Los Angeles, CA
In May 2018, comedienne Roseanne Barr tweeted a racist comment about Valerie Jarrett, a close adviser to former President Barack Obama who is African-American and Iranian-born. Barr was sharply rebuked by her network and her colleagues. Within a few hours, her hit show Roseanne — a reboot of her acclaimed series from the 1980s and 90s — was cancelled by ABC. A month later, the network announced plans to produce of a spin-off program without Barr.
Roseanne Barr is a television personality who gained prominence for her popular sitcom Roseanne, which won acclaim for its realistic depiction of working-class white American families. The show ran from 1988 to 1997 and was revived for a nine-episode run in 2018. The reboot’s premiere episode reached approximately 27 million viewers, and the 2018 season overall drew in an estimated $45 million in advertising revenue for its network, ABC, according to The New York Times.
Barr has a history of perpetuating debunked conspiracy theories on her Twitter account, sharing unsubstantiated information about the “Pizzagate” theory that prominent Democrats were involved in child sex trafficking in the basement of a Washington pizza restaurant, for example, and calling billionaire philanthropist George Soros a Nazi. She has also been an outspoken supporter of President Donald Trump.
Valerie Jarrett was a senior adviser and influential aide to former President Barack Obama. Jarrett, who is African-American, was born in Iran to American parents, leading to conspiracy theories around her ethnicity and religion.
On May 29, 2018, Barr tweeted a racist comment about Jarrett in response to false claims that she had helped Obama plant an informant in Trump’s campaign. “Muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes had a baby=vj,” she wrote, in reference to Jarrett.
The tweet elicited outrage online and from Barr’s colleagues and the ABC network. Wanda Sykes, a black comedienne who worked as a producer for Roseanne, quit immediately. Sara Gilbert, the actress who portrayed Barr’s daughter on the show, said she was “disappointed in her actions to say the least.” Barr was also dropped by her agency, ICM Partners, according to USA Today.
Less than an hour after the initial tweet, Barr posted an apology to her Twitter account.
“I apologize to Valerie Jarrett and to all Americans,” she 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.” She subsequently announced that she was leaving Twitter, but returned later that day and posted a since-deleted explanation of her behavior:
“It was 2 in the morning and I was ambien tweeting,” she wrote. “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.”
Jarrett, speaking at an MSNBC town hall on racism on May 29, said that “we have to turn it into a teaching moment,” according to the New York Times.
In an interview released June 23, her first since the controversy, Barr lamented the actions that led to her firing and expressed remorse for her comment. “I lost everything and I regretted it before I lost everything,” she said in a podcast interview. “I never would have wittingly called any black person … they are a monkey. […] I just wouldn’t do that. I didn’t do that.”
ABC axes Roseanne reboot
Just hours after Barr’s tweet about Jarrett, ABC announced the cancellation of the Roseanne revival in a statement that rebuked the star and distanced the network from her.
“Roseanne’s Twitter statement is abhorrent, repugnant and inconsistent with our values,” ABC’s entertainment president Channing Dungey wrote. The network decided to remove the show from its own site and from the streaming service Hulu, which is also owned by Disney, ABC’s parent company.
The decision to cancel Roseanne drew both praise and criticism. Supporters lauded ABC for cancelling the show in the wake of Barr’s comment, despite its strong ratings and advertising revenue. However, some, such as the well-known right-wing radio host Alex Jones, himself the promoter of the “Pizzagate” and other conspiracy theories, likened the program’s cancellation to a suppression of conservative voices.
ABC greenlights Roseanne spinoff without Barr
On June 21, ABC announced it would be producing a spin-off of Roseanne without its eponymous star. The show, tentatively titled The Conners, will center on the namesake family of Barr’s character.
“Roseanne Barr will have no financial or creative involvement in the new series,” the company wrote. It said, however, that some of the other stars of Roseanne would be returning and have expressed their enthusiasm for the upcoming new series.
“We have received a tremendous amount of support from fans of our show, and it’s clear that these characters not only have a place in our hearts, but in the hearts and homes of our audience,” several of the cast members wrote in a press release, according to CNN.
“I agreed to the settlement in order that 200 jobs of beloved cast and crew could be saved, and I wish the best for everyone involved,” Barr said in a June 21 statement, CNN reported.
ABC has ordered ten episodes of The Conners, which is slated to air in the fall of 2018.
Prepared by Maya Gandhi ’20
Uploaded July 20, 2018