Roseanne put her foot far enough into her mouth that ABC finally had to step in and punish her.
After tweeting that former Obama chief of staff Valerie Jarrett looked like the “Muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes had a baby”, the online backlash against Roseanne was almost immediate.
Roseanne Barr has a long history of saying and doing controversial things, such that it can be hard to tell when she’s making a joke and when she’s just being mean. (Remember that time she dressed up as Hitler and put “Jew cookies” in the oven? No? Well, that happened.)
But it is Roseanne’s sharp tongue and transgressive sense of humor that make her so funny. Nobody would watch “Roseanne” if it were just a show about a sweet grandma who never has a harsh word for anybody.
The reason why Roseanne has been a top-performing show on ABC is because Roseanne Barr’s comedic sensibilities mirror those of many Americans who also happen to agree with her politics.
Unsurprisingly, these are usually the same sections of America that voted for president Trump. These people found Trump’s rhetorical style appealing because he didn’t hold back or bend over backwards to compliment his enemies.
Now Roseanne is being called a racist (not a surprise, everybody’s racist these days apparently) and the head of programming at ABC, Channing Dungey, the first black woman to head a major broadcast network, has canceled her show.
This despite the fact that “Roseanne” was attracting an average of 23 million viewers per episode. That made it a tremendous hit for a network whose next strongest shows, Dancing With the Stars and Grey’s Anatomy, are both averaging around 7 million viewers per.
So, while ABC might want to make this seem like a business decision, it’s undoubtedly political in nature as well. (Remember how Republican Tim Allen’s comedy, “Last Man Standing” was similarly canceled despite strong performance.)
Sure, keeping Roseanne on the air might have drawn a boycott by some disgruntled liberals. But those people probably weren’t the ones watching the show anyways. (And granola-munching hippies certainly aren’t the target demographic for ABC’s regular advertisers, either.)
Although it is true that advertisers are notoriously touchy about placing ads on controversial programs, it’s also true that controversy comes and goes like the breeze in our modern-day news cycle. Sure, some people on Twitter were upset about Roseanne’s mean joke today.
But how many people would still be upset about it next week?
The truth is that ABC, just like every other tv network, is looking to build a stable of politically correct shows that push its socially-progressive agenda. (Jimmy Kimmel, anyone?) It’s not looking for honesty, or for counter-cultural takes on the issues, or for programming that people in middle-America can really identify with and laugh at.
Channing Dungey was undoubtedly gunning for Roseanne. And when the boss is out to get you, any excuse to fire you will do. Roseanne just happened to give her a really great opening.
Roseanne Barr herself has often said that her brand of comedy is intentionally offensive. She hates to be managed and she says what’s on her mind without fear of the consequences.
She has also said before that she won’t bow to ABC’s attempts to put her in a nice, comfy, politically correct box. Late last night she tweeted that her firing had “all worked out” because “as I told u – I would leave when they started to try to censor me”.
And it seems that time has come. It’s a shame for the cast and crew of Roseanne, especially John Goodman, whose renewed performances as “Dan Conner” were widely regarded as Emmy-worthy and some of his best in recent years.
Other shows have survived controversy in the past. “Two and a Half Men” stumbled on for a quite a while after the departure of Charlie Sheen, for example.
It seems bizarrely short-sighted for ABC to totally cancel its top performing show of the past year (especially considering the show was new, and likely had many years of money-making potential left in it), rather than just issue some apologies or try to make the show go on without Roseanne on board.
But then, “Roseanne” wouldn’t be “Roseanne” without Roseanne, would it?