The Real Reason ABC Canceled Roseanne

The biggest story from the world of TV in the 2017-18 season: the unexpectedly massive revival of Roseanne. The classic 1988–1997 sitcom starring comedian Roseanne Barr and beloved actor John Goodman returned to ABC in the spring of 2018 for a six-episode run. The series found the Conner family squarely placed in the reality of 2018, facing money woes, underemployment, and prescription painkiller addiction. Plots built around those subjects are part of the reason why the new Roseanne was so heartily embraced — it reflected the realities of life for millions of Americans, something TV has not been very good at since, well, Roseanne ended the first time in 1997.

Roseanne finished the 2017-18 season as the second-most-watched scripted show among all viewers and in the advertiser-coveted 18-49 demographic, ensuring a Season 2 pickup and leading to the revival and creation of other working-class shows with a conservative tone, such as Fox bringing back Tim Allen's Last Man Standing. But then, on May 29, 2018, ABC shockingly canceled Season 2 of the Roseanne revival just a few hours after star and creative force Roseanne Barr made some controversial (to say the least) remarks on Twitter. Here's the real reason Roseanne was canceled.

Think twice before you tweet

Early in the morning of May 29, 2018, Roseanne Barr took to Twitter to share with the world some thoughts she had on Valerie Jarrett. Who's that? She's a lawyer and community leader who most notably served as senior advisor to President Barack Obama, specializing in public engagement and intergovernmental affairs, for the entirety of his 2009–2017 administration. Barr was responding to a claim that Jarrett had helped President Obama spy on French presidential candidates. Barr's not-very-politically insightful comment on Jarrett: "Muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes had a baby=vj." 

Backlash quickly began to build over Barr's suggestion that a high-ranking member of the Obama administration shared the views of an organization that some have called a terrorist group, not to mention comparing Jarrett's appearance to that of an ape-person. Barr soon deleted her tweet, but that didn't make the damage go away.

At least she said she was sorry

When one makes brash, if not flat-out racist or racist-leaning statements on Twitter, it's most definitely going to prompt a backlash, or at least a heated conversation. (That interchange between public figures and regular schmoes is part of what makes Twitter so great.) The social media platform is also the first and easiest stop for a celebrity to begin their apology tour — whether the scandal began on Twitter or not. And that is precisely what Roseanne Barr did. 

At 7:28 a.m., just hours after she shared her thoughts on Valerie Jarrett, Roseanne's account (@therealroseanne) tweeted, "I apologize. I am now leaving Twitter." But she didn't leave Twitter quite yet, choosing to elaborate and be more specific with her mea culpa. "I apologize to Valerie Jarrett and to all Americans," Barr tweeted. "I am truly sorry for making a bad joke about her politics and her looks. I should have known better. Forgive me- my joke was in bad taste." 

Whether fans, followers, or co-workers would forgive — or forget — remained to be seen. Complicating matters: Barr's May 2018 tweets are not the first time she's compared a woman of color who worked in the Obama administration to a primate. In a deleted tweet from 2013, Barr called National Security Advisor Susan Rice "a man with big swinging ape b****."

Sykes out

One person who wasn't willing to accept Roseanne Barr's apology was stand-up comedian Wanda Sykes. The edgy comic, writer, and former talk show host worked on the first season of the Roseanne reboot, serving as a consulting producer. Sykes, along with other well-known comedians such as Morgan Murphy and Whitney Cummings, lent some refreshing zest to the project and appeared to write well for the caustic, sarcastic character of Roseanne Conner. 

Cummings, an executive producer and showrunner on Roseanne, had previously bowed out of returning for Season 2 of Roseanne due to scheduling conflicts, and then, in the wake of Barr's Twitter controversy, Sykes jumped ship too. As this is apparently a story unfolding entirely over social media, Sykes announced her departure on the micro-blogging platform, tweeting: "I will not be returning to @RoseanneOnABC."

Roseanne's cast mates did not have Roseanne's back

While Sykes was able to quit the show and move on, it wasn't that easy for Roseanne Barr's fellow cast members. Sara Gilbert, who played Darlene on the original series and in the revival, and who also serves as an executive producer, went into public relations mode on, you guessed it, Twitter.

Shortly after Barr's commentary went live, Gilbert tweeted a response on behalf of the Roseanne family. "Roseanne's recent comments about Valerie Jarrett, and so much more, are abhorrent and do not reflect the beliefs of our cast and crew or anyone associated with our show. I am disappointed in her actions to say the least." 

Gilbert's tweeting continued: "This is incredibly sad and difficult for all of us, as we've created a show that we believe in, are proud of, and that audiences love — one that is separate and apart from the opinions and words of one cast member."

The hammer falls

On March 30, 2018, the programmers at ABC made what was probably a very easy decision: Just a couple of days after a whopping 18 million-plus people tuned in to the first episode of Roseanne 2.0, the Disney-owned network renewed the show for another season. The good ratings held up for the remainder of the season, and when ABC announced its 2018-19 schedule, Roseanne was promoted from a short-run mid-season replacement to a 13-episode fall show. Or... never mind. 

After Roseanne Barr tweeted her racially-loaded comments, apologized for them, lost a consulting producer over them, and got publicly called out by her cast mates for them, the president of ABC Entertainment had something to say about them. In an official statement, Channing Dungey called Barr's tweet "abhorrent, repugnant and inconsistent with our values." She added, "we have decided to cancel her show." Bob Iger, CEO of Walt Disney Co., ABC's parent company, agreed. "There was only one thing to do here, and that was the right thing," he tweeted

There you have it. The Conners shall toil in obscurity off-screen, and those bluesy harmonica strains shall be heard no more.

But wait, she can explain, sort of

It seems to be human behavior to follow an apology with an excuse. "I'm sorry I cheated on you," a husband might say, "but I was really bored in our marriage."

To that end, after Roseanne Barr's social media-delivered apologies for her social media-delivered racially-charged comments, she attempted to explain why she did what she did, via social media. Barr claimed her undoing had something to do with Memorial Day and the sleep drug Ambien, tweeting: "guys I did something unforgiveable [sic] so do not defend me. It was 2 in the morning and I was ambien tweeting-it was Memorial Day too-i went 2 far & do not want it defended-it was egregious indefensible. I made a mistake I wish I hadn't but...don't defend it please. ty"  Barr later deleted that tweet, then later wrote (and then erased) another tweet saying that she'd "done weird stuff" while on Ambien previously, namely "cracked eggs on the wall at 2am etc." 

Sanofi, the biotech company that makes Ambien, tweeted a subtle rebuttal: "While all pharmaceutical treatments have side effects, racism is not a known side effect of any Sanofi medication."

Hollywood weighs in

When news broke that ABC had canceled Roseanne, its top-rated show, the news just about broke Twitter as celebs weighed in on the decision. Hollywood, as a whole, seemed to think nixing the series was the right move. 

Super-producer Shonda Rhimes (ABC's Grey's Anatomy, Scandal), tweeted that Barr "got what she deserved. As I tell my 4 year old, one makes a choice with one's actions. Roseanne made a choice. A Racist one. ABC made a choice. A human one." 

Actor Misha Collins of Supernatural commended Disney and ABC for demonstrating a "great deal of corporate responsibility" by canceling Roseanne even though it "was making boatloads of $."

However, killing the show affects more people than just Roseanne Barr. Michael Fishman, who portrays D.J. Conner, issued a long statement explaining that he "vehemently" disagrees with Barr's comments but feels "devastated" for the Roseanne cast and audience who "strived for inclusiveness ... the words of one person do not exemplify the thinking of all involved."

Comedian and former Roseanne writer Tom Arnold, who was one-half of a tumultuous marriage to Barr from 1990 to 1994, roasted his ex-wife — and her sleeping pill excuse — by tweeting: "I was on Ambien 1990-1994."

Had it not been nixed, the show would have had holes

Wanda Sykes wasn't the only integral member of the Roseanne family who decided to cut ties with the show after Barr fired off those infamous tweets. Shameless star Emma Kenney was a new addition to the cast, joining the reboot as Harris Conner-Healy, the temperamental, Darlene-esque teenage daughter of Darlene (Sara Gilbert) and David Healy (Johnny Galecki). 

"I am hurt, embarrassed, and disappointed. The racist and distasteful comments from Roseanne are inexcusable," Kenney tweeted, and she wasn't all talk. "As I called my manager to quit working on Roseanne, I was told it was cancelled," she later tweeted, adding that she felt "empowered" by "anyone at ABC standing up for morals and abuse of power. Bullies will NEVER win."

Roseanne and 'Roseanne' might never be seen again

While many entertainment industry professionals publicly applauded ABC's decision to cancel Roseanne, the fallout over Barr's insensitive comments spread throughout the world of TV. Not only will ABC no longer produce new episodes of Roseanne — coincidentally, on the day this all went down, Roseanne writers reported to their first day of work for Season 11 — but the network also canceled a Roseanne rerun scheduled to air that very night. (An episode of The Middle ran in its place.) 

The huge library of Roseanne episodes available on other media platforms also disappeared in an instant. Viacom, which distributed the original Roseanne, pulled the show from CMT, TV Land, and the Paramount Network. Hulu followed suit, removing the series from its huge programming bank. Laff also dropped the show immediately, replacing set-to-air Roseanne episodes with reruns of Night Court.

As for Roseanne Barr, she's become a Tinseltown pariah. Barr's high-powered agency, ICM Partners, dropped her as a client. "What she wrote is antithetical to our core values, both as individuals and as an agency. Consequently, we have notified her that we will not represent her," ICM leaders wrote in an internal memo leaked to Deadline.