at ABC can pretend they didn’t know.

When Dungy was asked back in August if ABC was concerned about Roseanne’s Twitter feed, she simply replied, “I try to just worry about the things that I can control.”

Well, now she’s exercised her power over the one thing she does control: her network’s programming. Roseanne is gone. An entire cast and crew is newly unemployed. And someone on Twitter learned there still are consequences for the things you say. ABC should have seen this coming, but, hey, I sure didn’t. I’ve never seen a social media controversy lead to such a decisive real world action in less than a 12 hour period before. Hollywood’s tenous courtship of Trump’s American just hit a pretty big speedbump, and while I ultimately feel this was ABC’s decision to make I still don’t know how to feel about everyone else following suit by taking every episode of Roseanne ever off the air and Hulu.

How about you? Where do you fall on the Roseanne controversy?

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23 comments

  1. Roseanne’s show wasn’t really all that good. And it wasn’t really a pro Trump show. Only the first episode even touched on Trump (and never by name) and the show covered both sides of the debate quite evenly.

    Since then it hasn’t really been all that political. Where it touched on political topics (the bigotry towards Muslims, hiring illegals) it again covered both sides of the debate quite fairly — and in the case of Muslims came FIRMLY down on the side that it’s wrong and hateful to assume all Muslims are terrorists and/or freeloaders.

    But because Roseanne Barr knew Trump was a hot topic, she used the issue to build up a ton of free publicity for the show. And base on the poor quality of the show since then, I can only assume fly-over America kept watching out of duty to show Hollywood there was a market for conservative values.

    As a result, the show became a proxy for Trump so it’s no surprise there was a target on the show.

    What Roseanne tweeted was stupid and insensitive and I have no idea what she was thinking. I wouldn’t even call it a joke. It was just mean. But it seems quite biased to associate her bad taste with Trump. The inflammatory stuff he says that is called racist is usually about a fairly specific group and/or activity (and not at individuals) and the media tries to pretend he said it about an entire race. See, for example, the crazy contortions liberals had to go through to claim Trump called all Mexicans “animals”.

    As for the cancellation, I think we’ve reached a ridiculous stage where every decision is on a hair trigger. The cancellation was a huge overreaction. But, liberals have found they have power and companies are scared to cross them for fear of the negative press and active boycotts, so I don’t see this going away any time soon.

    1. Oh, please. We had a similar situation with the “beheaded Trump” “joke” and back than nobody of the right wing complained about the reaction (meaning disgust from the left and another firing). This is not about liberals or right and left, this is about human decency.

  2. Speaking as a woman of color, I have to weigh in on this as someone who is a member of the very race she likened to an ape! Maybe I’m just a tiny bit biased but I find it difficult to cape for anybody who would make such shitty remarks about my race. She wasn’t ever gonna get my money or love. Ths event just validates my choice.

    I have no sympathy for her, or ABC, who knew she was a slice of burnt toast before they gave her a show. My thinking is they gave her a show in order to seem fair to people, and make themselves look good to flyover country, but they were drooling for a chance to cancel it, and were waiting for the perfect opportunity to do so. This was it. So no! I’m not surprised at all.

    No, I don’t think it’s too much to cancel her current show. (Maybe canceling all her previous shows is a bit much, though) but since she’s been showing her whole ass on social media, the past few years, I long ago canceled her. I wasn’t ever gonna watch the reruns and won’t miss them. She’s like Bill Cosby to me. Irrelevant!

    It doesn’t matter to me if she’s just saying nasty shit for attention, or if she actually believes it. It makes no difference to me what someone’s motivations are for referring to any black person in racially derogatory terms, because it’s gonna feel the same amount of horrible, no matter the reason they do it! This won’t hurt Roseanne too bad, but the woman she insullted will be haunted by this event for the rest of her life, while Roseanne waltzes on to better things!

    People like Roseanne, willing to bully, and (joke?) about marginalized people, deserve what they get. She was “punching down”. This is one of the reasons I avoid most social media beyond what I create. It’s more than justher too, because there are hundreds just like her on social media, piling on people who never used to be able to fight back, or had any say about what was said or done to them. (I can get free abuse from people I know, I don’t need it from strangers, too. )

    I’m not caping for her, because she ain’t gonna be hurt too bad. Maybe she could get a job at Fox News.

    1. I’m totally with you on the disgusting and inappropriate nature of her comments.

      I just don’t see how canceling the entire show was an appropriate response. As you said, she’s going to be fine. But, how many of the crew and supporting actors are going to be hurt by this overreaction.

      1. “I just don’t see how canceling the entire show was an appropriate response. As you said, she’s going to be fine. But, how many of the crew and supporting actors are going to be hurt by this overreaction.”

        This piece at Vulture makes a fair case that Roseanne the show was possibly about to implode and this Tweet gave ABC the opportunity to rid itself of the mess. http://www.vulture.com/2018/05/roseanne-cancelled-why-abc-made-the-right-choice.html

        And THR’s TV critic speculates ABC, which had already warned Roseanne about her Tweeting, might have set reached a three-strike or cross-this-line-and-you’re-out limit with her. In other words, this was a final straw situation, and we just didn’t know about straws #1 and #2.

        There’s also been some question about whether the show could have just continued without her to at least keep the actors and crew employed. My assumption is that since Roseanne co-created the show back in the day she maintains some ownership of it and control over what can be done with it. Thus, even though, storyline wise, it actually would have been very easy for the show to kill Roseanne off in-between seasons and shift to Darline or Dan as the central figure, I’m guessing Roseanne couldn’t actually continue in any form without actual Roseanne involved.

      2. As I said, I never thought the quality of the show was good at all — especially the acting. Ratings were dropping, but not so much that would indicate an “implosion”.

        But, the idea of Roseanne without Roseanne is ludicrous. None of the other characters could make up for her lack. Her character is quite unique and without her there’s nothing in the show worth continuing.

      3. “Ratings were dropping, but not so much that would indicate an “implosion”.”

        Not just the ratings, though. Reports of Roseanne constantly arguing with the cast, especially Sara Gilbert. Co-showrunner left the show and put a nice PR spin on it on the way out but hinted at feeling stifled by Roseanne’s crazy and ABC’s commands, such as preventing them from doing a gun control episode. Likelihood of cast members demanding off the show after today’s Tweet, which we know to be true for the actress playing Darlene’s daughter. Etc.

        “the idea of Roseanne without Roseanne is ludicrous. None of the other characters could make up for her lack. Her character is quite unique and without her there’s nothing in the show worth continuing.”

        Thus the decision to cancel right away instead of fretting over maybe doing a Darlene spin-off.

    2. Valerie Jarrett isn’t going to give more than a second thought to this insult — unless it’s for political purposes. Valerie is not marginalized nor is attacking her “punching down” Jarrett is a powerful woman. Probably more influential and powerful than Roseanne.

      That doesn’t excuse Barr for her remark, but you make it look like she attacked a poor defenseless waif and that’s not the case at all.

      1. Valerie Jarrett appeared on MSNB’s town hall discussion about race in America tonight and referred to Roseanne’s comment as a teaching moment. So, she’s making the best of a bad situation, but I’d hesitate before wagering a guess as to how this has affected her psychologically or to say she isn’t going to give this a “second thought.” Speaking personally as a straight white dude, I’ve never been in Jarrett’s shoes and never will. Whatever brave public face she’s putting, I have no way of knowing what this kind of totally random and unprovoked verbal attack does to a woman whose likely had to deal with this all her life.

      2. Thank you! That’s what I was trying to say. I have not the energy right now to explain how wrong it is for Roseanne to be attacking this black woman she doesn’t know on social media. He just gonna have to Google what I meant cuz I don’t feel Ike arguing for the sake of it.

        I’m out of this now!

  3. Considering how swiftly ABC acted, I am ready to bet that this was a last straw situation, and ABC was prepared for exactly that situation. No long discussions or board meetings, it was clear that they had already agreed on what to do in exactly this situation. And I applaud them for that…I have a close eye on ABC because of Agents of Shield, and the truth is, they aren’t exactly rolling in hit shows. Roseanne was the one huge success they had last year.

    To be frank, I didn’t agree with what they did in Roseanne’s first episode, I felt it was dishonest. But I also understand that in itself it might be a good idea to have a show which reaches the right wing one way or another. What it shouldn’t do, though, is reaffirm their poisonous rhetoric. Therefore I am really, really glad that ABC reacted the way it did. And not just because I think it was the right business decision in the long run (Disney has to protect its brand after all), but above all because it is the right thing to do. You need to show the right wing that they can’t get away with stirring the pot and then hiding behind a “it was just a joke” claim.

    Honestly, this was a good week for me. Between Berliner successfully defending their city with techno and someone actually facing consequences for their disgusting BS, we have another step in the slow turning of the tide.

    1. “To be frank, I didn’t agree with what they did in Roseanne’s first episode, I felt it was dishonest.”

      Even the people who’ve worked on Roseanne in the past disagree about that first episode. Some buy into the economic anxiety argument and vote for change idea that would logically place the Connors into Trump country. Others, like Amy Sherman Palladino, look back at the feminism of the original Roseanne and cannot imagine a world in which Roseanne Connor would vote for Trump. If anything, Palladino thought, she’d be a Bernie supporter as he was the other true change candidate in the race, and then reluctantly voted for Clinton.

      Beyond all of that, the most dishonest thing about the episode is the way it ultimately sides with Roseanne even though it pretends to be reaching across the aisle to find a happy middle ground for Trump and Clinton voters. The episode thinks it is doing that, but by making Jackie, as the Clinton supporter, into such a clownish figure whose outrage has been partially guilt-inspired since she actually voted for Jill Stein it yields the moral high ground to Roseanne and her position. In a way, that’s to be expected. It is Roseanne’s show after all and should thus reflect her worldview, giving her the last say in every argument. But, as you say, thats part of “reaffirming her poisonous rhetoric.”

      The only part of your comment I’d really push back on is the idea of ABC doing the right thing. This is one of those situations where ABC did the self-serving thing and that just happened to also be the right thing. They’re the ones who put Roseanne back on the air in the first place despite plenty of evidence suggesting it was a bad idea, and they did next to nothing to publicly reign her in. They let Roseanne needlessly delegitimize Fresh Off the Boat and Blackish at the same time they were forcing Blackish to cancel an episode about the NFL kneeling controversy. Dungy took an astonishingly casual approach to Roseanne’s history of Trumpian behavior on Twitter.

      Everything was gravy until the second Roseanne became more trouble than it was worth, and canceling it has now made Dungy into this figure of considerable courage when in fact she’s the one entirely responsible for making this mess. Roseanne is going to be Roseanne. In a past age, she was mock-singing the National Anthem and spitting at a camera while laughing her ass off; in the current age, she’s an alt-right conspiracy theorist. Her political views have changed, but her unfiltered commentary and refusal to ever restrain herself is still the same. What happened on Twitter yesterday isn’t even craziest thing she’s said on there before. ABC 100% should have seen this coming, and getting out in front of the controversy makes them look heroic to many when in fact they are cleaning up a mess of their own making.

      But, ABC’s true motivation and/or culpability doesn’t entirely matter, I suppose. In the end, Valerie Jarrett is probably right. This should be used as a “teaching moment” for everyone, and it’s a surprising reminder that speech might be free but it’s not consequence free.

      1. That is exactly the part which bothered me about the first episode, the “fake solution”. Too much like “good people on both sides” (no, there aren’t, one the one side are a bunch of rampart racists and sexist and if you associate with them, you do share part of the guilt…nobody knows that as well as a German).

        I rather would have preferred them not renewing Roseanne at all, or doing it without her in the mix (I mean, why not start a show called “Darleen”?), but at the very least they reacted swiftly when the whole thing blew up in their face. In their defence, there have been cases in the past in which controversial actors and performers got a second chance with positive results…though that was mostly about drug abuse. In any case, if ABC should have started the show is for me a different question. Now they certainly did the right thing.

      2. “In their defence, there have been cases in the past in which controversial actors and performers got a second chance with positive results…though that was mostly about drug abuse. In any case, if ABC should have started the show is for me a different question. Now they certainly did the right thing.”

        I think that was the logic of it, and to be fair by many accounts Roseanne the person on set was not always the same as Roseanne the Trump figure from Twitter. I mean, sometimes she was, arguing with everyone, calling them libtards, and vetoing Whitney Cummings’ more liberal storyline ideas. Other times, though, some who actually worked with Roseanne back in the day on the original show said she was actually calmer and more open to ideas than she used to be since the tales of her running roughshod of her old writer’s room are legendary. I think ABC and the producers really were approaching this as an open-minded situation where their tolerance of Roseanne’s own personal believes would mirror the message of the show of finding a middle-ground through common understanding of hardship. It just blew up in their faces because Roseanne is, well, Roseanne. Also, ABC never expected it to be such a big hit. It was clearly just a 9-episode experiment for them that caught them totally off-guard.

      3. Possible…what I actually liked about the whole thing is that Bob Iger called the woman she insulted personally, apologized and told her that they would cancel the show before the official announcement. Well done indeed.

      4. That is a classy move. I hadn’t actually heard that before….

        Although, and why am I looking for a downside here, that means Valerie Jarrett received more notice than the people actually working on the show. Other than a couple of top-line producers, they all found out about it in the press, which was awkward since yesterday was the first day the writers met to start work on season 2. As of this morning, none of them have any idea if they’re still going to ged paid, maybe reassigned to another ABC show, or if they’re just screwed. They assume a severance package is in the offing, but they don’t know that.

        Of course, all of that falls far below Iger’s purview, and it’s probably all in the “we’re still figuring all of that out right now” category.

      5. Yeah, she mentioned it in an interview.

        I guess it would be hard to inform all the people involved in the show without it leaking to the press. I am sure ABC is now talking to the people which get hit by this.

  4. Have you seen the trailer for The King? Kind of uses the rise and fall of elvis as an example of the highs and lows of america and how it is all going a bit wrong in the usa at the moment. I dont know if social media such as twitter is fast tracking identifying a lot of bad behaviour that politicians and celebs used to get away with for years because there was no way to centrally catch them doing wrong by the mass audience until now. The me 2 campaign wouldnt have been so effective 5 or more years ago.

    1. In the wake of Trump’s election, there’s been this great enabling of hate speech and social media has become an increasingly more hostile place to play in. As such, until Roseanne yesterday I’d sort of forgotten there are consequences for saying whatever the hell you want on Twitter.

      But I’m not saying Twitter is a bad thing, inherently. Heck, go further back than #MeToo. The Arab Spring wouldn’t have happened without Twitter and Facebook.

      However, Twitter and Facebook have enabled this perpetual outrage cycle where nuance doesn’t always travel well. It’s a great tool to hold public figures accountable for the types of things they used to get away with, but it’s also a great way to mobilize and threaten boycotts against someone who simply said something stupid in an interview or some blogger who chose a misleading title for an article (as was the case with Forbes’ Scott Mendelson a while back when he called Black Panther’s Hollywood’s Worst Nightmare” – https://blavity.com/twitter-shows-white-film-critic-no-mercy-after-claiming-that-black-panthers-success-is-ruining-other-movies) or to boycott a movie you haven’t even seen (as was the case with Tully).

      1. unless of course you are innocent. Rosanne obviously isnt nor Trump. Morgan Freeman the juy is still out but thanks to Twitter we wont be seeing him or hearing his soothing voice in movies for some time.

  5. So Rosanne will go back to being a forgotten show of the past. Same as before, big woop. We got by without Rosanne for years. We can do it again.

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