The Downfall of Roseanne

Roseanne might be laughing at the end of her theme song every episode, but she doesn’t seem to be laughing now. Her quick downfall, especially in the eyes of ABC, has sent shockwaves through the entertainment industry and has left ABC empty-handed, yet again, for a successful reboot on their network. As the current television climate has allowed for many a reboot to be ordered and thrive, ABC was slow to greenlight one for their network. Will & Grace’s announcement (and later success) gave ABC the drive to go ahead and announce they’d picked-up a new season of Roseanne, the hit 1990s sitcom that was the number one show on television (according to Nielsen ratings) from 1989-1990 and remained in the top 5 for Nielsen ratings for its first 6 seasons. The pick-up was a no-brainer. Bringing back one of the most beloved sitcoms of all-time would translate to immediate ratings glory, right? Well, as the news has showed us, that decision back fired.

Roseanne was picked up for a 9 episode “return season” that began airing this past March. Before and after the show premiered, the internet was filled with many a think piece (like Ira Madison III’s covering the show’s depiction of “Middle America”) recapping the show’s past, highlighting what made it so good, reposting infamous clips (like Laurie Metcalf’s “Dad’s DEAD!” scene), all in preparation for the return of the show. However, whilst the joyous nature of the show’s return was going on, things took a political turn from the jump. Roseanne has been an active Trump supporter since he announced his campaign back in 2015, tweeting out multiple conspiracy theories presented by Trump himself and his vocal supporters. When the show was announced, some were trepidatious and insulted that someone had been spewing such hatred could be allowed to star in a primetime sitcom. Some of her prior hatred had included calling President Obama racist things and insulting democrats based on looks, sex, and race.

The lead-up to the show revealed that in the reboot, the character of Roseanne would be a known Trump supporter on the show. The backlash seemed to grow, as internet users (and many journalists, like the aforementioned Ira Madison III) couldn’t believe that someone who has already gotten in trouble from her “Trumpist” ways would be allowed to spread them through the means of a weekly sitcom on a broadcast network. However, in a way, this was always the plan.

ABC’s ratings have been hurting for the last few years. The fall of the network into 4th place was due to many factors, including their lack of football or the Olympics airing on their network, along with declining ratings on returning and new programming (Scandal, once the crown jewel of the ABC line-up, fell sharply after season 5 in the Nielsen ratings, while Tuesday nights at 10 have been a revolving door of shows like Killer Women, Mind Games, Lucky 7, and Forever). They’ve had a rough go at finding new programming that stick with large ratings their entire run. Channing Dungey, the current President of ABC Entertainment, and Ben Sherwood, the President of Disney/ABC Television Group, both realized that they had been overlooking America’s heartland in their most recent TV seasons. Sherwood, according to a piece by The New York Times, was quoted as saying “There’s a lot about this country we need to learn a lot more about, here on the coasts,” which started their push to highlight those voices. Both have said that picking up Roseanne for a reboot was directly based on Trump winning the election.

The idea that middle America isn’t represented on television in the current “Golden Age of TV” is a welcome one. The biggest shows on TV are set in large metropolitan areas on the coasts. D.C. is home to NCIS and Scandal, Pasadena is home to The Big Bang Theory, and the Seattle is where Grey’s Anatomy resides. There is no major show on network TV that is set in the middle of the country and featuring those viewpoints. Young Sheldon is a recent addition, set in Texas, but that’s a recent entry. ABC doesn’t have a big hit show set somewhere that isn’t directly near the Pacific or Atlantic Oceans.

The term Middle America also brings up a multitude of “stereotypes,” for lack of a better word. The term is associated with Republican views, red states, less progressive views, etc. In ABC’s eyes, the best way to get the best of both worlds was to bring back Roseanne, as it could directly cater to red states, while also bringing back a beloved property with instant brand recognition.

The build-up to the premiere was plagued with the aforementioned controversy regarding Roseanne’s views. She had a large build-up of offensive posts and views under her belt before the show was greenlit, so the go ahead to bring the show back had an underlying feeling of confusion and awkwardness. The interview circuit, however, seemed to ignore these ideas directly to her face. Many individuals she interacted with along the media tour prior to the premiere ignored the flagrant racism and talk more about her in general terms. The View brought up questions of her decision to make her character a Trump supporter, avoiding calling her out specifically.

The show premiered in March to incredible ratings and led to it becoming the Number 1 broadcast show for the 2017-2018 television season. And then, the tweet hit.

She tweeted a highly offensive racist comparison to Valerie Jarrett, former Senior Advisor to the Obama administration, and the bubbling bomb underneath Roseanne that had been present since the reboot was announced finally exploded. Within minutes, Twitter lit up with messages to Channing Dungey, ABC, and Disney CEO Bob Iger stating that this needs to be the last straw. They agreed, as within a few hours of the tweet, Roseanne was effectively cancelled.

This was unexplored territory for ABC or broadcast television, for that matter. Never in the history of the major 4 networks has the Number 1 show on television cancelled, especially after being picked up for a second season. It was bold, but the right move to many. ABC was praised for finally making the call to get someone with vile views off their television, but others complained that it should have happened sooner, or the show shouldn’t have been greenlit at all.

The craziness surrounding the cancellation did nothing but grow, as the day of the cancellation was the 1st day of the writer’s room being open for season 2. That, of course, didn’t happen. Her actions and decision to tweet that incredibly racist sentiment led to the lack of jobs for over 200 cast and crew.

Now, even though Roseanne has been cancelled and she will no longer be featured on the network, the repercussions of her presence will be felt for years to come on ABC.

ABC has been known as “the progressive network” for years. This is, in part, due to Shonda Rhimes’ presence. Grey’s Anatomy premiered in 2005 was groundbreaking for bringing television a female lead, something the broadcast networks hadn’t seen a lot of at that point. The cast was also incredibly diverse, before that word became “thee buzzword” of media. The cast featured people of all races, genders, and sexualities. It holds the record for the longest running queer character in television history (Dr. Callie Torres), who was a Bi Latina woman. This led to create a stream of ABC being the network that features people from all diverse backgrounds (Modern Family’s married gay couple, Desperate Housewives featuring 5 female leads, Scandal giving us the first black leading woman on broadcast TV in over 40 years, etc.) And yet, the underlying hope and need to pull in Trump-voting viewers has led to the 2018-2019 being a “qwhite” interesting one.

At the time of the upfronts, where ABC presents their new season to the advertisers, Roseanne was still their crowning jewel. The ratings success of that morphed into their decision making for next season. Out of the 8 shows picked up by ABC for the new television season, 6 have white leads and white producers. One has POC (people of color) leads and white producers, while one has POC leads and POC producers. ABC was frequently seen as “The Diverse Network,” but the success of Roseanne showed them that getting as white as you can possibly get brings in the viewers from those red states, in their eyes.

While all other networks increased their POC in front and behind the camera (especially CBS, often maligned as “The White Network”), ABC went in the opposite, and frankly discouraging, position.

It is imperative that they showcase various types of people from various backgrounds as it allows people to see themselves on screen, which is essential for self-esteem and appreciation for one’s self. The success of shows like Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal is due to their ability to show so many different types of people and, not only that, but have those different voices behind the camera as well. Diverse writers, directors, and actors all add up to create a beautiful portrait of our world.

The worry, now, is that ABC will stick to their “white ways” for the foreseeable future. They’ve been taking so many “risks,” even thought that word has a negative connotation in this case, to bring new voices and faces to television screens across the country. However, now that they have seen in one singular example of whiteness and homogeneity doing well on their network, I’m worried that this will become the new normal for an extended period of time.

Once ABC officially booted Roseanne from the line-up, they had to fill that space in their fall schedule, as it was the cornerstone of their Tuesday plan (a day that has been a major struggle for them for years). Campaigns began on twitter to pick-up passed on comedies with various POC involved. Comedies included an Alyson Hannigan-led sitcom executive produced by Kerry Washington and an Yvette Nicole Brown and Lesli Margherita-led single camera sitcom.  However, ABC decided to go with the safest and scariest option with a Roseanne spin-off.

The Conners will premiere this fall in the same time slot as Roseanne. The think pieces have already made their way into various entertainment publications. Will the spin-off kill off Roseanne? Is it worth it to stick with everything from the original show, except your star? Has Roseanne tainted it enough for viewers to not give it a second chance? These are all valid questions that will be interesting to see once the show premieres this September.

The entire original cast is coming back, sans Roseanne. However, many critics found that the reboot’s first season didn’t have the same “umpf,” for lack of a better term, as the original carnation of the show had. It tackled the Middle America, lower-middle class experience with humor and gusto that may other show tried to emulate but could never accomplish. The show discussed racism, classism, sexuality, etc. This go around, the Trumpism seemed to taint the jokes and comedy surrounding the show, according to critics. Darlene’s genderfluid son was a plot point in one of the introductory episodes, but the slant was problematic. A Trump voter is fine with this genderfluid kid because it’s there’s, but their political views would suggest otherwise for the mass population (a big problem members of the LGBTQ+ community have to face).

The new reboot also featured an episode about Islamophobia, where Roseanne thinks her Muslim neighbors are building a bomb. Of course, they are not, and then she becomes high-and-mighty in a grocery store and says they are just “normal people,” even though her visible political support on the show suggests she wants a Muslim ban.

These key plot points have taken the former Number 1 show on television in the 90s, known for its powerful messages mixed with pitch perfect comedy, and turned into a MAGA Sympathy program. The worry is that, not only will these ideals and stories continue into the reboot, but that it will affect ABC’s programming for some time to come.

This season on ABC will be the big tipping point. Will the homogeneity of ABC’s programming be successful? Will taking the “Super White Crown” from CBS be successful or detrimental to viewership and ratings? We’ll have to wait and see, but as a hardcore Disney fan, my hope is that ABC fails drastically.

ABC has been my saving grace amongst the sameness of broadcast TV since high school. Strong female leads led my favorite shows on the network since I became an avid television viewer. I started with Revenge, starring Emily VanCamp, but quickly moved onto the Shonda Rhimes #TGIT trifecta, with Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, and How To Get Away With Murder. Those three shows alone gave women lead roles with complicated, messy, sexual personalities that actresses could sink their teeth into. On top of that, all four of the aforementioned shows gave us major queer storylines, something still relatively new to broadcast programming. As a queer individual myself, growing up and coming to terms with my sexuality, seeing characters who shared that experience, but who were still allowed to be themselves (whether that be complicated White House workers, doctors who just wanted a simple and happy life, or flat-out murderers who were still trying to study for finals).

ABC has been the queen of sharing all types of people and all types of experiences on their network. Just look at their line-up of successful sitcoms. Fresh Off the Boat gives us the Asian-American experience in the 1990s. The Goldbergs gives us an 80s slant on a Jewish family, with a heavy dose of popular culture for good measure. Modern Family gives us three distinct households, including a gay couple and a major Latina lead character. Blackish gives us an upper middle-class view on a Black family and trying to come to terms with their “blackness” on a daily basis. All of these shows are cornerstones of the ABC brand. They are going to show America. All sides. All experiences. All people.

So, when I look at how Roseanne has, arguably, tainted the next season of ABC, I am disappointed. I expect more from the company that has given us Meredith Grey, Jessica Huang, and Annalise Keating.

All we can do from this point is show ABC through numbers and words. Be vocal. In this age of social media, live-tweeting and TV-based hashtags have become the new water cooler. If you believe we should be receiving more diverse entertainment on ABC, make it known! Eyeballs on these TV shows is what drives cancellations or season renewals. Make sure to watch the shows with POC and LGBTQ+ characters in front of and/or behind the camera live. Whether or not they begin this upcoming season, still show your support through your views.

What we can hope is that ABC sees that diverse voices are marketable and profitable. Whether it be a writer, director, creator, or actor, getting these voices to mass audiences is not only essential to creating a more accepting society, but can actually be profitable for the company (and why are we kidding ourselves, it’s always about the money). People seeing themselves on screen creates confidence and pride in oneself. On the flip side, people seeing “others” on screen helps to make them realize we are all one. Everyone is unique, but we are all human and connect, and making people the heroes of their own stories is essential to getting that message across.

So, Roseanne blew up in ABC’s face and seems like the aftershock is still hitting the network. However, let’s look to the future. The future of the network as a diverse and hopeful network, like it was previously. One that shows the human experience, no matter the person’s background. Now, THAT is a reboot I’d like to see.

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