This is not the first time the ABC family sitcom is making headlines after its lead actress, Roseanne Barr, caused a stir.
Probe the TV industry and you’ll hardly find that everyone agrees there isn’t a problem with the rebooted ’90s TV series Roseanne, or more precisely, the woman who has portrayed its main character for nearly 10 years.
As Emmy voters prepare to spend the next few months deliberating over which shows deserve nominations ahead of the 70th Primetime Emmy Awards, ABC’s Roseanne revival, with staggering season premiere ratings (18 million viewers, to be exact, followed by a still jaw-dropping 15 million for the second episode), is virtually sure to compete for a statuette. But in the light of recent contentious political statements made by its star, comedian Roseanne Barr, not all members of the industry, or even the audience, believe the program deserves much recognition.
Back in April 2017, 3 months after Donald J. Trump was proclaimed 45th President of the United States, ABC, willing to take advantage of the growing TV nostalgia, was looking for a show that appealled to Middle America. Roseanne, which followed the daily lives and struggles of a blue-collar American family and has been, from 1988 to 1997, one of the most watched TV series in the U.S., was the ideal candidate.
A few weeks later, after Will & Grace, Twin Peaks and Gilmore Girls, the network announced that Roseanne was going to be the next beloved series to make a much-awaited comeback. On Tuesday, March 27, millions of people at home identified either with the Trump supporter matriarch played by Barr, or the members of her family she clashed with over divergent political views. Needless to say, with such high ratings, ABC had hit the mark, and it didn’t take long before Roseanne was renewed for a second season.
Then came a tweet followed by a storm. Roseanne Barr, famous for being outspoken in life as much as on social media (she actually asserts that the President “stole” her act), took to her Twitter account to support Trump while referring to a far-right conspiracy theory about child sex-trafficking debunked a long time ago. “President Trump has freed so many children held in bondage to pimps all over this world. Hundreds each month. He has broken up trafficking rings in high places everywhere. notice that. I disagree on some things, but give him benefit of doubt-4 now,” read the tweet.
Barr later deleted her post, but forever reminded the public whose opinions ABC had indirectly offered amplified momentum and scrutiny. With a heedless tweet, the 65-year-old actress inadvertently opened the door to her controversial past that already made the headlines in the ’90s, raising concerns about the level of exposure she and her provocative views are awarded on primetime TV.
The affair drove critics of the comedian to expose her somewhat forgotten troubled former times. After Barr made waves online quickly resurfaced a 2009 photo of herself posing dressed as Hitler while holding a tray of burnt gingerbread cookies for a magazine. The picture, having a laugh parodying the Holocaust, was far from being Roseanne Barr’s first move that caused heated controversy.
The first months of filming Roseanne were well-known for being pretty chaotic, plagued with constant tensions between Barr and producers. In 1990, Jeff Harris, early executive producer of the show, published a sarcastic note in Variety announcing his resignation. “Instead, my wife and I have decided to share a vacation in the relative peace and quiet of Beirut,” it said. 3 years later, Barr and her then-husband, Tom Arnold, who were both producers on the series, were slammed for getting the writing staff numbered jerseys, which certainly made them feel irreplaceable. That’s without counting the numerous occasions Barr threatened to leave the show or take it to another network over creative differences, the most notorious being the firing of the series creator Matt Williams after only 13 episodes, as Barr believed she deserved more credit than him.
Roseanne Barr being a controversial figure isn’t news to anyone, especially ABC, who presses members of the audience to dissociate the real Roseanne, who once ran for President, from the fictional one. “I just try to worry about the things that I can control,” answered ABC Entertainment president, Channing Dungey, after being questioned about her tweets.
The controversy associated with Barr clearly evokes the one that surrounded Trump during his campaign and, in fact, helped boost it. Although this could represent an advantage for ABC, the company knows perfectly well it’s swimming in troubled water and runs the risk of damaging the Disney-owned network’s family-oriented image.
As she plays a fictional in-your-face character on screen, one can’t ignore Barr does the same in real life. Just like Roseanne Conners, the comedian, who once claimed she had multiple personalities and was more often known for her liberal stances, is undeniably prompting inevitable conversations between differing sides of one argument.