Opinion: ABC Deserves Zero Points for 'Roseanne' Cancellation
The willful blindness that afflicted execs at ABC and in entertainment media over the past year means there are no heroes in this whole affair.
It's been a little over 24 hours since ABC Entertainment president Channing Dungey and the rest of the Disney-ABC brass made the bold, courageous decision to cancel the 2017-18 season's No. 1 series Roseanne following its titular star's vile, racist tweet. It's likewise been a little over a year since those same executives made the bold, courageous decision to order Roseanne straight to series, despite its titular star's history of vile, racist tweets. What a ride!
And maybe, a full day of good takes and two Twitter lifetimes (Drake's secret son, Bryan Colangelo's secret tweets) later, people are ready to move on — including, it appears, Roseanne Barr herself, who was already back on Twitter last night, retweeting doctored photos of Whoopi Goldberg. But I still have a few questions.
Also, I do have a bit of background with Roseanne. When I was at HuffPo in 2006 (nee The Huffington Post), Arianna Huffington had courted her to blog for the site — as she did with every person of note who passed within 100 yards of her in those days. I can't remember the specifics (some Googling reveals that Huffington succeeded in capturing her quarry in 2008 — she was nothing if not relentless in her pursuit), but I do remember, over the course of a few brief phone interactions and maybe an email or three, coming away with the distinct impression that Roseanne was certifiable. (You ever talk with someone who has a tendency to inflect all the wrong words in the wrong places, creating something of an auditory uncanny valley? I did once.)
But I think the more important qualification here is I am not a TV reporter or a critic, and I was never looking at ABC's decision to revive Roseanne from the perspective of: Will this show be funny/good/successful? I'm just a guy who reads tweets, man.
And as I'm sure many more people are aware of today than in, say, May of 2017, when the reboot plans were first announced, boy are Roseanne's tweets worth reading!
But you, casual consumer of pop culture, have every excuse for only recently being made aware that Roseanne is a terrible horrible no good very bad tweeter. I'm focused on several people — all of whom happen to work at the same company — who literally have no excuse. Entrusted with protecting one of the world's most beloved brands, whose eminent acquisition of Fox has launched 1,000 think pieces on where and whether "grit" of any kind might find a home in the wholesome Magic Kingdom, Disney-ABC execs made the decision to build their fall 2017 schedule around a woman who was a good decade into her heel turn as a proud bigot who had yet to encounter a conspiracy too ugly to love.
I don't feel the need to rehash, now, all the extremely "abhorrent" — that was the word I believe ABC used, yesterday, finally — views espoused by Roseanne. 9/11 was an inside job, vaccines cause autism, the government is using commercial airliners to drop dangerous chemicals on an unwitting populace — just a warm-up! Democrats running a pedophile ring out of the basement of a D.C. pizza parlor? Oh yeah. Obama orchestrated the Boston Marathon bombing to provide cover for confiscating guns? You bet! Famed murderer Hillary Clinton at it again, calling in a hit on Seth Rich, aka the genius DNC staffer who provided thousands of internal emails to Wikileaks and managed to cover his tracks so well that the entire U.S. intelligence apparatus thought it was Russian hackers? Obviously.
And that's leaving completely aside her tremendous work in the category of vicious personal attacks, like the one that finally caused the scales to fall from the eyes of Iger & Co. yesterday.
This isn't even the first time she's compared a black member of the Obama administration to an ape in a tweet! In 2013 she called National Security Adviser Susan Rice "a man with big swinging ape balls." A man. With big swinging ape balls.
To say that Roseanne had skeletons in her closet does not accurately describe her situation. Roseanne had skeletons on her front lawn, with a massive neon arrow reading "SKELETONS" pointing to all the skeletons. It wasn't even a "lawn" so much as an enormous pile of bleached bones.
For that reason, this whole sordid episode also represents a pretty spectacular failure by entertainment journalists to hold ABC's feet to the fire. Since May of last year, story after story about Roseanne has treated her extensive history of public cruelty and racism as little more than a midgrade marketing challenge for ABC, if it was acknowledged at all. She was "controversial," "outspoken," you know, all the usual terms media types use to avoid calling a racist a racist — all this while she continued to pump out an unbroken stream of bananas tweets.
Last September, in an exasperated DM to one of my co-workers, I described it as "the single most mind-boggling story in TV right now." Because here, from what I can tell, is the amount of shoe leather someone would have had to wear through to chase down the massive scoop that Roseanne is horrifying and should have never been allowed within 30 miles of the Thirty Mile Zone: Google "Roseanne twitter," jot down a few of Roseanne's choicest zingers and try to get an ABC exec's reaction on the record. (Credit to TV critic Daniel Fienberg for doing everything but directly quoting the "ape balls" tweet to Dungey during the TCA summer press tour last August. Her response was a true master class in deflection.)
It's hard for me to hold much of a grudge against anyone whose job depends in any way on continued access to Disney-ABC talent and execs (especially considering their strong-arming of the L.A. Times last November) deciding it wasn't in his/her interest to ask their top brass, you know, "What in the fuck are you thinking?!" But anyone giving those execs even a single molecule of credit for "acting swiftly" yesterday morning should reconsider. (While I'm at it, no one should be pinning any medals to the chests of Roseanne's agents at ICM, either.)
The Roseanne reboot should have never even gotten past a pitch meeting. That it made it to air, that it was renewed for a second season, that just two weeks ago Barr was introducing Disney-ABC TV Group president Ben Sherwood at ABC's upfronts with a hilarious joke about her bad tweets, is an indictment of the network's decision-making more damning than anything its rivals could dream up. And next year, when ABC greenlights a quirky single cam starring James Woods as an irrepressible bachelor, hopefully our industry will be ready with receipts.
On the bright side, I've never looked forward to a Disney shareholder meeting before. In fact, I might just buy a few shares.
Pete Keeley is the copy chief for THR.com. This is one of the only times he'll write about something not directly related to '80s action movies.