Can We Just Cancel Rosanne Barr Instead?
Following a racist tweet aimed at former President Obama advisor Valerie Jarrett that sparked public outcry, Roseanne Barr’s eponymous sitcom was canceled by ABC in a landmark decision by the network. Barr has since been dropped as a client by her talent agency, ICM, and reruns of the show have been pulled from Viacom networks including Paramount, CMT and TV Land.
While the networks aim to course correct, scrubbing the 65-year-old from every visible surface, one has to wonder, what innocent bystanders will get hit by the fallout?
“The terrible part is all of the talented innocent people who worked on that show now suffer because of this,” tweeted Shonda Rhimes, herself no stranger to what it takes to pull of a hit show on ABC. She added the hashtag, "#notjustice."
Wanda Sykes, a contributing producer and writer for the show, announced via Twitter that she was quitting the show following Barr’s tweet, and Emma Kenney, the 18-year-old actress who played Harris on the show, also revealed that she had intended to announce her resignation after reading Barr’s words, only to be told by her manager that the show had already been canceled.
But Sykes and Kenney (who has reprised her role as Debbie on Showtime’s Shameless for 7 years) may have more wiggle room than most, falling back on other projects and producers that can't wait to snatch up their new free time. But what about the dozens of others who worked on the program? After all, it was more than just the titular Barr who helped launch the ABC sitcom to the front of the pack, where it annihilated its primetime competition and became the highest-rated show of the 2017-2018 broadcast season among the sought-after 18-49 demographic, according to Variety.
VIDEO: ABC Canceled 'Roseanne' After Roseanne Barr's Racist Tweet
Another sort-of tongue-in-cheek Twitter campaign to employ John Goodman and Laurie Metcalf—two critically-acclaimed actors—has also begun circulating on the internet, though we have a feeling that they, too, will have no trouble getting work. So far, no campaigns have been launched for the stagehands, makeup artists, costume designers or writers.
"We found out first through the press," veteran writer and Roseanne producer Dave Caplan told The Hollywood Reporter's Lesley Goldberg of finding out about the cancellation. The news was revealed on what would have been day one of work on the reboot's second season. "We all knew it was a possibility but the suddenness of it was a shock."
Given the broadcast cycle, many similar, competitive writer positions at other networks have already been filled; thus far, the writers do not know if they will receive severance pay. "It's unfortunate because the writers did pass on other jobs to take this job and nobody really knows yet what kind of compensation they're going to get," he continued. "Everybody is a little bit on edge about how it's going to turn out. But we all know it's a wasted opportunity to write more episodes."
In the #MeToo era, of course, actors, directors and producers (I'm talking about Harvey Weinstein), are finally being held accountable for their actions—meaning this is hardly the first time an issue of what to do with a problematic person has come up. However, cancellation isn't always the only option.
On Transparent, for example, director Jill Soloway made the decision to write Jeffrey Tambor's character—the lead Maura, around whom the drama revolves—out of the show following allegations of sexual harassment. The production format of the Amazon show might make it easier to pivot the focus than the 30-minute studio sitcom format of Roseanne, but it proves that it can nonetheless be done.
Aside from Barr herself, there were other issues with the show, including vaguely racist undertones such as the inclusion of a joke about sitcoms about colored families which spurred a hundred think pieces about implicit racism. Others, however, found that the discussion surrounding the show—in which one of the main characters was, not unlike Barr herself, a Trump supporter—to be healthy.
“I thought the show was really special because it showed a Trump voter who heard JOBS and voted and has checked out ever since but now finds herself splitting up her meds with her husband because they can’t afford them anymore," said Sarah Silverman in a recent GQ profile. "If Trump voters see that show as a safe space, even better. Because their porcupine needles are down and they’re open to things that they maybe wouldn’t be open to in other cases." Is a cancellation the end of this dialogue?
All that said, others have argued that the entire crew knew what they were getting into (including the possibility of cancellation) when they agreed to work with the volatile Barr. Roxanne Gay wrote in the New York Times that "the cast, the writers and the producers knew what Ms. Barr stood for when they agreed to work on the show. Everyone involved made a decision to support the show despite its co-creator’s racism. They decided that their career ambitions, or desire to return to network television, or financial interests would best be served by looking the other way."
She continues, "It was only when Ms. Barr became an immediate liability that everyone involved finally looked at her racism and dealt with it directly."