It was, honestly, the speed of the decision that was so shocking. In recent years, there have been no shortage of instances where a public figure’s bad remarks on social media have cost them their jobs or other opportunities. But usually it has taken time, even beyond the initial apology, for the ramifications to be dealt out.
Not so in this case. Within mere hours of Roseanne Barr hitting “send” on a racist Tweet Tuesday morning, ABC president Channing Dungey released a statement that didn’t just condemn Barr’s message, but canceled her show. Just a few hours later, the show’s planned Emmys campaign was a thing of the past, while the show’s entire digital existence on the ABC press site was scrubbed away. Soon, other networks (including Viacom’s cable channels and the digital network Laff) were even removing repeats of the original “Roseanne.”
Even before the reboot’s cancellation, cast members and writers alike were speaking out about Barr’s remarks and how they were disappointed to the point of quitting the series. (Last January, at the Television Critics Association press tour, Barr told critics that her children had taken away her Twitter password. It’s quite likely her children wish that they still had control over it.) But the immediate decision to kill the show was shocking.
Perhaps that surprise was due to the general numbness that comes with seeing many of our public officials get away with such behavior on a regular basis. But as a ’90s kid, I grew up watching and loving the original “Roseanne,” identifying especially with the snarkiness of Darlene, but in general enjoying the blunt wryness of the family dynamic, and the fact that Barr was such a strong female voice in an era of male-dominated sitcoms. Roseanne wasn’t standing at the side of the poster, arms crossed with wry exasperation. She was at the center of the show. (Seriously, hold the “Hogan Family” jokes — there is no way to make “Roseanne” without Barr.)
In 2011, Barr wrote about the early years of making the show for Vulture, and the difficulties she had when it came to expressing her vision for the character. It was a strangely empowering piece to read at the time, if only because she made it explicitly clear that she had no interest in apologizing for wanting power, and what she would do with it when she got it:
I read The Art of War and kept the idea “He that cares the most, wins” upmost in my mind. I knew I cared the most, since I had the most to lose. I made a chart of names and hung them on my dressing-room door; it listed every person who worked on the show, and I put a check next to those I intended to fire when Roseanne became No. 1, which I knew it would.
The thing about the Vulture piece is that she positions herself as someone who was initially bullied on the set of her own show, until the show made her enough of a star to take control. And undoubtedly right now she’s once again feeling victimized by a cruel world that has no patience for her current political views — without realizing her own bullying tactics.
In the same barrage of Tweets that led to the “Planet of the Apes” message, Barr also took the time to continue an ongoing rant directed towards Chelsea Clinton and her potential family ties to George Soros. She retweeted some conspiracy theories, too, as well as this pithy remark regarding censorship:
If it were up to the Democrats, they would surrender the freedoms our brave soldiers die for without a shot being fired. #Censorship
— Bill Mitchell (@mitchellvii) May 28, 2018
I’ve had no shortage of time to cope with the disappointment that comes with a once-beloved icon revealing her dark side, though it’s a shame that the show for which I also felt great fondness has been tarnished.
The tenth season of “Roseanne” was full of bad choices and missteps (remember that painful swipe at “Black-ish” and “Fresh Off the Boat”?) but it brought Laurie Metcalf and John Goodman back to our television screens on a regular basis, and while Metcalf went painfully underused, Goodman did get more than one opportunity to rise to the occasion. The season finale, “Knee Deep,” featured an extended scene that was less like a multi-cam sitcom and more like an Arthur Miller play, with Goodman nimbly playing the immense weight of Dan Conner’s woes, financial and familial.
Unfortunately, that scene — brave enough to eschew punchlines for real drama — was followed up by an all-too-easy plot twist that solved all the Conners’ problems and let the season end on a happy note, one which will have to serve as the final note for the show.
Which is good news, ultimately, as we all now move onto one of the other dozens of shows out there that take on issues of family, class, and race with greater sophistication and without the albatross of a star’s behavior weighing them down. It’s a shame that the members of the “Roseanne” cast and crew not named Roseanne now find themselves out of work. But with any luck, there are better shows ahead for them.