Well, ABC went and did it, they cancelled the re-boot of the TV series Roseanne, their highest-rated comedy of the season. It’s an unprecedented move that will cost the network a lot of money but it’s also a commendable and morally correct move for the network. This all comes after the show’s star, comedian Roseanne Barr went on a racist Twitter rant aimed at a former Obama White House aid on top of remarks about Chelsea Clinton’s husband. We couldn’t help but think more about the situation, here are some of our thoughts…
The network backed the show until it didn’t
It appeared from the jump the revival had a 50/50 shot at success or flaming out. So, before everyone celebrates, we can also use this moment to realize while it was noble how the network responded, they probably shouldn’t have been in this scenario in the first place.
Many have cited two main factors in why Roseanne came back onto the air in 2018 – 1) after the election of Donald Trump, getting a show on the air that appealed to his demo was something ABC wanted as part of its “heartland strategy” and 2) TV re-boots and revivals are hot right now with everything from Will & Grace, Full House, to Hawaii 5-0 making it back on the air.
Roseanne checked both of those boxes, save for it’s oft-ignored 9th season, the show was about a blue collar family in the Midwest hustling to make ends meet. It was also a ratings darling during most of its original run. However, the network should’ve done a bit more homework. In the years since being off the air Roseanne Barr spent the better part of her social media time attacking people with bigoted statements, spreading conspiracy theories, and making inappropriate comments about race, religion, politics, and pretty much whatever jag she was on at the time. Her social weapon of choice is the same as our current President’s… Twitter.
A quick dive into her social history would’ve shown this to ABC, and it should’ve given the network pause before greenlighting the show. But it didn’t and they rolled the dice knowing fully well that the repercussions could be big. During the press junkets leading up to the show’s premiere many questions were asked of the cast and network execs about Barr’s history and they were generally given some form of the response, “separate the person from the character.” The network didn’t appear to curb Barr’s social presence and in doing so indirectly co-signed her public thoughts. ABC walked the edge for as long as possible until it wasn’t in the best interest either financially or culturally for them. There were a lot of red flags from the start but it’s possible they saw only one, and it was more than likely green.
Freedom of Speech?
Some will position this as free speech issue. As a comedy website that defends comedy and comedians all day long, we’re major advocates for free speech and always defend a comedian’s right to execute it. What will get lost in the argument here is that Barr wasn’t jailed for what she said, Feds aren’t knocking on her door at the moment to lock her up. Barr is entitled to speak her mind and as of this morning, the day after the firing, she’s already back from her self-imposed Twitter hiatus.
But this isn’t a free speech issue mainly because there’s still consequences to speech and always will be, it’s the old yelling fire in a crowded theater analogy. The first amendment doesn’t just give one cart blanche to just be an asshole without repercussion. Barr’s consequences were set forth by the company that employed her, not the government.
When you work for a company, they can fire you over things you say, work ethic, something you do that doesn’t align with their values, or a litany of other reasons set forth in a contract between two parties. If Barr feels her firing was unjust, she also has the right to file a lawsuit against ABC for unlawful termination. Lenny Bruce was put in handcuffs and hauled to jail by government officials for things he said on stage as a comedian, that’s a violation of the first amendment. A comedian losing their job over a Tweet is not.
More lose than we realize
Perhaps the biggest bumout of this entire scenario is that there were literally hundreds of people working on the show… not just the cast, but the writers, grip crew, cameramen, lighting people, makeup folks, craft services, and even those cleaning up the studio afterward that are now without a job. Those people have families to feed and bills to pay and are mostly right now worried about that more than anything.
This burden falls squarely on Barr’s shoulders. As the literal engine and title character of the show that moves everything, she should’ve felt the weight of that responsibility more than anyone, yet she still decided her racist actions were a good idea. In a since-deleted Tweet Barr at least acknowledged this fact, but it doesn’t make the situation any less sucky for the hundreds of people that were earning a living off this show.
The Shakespearean quote goes, “uneasy lies the head that wears a crown” in this case it seems both ABC and Roseanne Bar both lacked enough thought before agreeing to wear said crown.
And dammit people, stay off Twitter (especially if you’re a racist).