ABC Tuesday saw its most valuable entertainment property, Roseanne, burn to the ground, courtesy of star and Twitter arsonist Roseanne Barr.
Two immediate questions dominate after the network’s swift cancellation of the hit revival just hours after the actress-comedian’s racist tweet: Is there any way Roseanne, already resurrected once after its 1997 finale, can come back from the dead again? And, how does ABC reconstruct a fall schedule built around the top-rated comedy?
For the series, it’s likely toe-tag time. Although Roseanne‘s large audience and accompanying ad dollars seem appetizing, it’s difficult to envision a scenario in which the comedy is exhumed by another network or streaming service because of the expected PR blowback.
Resurrection chances are “somewhere between slim and none,” predicts Tom Nunan, a former UPN president who now teaches at the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television. It’s “not only because of the controversy, but I think you’d have a very difficult time getting the cast together (and) working out the licenses. I think it would be more trouble than it’s worth.”
Creatively, it would be almost impossible to separate the show from its namesake star, even if it killed off its central character. Barr’s singular comedic style is the show’s voice and was the main reason it became a hit when it premiered in the late ’80s. It’s not Roseanne without Roseanne, and viewers might not be as interested.
Barr can’t just be cut loose, either, since she’s a creator and executive producer who would continue to have approval rights and profits from the show. Any network that picked it up could be accused of condoning — or at least excusing — her behavior.
Besides, Roseanne’s tweet erodes the value of the series. It would probably lose both a sizable portion of its huge audience (23 million viewers for its nine-episode spring season) and advertisers, who typically avoid any whiff of controversy.
More: ABC cancels ‘Roseanne’ hours after Roseanne Barr’s racist tweet targeting Obama adviser
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Fox, despite surface appearances, seems an unlikely home, though the network is reviving Last Man Standing, canceled last year by ABC, which stars Tim Allen, the outspoken, politically conservative actor. (Unlike Roseanne, produced by the independent Carsey-Werner studio, Fox owns Last Man, so it has a financial stake in extending the sitcom.)
As for streaming services, Hulu Tuesday yanked its Roseanne reruns, indicating a level of toxicity likely to deter others.
More: Inside Roseanne Barr’s history of offensive tweets
Even if a network picked up Roseanne, what would it be getting?
Barr has lost support within the show, leaving any reconstruction project likely to be shorthanded. Executive producer Tom Werner spoke out in support of ABC’s decision and said Barr should seek “the help she so clearly needs.” Comedian Wanda Sykes, a consulting producer, quit the series just before ABC canceled it, and co-stars Sara Gilbert, an executive producer, and Emma Kenney distanced themselves after Barr’s tweet.
Even if Roseanne is done, Nunan says Barr could return with a different project, such as a reality show or right-leaning political program.
“Roseanne has a gigantic fan base (that) understands how she speaks and what she means when she says things,” he says. “As offensive and vulgar and reprehensible as her remarks were, she started to come up with excuses and (to) defend herself against charges of racism. I think there’s a world where she could resurface on a different platform with a different kind of show.”
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While Roseanne‘s and Barr’s futures are theoretical, ABC must contend with an immediate, real-world loss.
The network, which announced its 2018-19 schedule only two weeks ago, is expected to quickly reset a lineup built around the top-rated comedy hit, though nothing in its arsenal will come close to making up for the loss. Returning Black-ish and Splitting Up Together and two new shows, The Kids Are Alright and The Rookie, will suffer from the loss of Roseanne‘s ratings boost.
The broadcast networks are now beginning the “upfront” ad-sales market, when the bulk of inventory for the coming season is sold. ABC didn’t make as much as might be expected from the first season of Roseanne, because there was no expectation it would turn into a giant hit, but the network will feel a significant loss of advertising dollars by not moving forward with a second season.
ABC will take a hit but survive; Roseanne, it appears, won’t.
Contributing: Gary Levin