Roseanne (the show) could go on without Roseanne (the performer)

As Roseanne Barr barrels on with a head-scratching mix of apologizing for offensive Twitter posts and doubling down on them, could her rebooted sitcom potentially still be salvaged? 

ABC made the jaw-dropping decision Tuesday to cancel Barr’s sitcom reboot Roseanne —  the 2017-18 TV season’s biggest success, and which had been headed for a second season following the boffo ratings of its late-March premiere. The network’s abrupt decision came mere hours after a Twitter barrage that included a racist post about Valerie Jarrett, an African-American who served as a senior adviser during the Obama administration.

TV critic Bill Brioux has a bold prediction: that Roseanne‘s writers — who gathered Tuesday for their first day of work on the next season, only to learn the show was cancelled — could kill off their lead and move ahead with a re-imagined series called The Conner Family.

It would be a way to preserve the jobs of the vast team of actors, writers, producers, technicians and myriad crew members behind the family drama, which attracted a broad audience for stories set against a blue-collar backdrop.

Cast members of the Roseanne reboot: from right to left, Emma Kenney, Sarah Chalke, Sara Gilbert, Barr, Jayden Rey, John Goodman and Michael Fishman, along with executive producer Whitney Cummings at the series premiere in March. (Valerie Macon/AFP/Getty Images)

“You can bet there are lawyers right now working, trying to sort this out: how they can pay [Barr] off and carry on with a new name and continue on this conversation they are having now with audiences and viewers, which is very important and wanted,” Brioux told CBC News.

“People always used to say that talent will be tolerated no matter what. Well, that’s gone,” he said. “It’s a whole new ballgame out there. People cannot be saying the same things [with] impunity.”

Shifting the narrative  

Excising a lead actor from a high-profile show amid controversy is rare, but it’s not unheard of: just ask Charlie Sheen.

Mr. Tiger Blood was earning more than $1 million per episode for the popular sitcom Two and a Half Men in 2011 when his bizarre and outlandish post-rehab outbursts got him axed and replaced by Ashton Kutcher.

These days, it would definitely fit in with a current movement in American entertainment.

Streaming series House of Cards and Transparent are two critically acclaimed shows that will continue after removing their respective stars.

Facing the sexual misconduct scandal surrounding House of Cards star Kevin Spacey, the team behind Netflix’s dark political drama about dastardly politician Frank Underwood immediately hit pause. Plans for a sixth season were ultimately scrapped.

Instead, when the show returns for an abbreviated, eight-episode final season, House of Cards will be centred on Robin Wright, whose progressively Lady Macbeth-ish Claire Underwood has moved from behind-the-scenes power player to commander-in-chief.

Similarly, Amazon’s Transparent cut central actor Jeffrey Tambor after a probe into allegations of misconduct. Though creator Jill Soloway’s dramedy has largely focused on Tambor’s character Maura Pfefferman coming out as transgender, the barrier-breaking series has also delved into the struggles of Maura’s family members.

A recent plot line underlined youngest daughter Ali (Gaby Hoffmann) questioning her identity — echoing the personal journey of Soloway, who now identifies as gender non-binary, and setting the foundation for a potential path forward for Transparent‘s fifth and final season.

“Hopefully [the season] sets the Pfeffermans up with some sort of beautiful reclaiming,” Soloway told the Hollywood Reporter in a recent interview.

Gaby Hoffmann plays the youngest daughter, Ali, in the Amazon original series Transparent, which will continue without lead actor Jeffrey Tambor in its fifth and final season. (Chris Pizzello/Invision/Associated Press)

Careful thought into which character or characters can successfully carry a beloved show forward is key. CBC’s recently confirmed reboot of Street Legal, for instance, could have faced a tricky casting situation given the sexual battery and harassment lawsuits filed against actor Albert Schultz, deposed artistic director of Toronto’s Soulpepper Theatre and one of the legal drama’s original faces.

But the new project will avoid him entirely, with the story to be centred on Cynthia Dale’s character, Olivia Novak, and the original characters most associated with Novak, showrunner Bruce Smith told CBC earlier this month.

“We have only so many former characters we would want to bring back in a first season of a new show,” he said.

“Albert was never on the radar for the show.”

Will people watch?

“Corporations are finally waking up and thinking that … they can’t just think about the bottom line,” said Henry Giroux, English and cultural studies professor at McMaster University in Hamilton and director of the school’s Centre for Scholarship in the Public Interest.

“They need to think about matters of justice and matters of responsibility. They need to be somewhat concerned about the kind of images, the kind of reputations that they have, and what they’ve been associated with.

“And I think there’ll be more of this.”

Barr, right, with Laurie Metcalfe, centre, and Sara Gilbert in an episode of the Roseanne reboot. (Adam Rose/ABC)

If Roseanne sans-Barr ends up getting any kind of revamp, it will undoubtedly be watched by fans of the series, TV critics and those simply curious — at least initially. 

“It’ll open big… People will be very curious to see how [ABC] wrangled out of this predicament,” Brioux predicted.

The first post-Sheen episode of Two and a Half Men, for instance, garnered nearly 28 million viewers. The series continued for three more seasons, albeit to ever-diminishing viewership.

“If it’s a good show, just as it was back earlier, a few months ago when it returned, people will keep watching.”


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