Commentary Magazine

The End of ‘Roseanne’

Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP, File

A mere nine hours after Roseanne Barr posted an astonishingly racist tweet about Obama intimate Valerie Jarrett, the American Broadcasting Company did something that has never happened before in the history of broadcasting: It canceled TV’s #1 show.

The show was heralded as the first program to try and make sense of the Trump era, and it generated an enormous audience that dissipated some over the course of three months but was still in powerhouse territory. Networks like ABC build entire weekly schedules around giant hits like Roseanne, so its departure from the airwaves isn’t just a matter of replacing it with another half-hour. This was a decision that had to sting and sting hard.

But ABC had no choice. Roseanne Barr is a deeply disturbed person and has been since she took TV and America by storm in the late 1980s. A famously abusive colleague (her show’s first producer announced after he left that he was going to go “vacation in the relative peace and quiet of Beirut”), a boor who spat and grabbed her crotch at the end of a rendition of the national anthem at a ballgame, a notorious believer and propagator of conspiracy theories relating to 9/11,  and, despite her new-found Zionism a supporter of Holocaust denier Gilad Atzmon, Barr is not merely a loose cannon but a MIRVed ICBM ready to go off in all directions at any time. ABC would have spent months trying to figure out a way to lessen the damage from the Jarrett remark with no possible guarantee she wouldn’t pop off again on Twitter. By cutting bait now, ABC saves itself those woes as well as tens of millions of dollars in production fees.

This is yet another example of the ways in which social media are scrambling our culture. Hollywood spent decades building walls between celebrities and the media because it couldn’t trust performers not to say and do things that would destroy their own careers. There was a legendary publicist a couple of decades ago who, it was said, could change the subject at will; when a client of hers was veering into dangerous waters, he would miraculously save someone from a burning car. There’s no using a burning car to cover up a racist tweet.

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