The year’s biggest comeback had been “Roseanne,” the resurrected sitcom that shot to the top of the Nielsen ratings. That is until Tuesday, when an even bigger rally occurred: the revival of standards and decency. ABC quickly and responsibly canceled the lucrative hit after star Roseanne Barr’s racist and Islamophobic tweet about Valerie Jarrett, who was a top aide in the Obama administration.
“muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes had a baby = vj” Barr tweeted, in what she first excused as a joke. Later, she said she was “ambien tweeting.” (“Racism is not a known side effect,” the drug’s manufacturer shot back.)
ABC executives and decent people everywhere weren’t laughing.
Channing Dungey, the entertainment president for the network, channeled the outrage. “Roseanne’s Twitter statement is abhorrent, repugnant and inconsistent with our values and we have decided to cancel her show,” she said in a statement. Dungey, the first African-American to hold her post, reflects ABC-parent Disney’s diversity emphasis in hiring and programming, including the breakthrough “Black Panther.”
ABC’s “Roseanne” revival was another attempt at diversity — reflecting red-state voters who often feel looked down upon by coastal programmers. “Roseanne” was meant to connect with them, especially since Barr backed President Donald Trump in and out of character.
But Barr showed her true character in her Jarrett tweet and in earlier divisive missives. It should not have surprised ABC, whose television group president, Ben Sherwood, previously stated, “You can’t control Roseanne Barr. Many who have tried to have failed. She’s the one and only.”
Control, maybe not. Barr has First Amendment rights. But ABC did not need to give her intolerance a platform. “There was only one thing to do here, and that was the right thing,” Disney CEO Robert Iger tweeted after the cancellation. If ABC hadn’t moved, advertisers would have. “Roseanne” — and Roseanne — became toxic to all but a few fringe figures.
Barr also did a disservice to those who appreciated the show’s willingness to explore the views of Americans often ignored by TV writers and producers. Barr had an opportunity to use her “Roseanne” star power to foster understanding. Instead, she chose hate.