A hit reboot, a racist tweet, far-right conspiracy theories and Donald Trump - just what is going on with the US TV star Roseanne Barr?
Roseanne? I thought that was a sitcom from the nineties?
Correct. Roseanne was a hugely successful sitcom, which originally ran for nine seasons between 1988 and 1997. It portrayed the life of a working-class American family, starring Roseanne Barr as the titular Roseanne and revolving around the Conners, a family struggling to get by on limited income in the drab, fictional exurb of Lanford, Illinois. It was noted as being one of the first sitcoms to realistically portray a blue-collar American family; both parents worked, and the lead characters were overweight, but were not the butt of jokes.
John Goodman, of course, played Roseanne’s husband Dan, with the couple having three children: Becky (Lecy Goranson/Sarah Chalke), Darlene (Sara Gilbert) and DJ (Michael Fishman), with a fourth, Jerry Garcia Conner, added later on in the run.
The show was hugely successful, being the most-watched TV show in the US from 1989 to 1990 and remained in the top 4 most-watched shows for six of its nine seasons, attracting a host of famous guest star cameos along the way, including Sharon Stone, Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Tony Curtis, Bob Hope, Tim Curry, Neil Patrick Harris, Hugh Hefner, Jerry Springer and even Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley, who appeared as their Absolutely Fabulous characters Edina and Patsy.
However, by season 9, it had slipped down to number 35 in the rankings and the show bid farewell with the final series, which saw the family win the lottery; which turned out to be a story written by Roseanne Connor about her life to cope with the death of Dan, which was revealed to have happened at the end of season 8.
So why is it in the news?
The show was revived in 2017, with television network ABC greenlighting a nine-episode run which was filmed that year.
The rebooted show premiered on 27 March 2018 with two back-to-back episodes with the story set 20 years after the previous episode, and the whole of season 9 written off as a dream; thus husband Dan was still alive. Roseanne’s character is revealed to have voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 election, mirroring the public support that Roseanne Barr had already given the president.
The premiere was hugely successful, bringing in an initial live audience of 18.44m, which grew to 27.26m after 7 days of delayed viewing. After this, Roseanne was immediately renewed again for an eleventh season of 13 episodes. President Trump phoned Barr to congratulate her on the success of the show. The season finale went out on 22 May, and was the “highest rated and most watched series of the broadcast season,” according to The Hollywood Reporter, capping a remarkable comeback.
She commented that she hoped the show would continue to address current US issues and “[open] up civil conversations between people instead of just mudslinging”.
So how has that played out?
On Tuesday morning, Roseanne Barr embarked on a Twitter tirade against liberals, invoking conspiracy theories and retweeting a post in support of Tommy Robinson, leader of the far-right racist organisation the English Defence League, who had been jailed that day for contempt of court.
She accused Chelsea Clinton of being married to a nephew of billionaire philanthropist George Soros - a liberal who is a familiar target of the antisemitic far right, tweeting the words “Chelsea Soros Clinton”:
But Roseanne wasn’t done:
A spokesman for George Soros responded to the slur:
However, the worst was yet to come, as she then tweeted - and then quickly deleted - “muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes had a baby=vj” - in a reply to a tweet which accused the African-American former White House aide Valerie Jarrett of being involved in an Obama administration cover-up.
She quickly apologised, but the damage was done:
She then tried to blame the tweet on the sleeping aid Ambien:
Before writing: “I apologize. I am now leaving Twitter.”
What happened next?
“Roseanne’s Twitter statement is abhorrent, repugnant and inconsistent with our values, and we have decided to cancel her show,” read a statement Tuesday from ABC Entertainment President Channing Dungey.
Fellow actors and producers on the show had already indicated that they would no longer be willing to work on it.
Viacom also announced that its cable networks, Paramount Network, TV Land and CMT would no longer show reruns of the old Roseanne, while Barr’s agent, ICM, said that it would no longer be representing her.
The cancellation has apparently cost ABC $22.7 million in advertising revenue already booked for the next season; however, Jason Kanefsky of Havas Media, suggested that, “No advertisers would have run in the show anyway. It would have gone on a list where we won’t run on it. Today is Starbucks [diversity training day] — no one wants to be part of this mess.”
What was her response?
After her initial contrition and apologies, she has now returned to Twitter and is currently in the middle of a retweeting spree of pretty much anything and everything; mainly tweets agreeing with her and further conspiracy theories.
Meanwhile, emboldened members of the far-right are predictably rising up to declare the issue a matter of free speech and accusing liberals of hypocrisy. Witness one example opinion, retweeted by Roseanne:
The result is that Twitter is, currently, a horrible mess of angry people spewing hate at each other.
It remains to be seen: Roseanne is already on the way to becoming a figurehead for the far-right and, well… we wouldn’t rule out the below.