In less than 24 hours, Roseanne Barr went from basking in the glow of her top-rated, much-talked-about comedy to being out of work, facing the anger of her former co-workers, the scorn of cable news talking heads and ridicule by talk-show hosts.
ABC’s cancellation of the Roseanne revival this May was a stunning turn of events for a series that just two weeks prior had taken center stage at the network’s Upfront presentation. The midseason replacement had been a breakout hit for ABC in the spring and had network honchos across the board talking about investing more in multi-camera comedies and developing shows that spoke to and reflected a diversity of political views in an increasingly polarized America. And then Barr—long known for controversial viewpoints and a Twitter feed that promoted ugly conspiracy theories—finally did something that ABC leadership couldn’t ignore.
In a Twitter storm, Barr had targeted multiple individuals, including Chelsea Clinton, George Soros and Valerie Jarrett, a former adviser to President Barack Obama, of whom she said: “if Muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes had a baby.”
Channing Dungey, the president of ABC Entertainment, called Barr’s racially charged comment “abhorrent, repugnant and inconsistent with our values.” Even Disney CEO Robert Iger weighed in: “There was only one thing to do here, and that was the right thing.” Barr’s agent, ICM, quickly dropped the comedian, Paramount Network and other Viacom channels ceased airing episodes of the original Roseanne and Hulu removed the reruns from its lineup. All of that in under 24 hours. Think about the time it took to bring the Roseanne revival together in the first place. Corralling the original cast, hammering out the deal points with producer Carsey-Werner Television, assembling a writers’ room—a team of scribes who were supposed to start their first day of work on the new season when the cancellation news broke. It took less than a day for the tweet that broke the proverbial camel’s back to put some 200 people out of work.
Barr is not the first entertainment personality to lose a job over something they said on Twitter. She won’t be the last. Celebrities can say whatever they want on social media, without a filter, and there’s no going back. You can have tweeter’s regret and try to delete something—but the chances are that before you even get there, someone has already screen-grabbed it and shared it.
ABC’s decision prompted much debate. Some questioned why now since the network knew exactly who they were getting into business with. Barr’s supporters accused ABC of having a double standard—and so did President Donald Trump. The ex-reality show star tweeted that Iger “never called President Donald J. Trump to apologize for the HORRIBLE statements made and said about me on ABC.” (Yes, he did refer to himself in the third person, and those all caps are his, not mine.)
The next day, the White House took aim at Samantha Bee for comments she made on her TBS show about Ivanka Trump. Meanwhile, a week prior, Trump supporters had been barking at Netflix on Twitter, upset about the streaming platform’s production deal with Barack and Michelle Obama. This is how the American culture wars are being played out today—in our televised entertainment, as social media allows viewers to vent, call for advertiser boycotts, take sides, and never actually engage in any constructive dialogue about anything.
And don’t forget, this is all playing out amid the Time’s Up movement, which seems to take down a newly discovered serial offender every day. So when you do realize someone’s true colors, what do you do about their art that you were a fan of? The Cosby Show, like Roseanne, has been banished from public consumption since revelations came to light about Bill Cosby. (It used to be a lazy Sunday morning binge for me.) I’ve fallen behind on my House of Cards viewing—do I go back and watch the season I missed or wait till the Kevin Spacey-less new episodes launch and hope I can fill in the gaps? Can I ever watch a Harvey Weinstein-produced classic like Pulp Fiction again? So much anguish in making entertainment decisions these days as we’re bombarded with information from absolutely everywhere. And we’re spending a shocking amount of time with media, according to Zenith. The average person will spend 479 minutes a day consuming media this year, with that number expected to rise to 492 minutes in 2020, driven by the rapid expansion of mobile internet use. That’s an awful lot of time spent on being plugged in. But when there’s so much out there, how do you switch off? Audiences and network execs alike will keep hoping that the talent they’ve invested in don’t say something asinine—because in the world we live in today, there is always someone listening.