NPR pop-culture blogger Linda Holmes sounded equally surprised. “I said I’d be shocked if they did anything, and they canceled the show, which makes me feel like … there’s a lot going on here,” she tweeted.
Their surprise isn’t all that, well, surprising. The reboot of “Roseanne” was a hugely profitable show. Its premiere pulled in 18 million viewers, a number that grew to 25 million when taking into account DVR-delayed viewing.
It’s rare for a corporation such as ABC to take such a bold step in reaction to a controversial figure. In the past, punishments doled out by networks for stars’ comments or behavior have generally been lighter — with some exceptions in the #MeToo era. Here are some of the most famous examples.
The Food Network dropped Paula Deen, one of its biggest stars, in 2013 after she admitted to using racial slurs — particularly the n-word — in the past. Deen’s public image was further damaged in 2015 when a picture of her son in brown makeup as “I Love Lucy” character Ricky Ricardo was posted on her Twitter account. She claimed her social media manager was responsible for the tweet and was fired.
Deen never returned to the Food Network, but she did manage to launch a show on RFD-TV earlier this year.
The comedian’s ABC talk show “Politically Incorrect” was canceled in 2002 after several big advertisers pulled out because of comments Maher made days after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
“We have been the cowards, lobbing cruise missiles from 2,000 miles away,” Maher said. “That’s cowardly. Staying in the airplane when it hits the building. Say what you want about it. Not cowardly.”
Though the network didn’t point to the segment as a reason for ending the show, many believe it was a major factor. Maher landed on his feet, however, starting his popular show “Real Time with Bill Maher” on HBO the next year.
“Duck Dynasty” was a reality show about the Robertsons, a Louisiana family that struck it rich selling duck-hunting equipment. The show was a massive success, shattering records for A&E and reaching an average of 11 million viewers at one point. Then Phil Robertson, the show’s patriarch, gave a particularly jaw-dropping interview to GQ in 2013, near the height of his show’s popularity, in which he said homosexuality is a sin and compared it to bestiality. In the same interview, he said black people were happier in pre-civil-rights Louisiana.
The story caused tremendous controversy, and A&E released a statement that said Robertson was suspended from the network — only to reverse the decision nine days later. “Phil’s comments made in the interview reflect his personal views based on his own belief,” the company said. “But ‘Duck Dynasty’ is not a show about one man’s views.” The show remained on air for another four years.
Allegations of sexual misconduct have generally been treated differently than blanket controversial statements. Jeffrey Tambor was fired from his Emmy-winning role on Amazon’s “Transparent” after accusations of inappropriate behavior on the set; Kevin Spacey, who was accused of sexual assault, was let go from “House of Cards” on Netflix (it will have one final season without him). These punishments are probably harsher because they are personal incidents that have identifiable victims.
But axing a show based solely on the tweets of its star is incredibly unusual. While ABC took the road less traveled and ended “Roseanne” entirely, it certainly didn’t happen quickly. Barr has a long history of making controversial statements on social media, including peddling conspiracy theories such as Pizzagate.
Since the network announced the return of the series, critics have said ABC should remove her show — and thus, one of her platforms — in reaction to such comments. But ABC leadership essentially shrugged it off. During the Television Critics’ Association Press tour last summer, ABC Entertainment president Channing Dungey responded to a question about Barr’s tweets by saying, “I try to just worry about the things that I can control.”
But the network’s statement Tuesday, which called Barr’s tweet “abhorrent, repugnant and inconsistent with our values,” takes a shockingly different tone from last year’s limp response. It is cut and dry and leaves no room for misinterpretation: “We have decided to cancel her show.” Whether this incident represents a sea change for how networks and corporations handle off-screen racism, homophobia and the like or is simply a one-off moment remains to be seen.