Quite a few people have been calling the tweet that got Roseanne Barr’s show cancelled “a joke.” Nope! It was not a joke, nor was it intended to be funny. It was merely another in a string of racist remarks she’s made. Come to think of it, I can’t remember the last time Roseanne told an actual joke — perhaps during her earliest standup days, when she made a very strong debut on Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show” in 1985.
ABC had to know about her history, starting with how terribly she’d treated the writing staff on her original show (e.g assigning them numbers so she wouldn’t have to remember their names), right up through her embrace of loony conspiracy theories and hate speech. I knew about it more than a decade ago when she called in to my KMOX radio show to promote something (I can’t remember what it was, possibly an appearance at a local comedy club) that almost immediately turned into a rant in which she spewed all sorts of ugly nonsense. I had planned to talk with her for 10 minutes, but cut her off and said goodbye after just 2 or 3 because I didn’t want to be associated with her evidence-free vitriolic attacks on whatever and whoever she was pissed about at the time.
I didn’t say so on the air, but I wondered how Roseanne could ever make a living in show business again if that’s the way she acted when it was time to be in her best public relations mode. Who would want to hire her? The answer for more than a decade was no one — she never did another movie or TV series, other than a guest spot here and there. It’s unlikely she’ll get even that after this incident.
Nonetheless, after seeing NBC successfully reboot “Will and Grace,” ABC crossed its fingers and hoped she’d toe the line this time, trying to strike gold again with “Roseanne 2.0.” That was a risky move that blew up in the network’s face, and its executives have no one to blame but themselves.
Now, a few words about ratings.
I wish media outlets would stop referring to the size of the audience for the new “Roseanne” by quoting its Nielsen estimate as 27 million viewers. That was only for its premiere episode, when a lot of people (including me) tuned in purely out of curiosity. After that, large numbers (including me) never watched another episode, and the numbers continue to drop until there were only 10 million tuning in by the end. That’s still a pretty good number for a modern TV series, but it represents a 63% drop-off in viewership. Continuing to quote the 27 million number is like only giving the score of a baseball game after the first inning.
I saw someone comment that this was the first time in history that a show was cancelled while it was the highest-rated comedy on TV. That’s false — and if you don’t believe me, ask The Smothers Brothers, who were yanked off CBS while #1 in 1969. By the way, “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” went on to win the Emmy for that year. By contrast, ABC has removed all “For Your Consideration” promotion for its “Roseanne” reboot, while Hulu and TV Land have yanked reruns of her original show. In other words, she’s off the radar again, possibly for good.
And that’s not bad.