The ABC revival, which made $45 million in ad dollars this year, was expected to generate up to $60 million in its now-doomed 11th season
One racist tweet cost Roseanne Barr her network sitcom, hundreds of people their jobs, and ABC its top-rated primetime anchor for Tuesday nights.
Barr, who had previously promoted the Pizzagate conspiracy theory and gone after a Parkland school shooting survivor on Twitter, incited new controversy Tuesday morning with tweets about Chelsea Clinton and billionaire philanthropist George Soros. But her tweet about former Barack Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett, an African-American woman, generated the most backlash: “Muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes had a baby=vj,” Barr wrote and later deleted.
By that afternoon, ABC had canceled its highly watched revival of the ’90s hit “Roseanne,” which had earned favorable reviews. “Roseanne’s Twitter statement is abhorrent, repugnant and inconsistent with our values, and we have decided to cancel her show,” ABC president Channing Dungey said in a statement. “There was only one thing to do here, and that was the right thing,” added her boss, Disney CEO Bob Iger. Barr went on to apologize, blame her indiscretions on the sleep aid Ambien, and retweet supporters’ sympathetic messages.
“Obviously, ABC had a big hit on their hands,” TV industry analyst Alan Wolk told Moneyish. “She’s going to cost them a lot of revenue.”
The financial costs of canceling the show, which had just aired its nine-episode season 10 and received a 13-episode new season order, may prove substantial. Barr and co-star John Goodman, for starters, were each raking in a reported $250,000 per episode — amounting to $2.25 million each for the first season and a hypothetical $3.25 million for the next, assuming the same per-episode rate. “In the short term, the cancellation of the show means that she’s not going to make all of the money that she was going to make this season, or anything on the back end,” Deana Myers, research director at Kagan, a media research group within S&P Global Market Intelligence, told Moneyish.
ABC’s move also cost the network plenty in potential ad revenue: The revival, which made $45 million in ad dollars this past season, was expected to generate up to $60 million in its now-doomed 11th season, per Kantar Media figures provided to The Wrap. Even cable networks suffer: “Roseanne” reruns spawned about $1.2 billion in ad revenue for cable networks and syndicators between 1995 and 2017, according to Kantar. That’s bad news for Viacom properties Paramount Networks, TV Land and CMT, which all yanked the show from their schedules, as well as the digital network Laff. (Hulu, which had streamed episodes of the revival, also dropped the show.)
And Barr herself, worth a reported $80 million, could be radioactive in at least the near future. Her talent agency, ICM, for example, announced Tuesday it would drop her as a client. “ICM is a top agency — very powerful and very good at its job,” said Evan Smith, a professor in the television, radio and film department of Syracuse University’s Newhouse School. “To lose that as her front person finding work for her is a huge and damaging event for her, if she wants more work.” Employers likely aren’t lining up to hire her, he added, “at least for a while.”
Barr’s post-cancellation career outlook involves two major factors, Smith said. One is the standards people have for today’s celebrities: “A celebrity like Roseanne, you might think her career’s over — but look at the time we live in,” Smith said, pointing to Mel Gibson’s successful showbiz rehabilitation years after his anti-Semitic rant. The other factor, he said, is whether Barr still possesses enough fresh appeal outside of her “Roseanne” role to justify putting her on a new TV series.
The 65-year-old creator-star is far from the only person affected by her tweets: More than 200 people worked on the show in various capacities, according to CNN.
“The show is a product, and the show is called ‘Roseanne.’ A central person who works for the show called ‘Roseanne’ is a woman named Roseanne Barr,” said Amanda Lotz, a media studies professor at the University of Michigan. “There’s been this conflation of this woman with the show, and that’s obvious and it’s natural, especially given its origins. But I think it’s important to keep in mind that the show was being written by many other people who are funny and not making racist tweets.”
Despite the tangible and projected losses, ABC’s business decision may have proved savvy in the long run. The network may have surmised that a potential boycott by people offended by racist comments presented a greater threat than a boycott by people supportive of Barr’s public messaging, Lotz said. And ABC parent Disney, in the midst of a proposed asset sale with 21st Century Fox, likely has shareholders in mind, experts said. “So a second benefit … to ABC jumping forward to say, ‘No, no, not acceptable,’ is that it affirms to the public that the network and its parent company have standards — and maintain standards, even when that comes at a hefty cost,” Smith said.
The “Roseanne” revival was “bound to be a moneymaker” that could’ve run several years, Smith said — but despite its instant-hit status, he added, there are plenty of other shows in today’s saturated television landscape that can step up and take its place. And “it’s not like those commercial minutes are now going to be dead airtime,” Smith pointed out. “A different show will take that spot; airtime will be sold. It may be sold for less; it may be sold for more,” he said. “Sponsorship revenues are not lost — they might just change.”
Still, there’s a sadness to the show’s cancellation, he said. “The original show did such a good job of promoting some important issues, like feminism and gay rights … (And the new series) was in a great position to tackle today’s important issues, arguing both liberal and conservative viewpoints,” Smith said. “But now that opportunity is gone. It was shot down by a tweet.”
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