The swift cancellation of “Roseanne” on Tuesday was shocking. But the stunning speed at which it happened — ABC insiders said it went from tweet to cancellation within three hours — is what made it so effective.
Even some of the people most impacted by the decision — Carsey-Werner’s Tom Werner, showrunner Bruce Helford, star and executive producer Sara Gilbert — applauded ABC’s actions.
As a matter of fact, very few outside of Roseanne Barr and her loyalists protested — even when Donald Trump finally commented, it was about himself, not about whether ABC was wrong to fire Barr.
This was a clean break. But two days later, talk of reviving “Roseanne” or building a new show around the remaining stars is muddying the waters.
Meanwhile, Barr’s early attempts at apology have been destroyed as she becomes even more indignant on Twitter — the social media tool that got her fired, despite her claim to be leaving the service — and reportedly mulls new gigs on far right-wing streaming services. Now that her talent reps at ICM have also fired her, she appears to have little career guidance at the moment.
All of this puts “Roseanne” at risk of destroying its legacy as a groundbreaking late ’80s/early ’90s sitcom, and suffering the same fate as another Carsey-Werner sitcom, “The Cosby Show,” aka The Show We Shall Never Talk About or Watch Again.
Viacom’s cable networks and the digital network Laff have already pulled “Roseanne” reruns off their schedules, at least temporarily. Hulu has shelved episodes of the revival. And beyond yanking the show off its fall schedule, ABC immediately pulled repeats and scrubbed the show off its various press and consumer websites.
Circumstances for “The Cosby Show” are very different: The program suffered permanent damage from allegations of nearly 100 cases of sexual assault by star Bill Cosby. But Barr is is working to close that gap. Among the scandals she’s survived are a widely circulated photo of her dressed as Hitler, holding a tray of burned cookies shaped like Holocaust victims. She regularly parrots debunked conspiracy theories and crackpot theories — and this isn’t even the first time she’s made a racist comment an African-American political figure, having compared diplomat Susan Rice to an ape (the same thing she did this week with Valerie Jarrett) all the way back in 2013.
The fact that she still got “Roseanne” back on the air, on ABC, is a testament to that show and its legacy. But to try and preserve what’s left of that now-tarnished memory, ABC had the right idea initially: End it now.
Now there are mutterings that the remaining cast and producers might attempt a “Roseanne” revival without Roseanne. There are so many reasons why this is a bad idea: Continuing the show, albeit without her, still means she’s on the payroll as an executive producer.
Getting rid of the Conners and making it a new show — same cast, slightly different characters — would at least solve the problem of compensating Barr. But it would still face “Roseanne” comparisons, not to mention the stench of its demise — and it wouldn’t be the characters that audiences raced to see this spring, making it the No. 1 show of the season.
For everyone associated with “Roseanne,” it’s already the only thing they’ll be asked about for the next six months. Why extend that indefinitely with a frankenshow, and one that there’s no guarantee audiences will even want to see?
The one thing these ideas are good for is saving crew jobs, the biggest tragedy in all of this. Hopefully, in an age of 500 scripted series, they can all find work elsewhere — and it’s incumbent on ABC to help them do that. But not on a “No-seanne” show that would likely be canceled quickly and throw them out of work anyway.
As for the producers, Werner is doing just fine, and Helford is a sitcom whiz with a deal at ABC to develop other projects. Gilbert is a host and executive producer on “The Talk” — and CBS wasn’t thrilled to see her moonlighting on another network, anyway. John Goodman and Laurie Metcalf can do whatever they want. (And this is not meant to be flip — it’s a real disappointment for some of the other cast who were depending on the success of “Roseanne.” Kudos to Michael Fishman for supporting the cancellation, even though he’s mostly worked behind the camera in recent years.)
Some have made comparisons to what happened to the 1980s comedy “Valerie,” when star Valerie Harper left over a salary dispute and the show carried on as “The Hogan Family,” with Sandy Duncan as lead. Or more recently, when Ashton Kutcher slid in to replace Charlie Sheen on “Two and a Half Men.”
However, Harper and Sheen left over internal clashes. “Valerie” didn’t have enough of a legacy to be considered a pop-culture touchstone, or for Harper’s character to be considered iconic (this wasn’t her reviving “Rhoda”). It was an unconventional decision to bring in Duncan, and probably shouldn’t have worked, but the producers and network pulled off the switch.
“Two and a Half Men” had already been on the air for years when Sheen left, and had enough momentum going to survive the switch, just as many shows swap leads and evolve later in their run. And neither Sheen’s name, nor his character’s name, was in the title. That was a show based on premise, more than on one person.
“Roseanne” is Roseanne Barr. There is no show. ABC did the right thing, and everyone on the show responded in the right way. Don’t go back on that now. It’s tainted meat: You can scrape off the mold and dress it up with barbecue sauce, but it’s not going to taste the same and it will make you wish you hadn’t.