Roseanne didn’t just lose her job—she lost the jobs of dozens of others

Too close for comfort.
Too close for comfort.
Image: AP/Invision/ Richard Shotwell
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Stick around for the end of a TV show and you’ll see dozens, or even hundreds, of names scroll by. Actors in minor roles. Production assistants. Costumers. Makeup artists. Editors. Sound techs. Caterers.

Those are among the people hurt most by Roseanne Barr’s racist tweet and by ABC’s swift decision today (May 29) to cancel her show.

Working on a TV show is never the most dependable of gigs. Unless it’s 60 Minutes or The Simpsons, the threat of cancelation looms over every show, every season; everyone involved knows not to get too comfortable. But the cast and crew of Roseanne had reason to be less anxious about their future. The show, in its second iteration since its late ’80s/early ’90s heyday, was a hit and ABC renewed it for another season, ordering 13 episodes, up from the nine that ran this spring.

Thirteen new episodes of Roseanne represented steady work for dozens of men and women who could now plan vacations, make orthodontist appointments for the kids, and finally afford to get the roof replaced.

In a matter of hours, Barr’s ugly tweet about Obama White House advisor Valerie Jarrett scuttled all those plans. As news of the tweet was still ricocheting around the internet, ABC pulled the plug on season two.

In a statement, ABC president Channing Dungey, once fulsome in her praise of the Roseanne revival, called Barr’s tweet “abhorrent, repugnant and inconsistent with our values.”

Her boss, Disney CEO Robert Iger, backed her up, tweeting: “There was only one thing to do here, and that was the right thing.”

Whatever the decision, it was sudden—and it’s not clear yet if other factors played a role in the cancelation. Certainly, the show’s right-of-center politics attracted outsized attention, but ABC not only knew this, but seemed to embrace it, calling the show “fresh and relevant.” Sara Gilbert, Barr’s co-star and co-producer, lamented the decision:

It’s also unclear if other alternatives to cancelation were explored, and if any consideration was given to simply firing Barr. Television shows have survived the loss of  their stars before—the continuation of Eight Simple Rules after the death of John Ritter is a notable example—albeit probably none were as closely tied to the identity of its lead as Roseanne is to Barr. Given the speed with which ABC reacted, it seems unlikely that those conversations, if even considered, advanced far.

The decision to cancel the show instead seems instinctual, a reflexive reaction to purge a poisonous element from the body of ABC. It’s a shame they didn’t try to make the show without Barr, because a lot of people would still be working, and because watching Roseanne succeed without her might have been an even harsher punishment for Barr.