On October 1988, ABC would air the premiere of one of the most prolific television series of the 1990s. Named after its lead star, Roseanne focused on the life of a blue-collar, working-class family struggling to get by, as the patriarchs Roseanne and Dan, played by Roseanne Barr and John Goodman respectively, struggle with finding jobs, keeping a roof over their heads, and dealing with three, later four children.
At the time of its release, the show was not only a monster hit in the ratings, but was considered to be almost revolutionary. At a time when most comedies focused on urban, metropolitan, or upper-class characters, this was one that detailed what life is like for a good majority of the working class and Middle America, making it one of the most unique and acclaimed network shows in the 1990s.
Decades later, with the rise of revivals, essentially new seasons that continue the stories of old favorites, it was only natural that Roseanne would get a continuation. Not just because nostalgia is the new hip thing to exploit within every facet of entertainment, but also because, like in the 1990s, shows that specifically target Middle America and Trump supporters are hard to come by, even after the 2016 election. It’s part of the reason why Fox is bringing back Tim Allen’s Last Man Standing after ABC canceled the show back in 2017.
However, the Roseanne revival did not go off without a hitch, as the series very quickly became one of the most controversial shows of the season, due in part to Barr’s online persona and her influence on the actual show itself. Roseanne Barr is one of the few major Hollywood celebrities who still endorses Donald Trump, and as Barr was a producer on the show, who likely had a lot of influence on the direction, Roseanne Conner was also a Trump supporter. The premiere episode of Season 10 detailed a feud between Roseanne and her sister Jackie, who voted for Trump and Jill Stein respectively, and their attempts at bonding and fixing their relationship. A later episode detailed Roseanne’s fear that because her new Muslim neighbors are building a bomb. This obviously did not sit well with Muslim communities and progressives, especially after ABC pulled a Black-ish episode that discussed social issues pertaining to African-Americans.
Regardless, the show was still a monster hit, becoming one of ABC’s biggest “new” shows in years, and prompting another season that was set to air next Fall.
However, the real issue with the show is Roseanne Barr online. Her Twitter account largely consists of promoting alt-right conspiracy theories like Pizzagate, which angered progressives and anyone with a brain, considering that such blatant racism and Alex Jones level insanity did not deserve to have her own broadcast sitcom, especially on a network that hosts dozens of programs produced by figures like Shonda Rhimes. It was further accentuated when Roseanne tweeted former White House aide Valerie Jarrett was like if “muslim brotherhood and planet of the apes had a baby.” Understandably, this led to an extreme backlash not just from people with empathy, but also people who have worked on the show. Co-star Sara Gilbert called her tweet “abhorrent,” while head writer Wanda Sykes left her position. Hours later, ABC President Channing Dungey announced via a brief press release, “Roseanne’s Twitter statement is abhorrent, repugnant and inconsistent with our values, and we have decided to cancel her show.”
There’s a lot to digest with what transpired. For one, ABC had just lost their crown jewel and biggest ratings hit. This is especially bad as Roseanne was supposed to be the anchor to the network’s Tuesday comedy block next season. This means ABC will be forced to reconfigure their entire schedule, being forced to either move one of their Wednesday or Friday comedies to the timeslot, or bring the planned spin-off to their show The Goldbergs entitled Schooled from midseason to the Fall, as well as possibly producing a spin-off for The Middle focusing on the character of Sue Heck or even re-tooling the show into a spin-off focusing specifically on the Sarah Gilbert’s character Darlene. They also lost a show that had potential for huge ad rates and one of the few shows that specifically targeted Middle America. There’s also the fact that Channing Dungey focusing on giving her network good moral standing than focus on the bottom line in profits is extremely commendable.
But simply put, I’m not exactly sure if bringing Roseanne back to primetime television was really worth it in the first place. I’m not speaking from a ratings or business perspective. Again, it was ABC’s biggest show last season, and it’s understandable ABC would want to capture on 90s nostalgia. But while most critics were praising the revival as being a voice for the working class people, it seems like many didn’t realize that working and middle class comedy shows do exist and in many ways improve over Roseanne.
For starters, ABC’s Fresh Off the Boat is a ’90s-set sitcom that focuses on the struggle of an Asian-American family, with the father attempting to open his own steakhouse restaurant. It not only tackles issues middle-class families, and especially Asian-American families deal with, but also has a whole slew of memorable and entertaining characters and sharp commentary on the idea of the American Dream. Speechless is another great ABC sitcom that deals with middle class families, especially families with disabled members, which has a lot of great laughs, solid commentary, and relatable characters. One can argue the recently ended The Middle is a spiritual successor to Roseanne, showing the problems working-class families, particularly low-to-middle working-class families deal with. Its star Patricia Heaton is even a registered Republican.
Even outside of ABC, shows like Superstore, Shameless, Mom, and Bob’s Burgers have tackled issues and problems working-class families have in funny and clever scenarios. Granted, these shows aren’t as overtly political or right-wing in comparison to the recent Roseanne season. Many can argue a handful of them are more left-of-center, but it’s a stretch to say that this was a show that was needed to be a voice for 99 percent.
And regardless on whether or not giving another season to Roseanne Barr was “needed,” what benefit did ABC think they would get in the long-term by having Barr as more or less a spokesperson for their network? Even ignoring her countless Alex Jones-style tweets, she has always been a hassle to work with. In the ninth and previously final season in the 90s, she took full control of the show, added weird plots and episodes that saw Roseanne in a Steven Seagal movie, Dan cheating behind her back, and revealing in the final episode everything that happened was just a lie. She did a photo shoot dressed up like Hitler with a bunch of burnt gingerbread men. To say nothing about the infamous disgracing of the national anthem back in 1991 to where she was condemned by George H. W. Bush. With so many instances of her being either racist, a burden to work with, or just plain crazy, why give her a major television network as a platform?
Regardless of what happens, not only is this a lesson in how one tweet can destroy someone’s career, but also a lesson that maybe giving a racist conspiracy theorist a primetime sitcom isn’t the best idea for your network, your brand, or Americans in general. I don’t know why this lesson needs to be learned in 2018, but better now than later.