Over 20 years after its series finale, “Roseanne” returned to television for Season 10, a revival. The premiere drew massive ratings of 18.4 million viewers, according to Nielsen same-day numbers, and “Roseanne” ended its nine-episode season as the No. 1 show on television. This would be a huge deal for any network, but it was especially big for ABC, which hadn’t had the No. 1 TV show in the key demographic for 24 years.
And with a single racist tweet, all that success evaporated. In the early morning hours of May 29, the show’s star, Roseanne Barr, tweeted out derogatory remarks about former President Obama aide Valerie Jarrett
Less than 12 hours later, ABC had canceled the show. “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.
The decision was meant to be a strong statement from ABC: No matter how successful a show, racism will not be tolerated. But Barr isn’t the only one the decision affects; Season 11 of “Roseanne” was already in the works, and now the entire cast and crew of the show are out of a job.
Though clearly an extreme situation, the fate of “Roseanne” is not the first time many employees have been harmed by the actions of one.
Executive coach Ben Dattner said that often people are aware of the possibility of bad behavior when they agree to work with someone, which should factor into how they process the aftermath.
“Sometimes people know that they’re taking a certain risk if they’re getting involved with someone who is known for being outspoken or pushing the limits,” Dattner said. “What most people said about Roseanne is one of the reasons she’s been successful is because of outspokenness. Anyone working with her is going to have a sense of that. So to process, you as an individual shouldn’t blame them so much but realize whether you were aware of it or not, you were taking a certain risk by deciding to work with them.”
Dattner’s book, “Credit and Blame at Work,” deals with this subject. If a co-worker or professional associate has hurt a project or opportunity with inappropriate actions, Dattner advised separating oneself from values not compatible with your own. He offered an accountant at a company like Enron as an example of someone who might have to do some professional damage control.
“It’s good to distance yourself; you don’t want to be painted with that brush,” Dattner said. “In our contemporary consciousness, most people only process debates between red and blue. We’ve all become so habituated toward outrage and scandal and dissent that it’s hard for us to process other things. So talk about your own values. In your next job, say, ‘I disavow her actions and values.’ ”
Both of Dattner’s pieces of advice — do your due diligence to understand the risk you’re taking by agreeing to work with someone, and make your personal values clear in professional situations — go hand-in-hand. It’s all about how you choose to present yourself, he said.
“Shift the focus from you with that unfortunate event or organization to your own values and talents. It’s a career of one. We all have to think about our own brands,” Dattner said.