ABC’s latest ratings hit, Roseanne, was canceled Tuesday afternoon in response to a racist, since-deleted tweet that series star Roseanne Barr sent earlier in the day. In the tweet, Barr referred to former Barack Obama aide Valerie Jarrett, who is black, as the offspring of the “Muslim Brotherhood & Planet of the Apes.” The tweet immediately drew immense criticism, from both the outside world and from those who worked on the show. Wanda Sykes, who served as a consulting producer for Roseanne’s latest season, tweeted that she would not be returning to the show, while Hollywood figures such as Debra Messing, Al Sharpton, Zoe Saldana, and Barr’s ex-husband Tom Arnold specifically called out the network on Twitter. Just hours later, Roseanne was canceled: “Roseanne’s Twitter statement is abhorrent, repugnant and inconsistent with our values, and we have decided to cancel her show,” ABC Entertainment president Channing Dungey said in a statement.
While ABC’s decision to cancel the series is more than justified, it’s nonetheless surprising. The two-episode premiere of the Roseanne revival drew more than 18 million viewers in March, earning ABC the highest ratings for a network comedy since a Season 8 episode of The Big Bang Theory in 2014. While Roseanne’s ratings had dropped since the premiere, the numbers remained relatively high—more than 10 million viewers tuned into the season finale last week. In a business that so often seems to be dictated by the bottom line—no matter what the moral cost—ABC’s swift decision to drop Roseanne is a pleasant surprise.
But it’s also a surprise because it was ABC who put Barr back in the public eye in the first place, and who largely ignored her blatant racism and bigotry. While the network’s postelection mission was to “pursue an audience that the network had overlooked”—read: the white, American working class—Barr’s Twitter presence was just plain offensive. While employed by ABC, she publicly endorsed a far-right conspiracy related to Pizzagate, antagonized Parkland shooting survivor David Hogg, and peddled other conspiracies that the Trump administration was breaking up pedophile rings led by Hollywood stars and politicians. The politics of Roseanne Barr versus Roseanne Conner was one of many obstacles facing both Roseanne the show and people from both sides of the political aisle who decided to watch it. But Barr’s beliefs were never a secret. Her racist comment about Jarrett was a familiar refrain; in 2013, she called Obama security advisor Susan Rice a “man with big swinging ape balls.”
Roseanne’s cancellation almost assuredly spells the end for the series. It’s unlikely that any other major network will subject itself to the level of outrage that would come with reviving the revival—even if Carsey-Werner Television, the studio that owns the rights to Roseanne, were willing to sell them (another unlikely prospect). Further, it’s hard to imagine that any of Roseanne’s other cast members (John Goodman, Laurie Metcalf, Sara Gilbert, Emma Kenney, etc.) would want to associate themselves with Barr and her politics moving forward. While that doesn’t necessarily mean that Barr herself will be completely banished from the airwaves—although, on Tuesday she was also dropped by her agency, ICM—her most-viewed platform, on one of America’s biggest networks, will no longer be available to her.