Three months ago, in this space, I predicted the end of the Rosanne Barr sitcom in my piece “ABC Will Cancel ‘Roseanne’ When Its Star Takes Too Much Ambien And Tweets Out That Valerie Jarrett Is Half Ape.”
I take no pride in my prognosticative abilities. The story of the “Roseanne” reboot and its demise is an American cultural tragedy whose historical ramifications will reverberate long after the doomsday device kills us all. Our nation may never recover from the trauma.
The show’s cancellation poked at a pustular wound and aggravated the digestive tracts of many comedians on Twitter. It wrenched open a monstrous divide and now no one will ever sleep again.
Racism is unacceptable, but, as the Barr incident shows, it exists, and it’s not going away. Emboldened by a president who is an -sshole, white Americans feel entitled to call the cops on black people whenever they want, using whatever calling plan gives them the broadest coverage at a discount. And the TV industry feeds these people a steady diet of “Duck Dynasty” a l’orange.
But Barr’s bigoted bleating obscures an even larger truth. Our entire economy is built on the flimsiest of edifices. Too many racist people work in the television industry. That destroys lives. TV often falls apart when its creators are revealed to be virulent bigots. People may not remember, but I do.
It happened to “The Twilight Zone” and “I Love Lucy.” Aaron Spelling lost “The Love Boat” when he wrote, in a letter to The Hollywood Reporter, that “Issac The Bartender would never marry a white woman.”
My first job in television, as a staff writer for “Playhouse 90,” ended when I protested Paddy Chayevsky’s script “Fire All The Unionized Irish Dockworkers And Replace Them With Temporary Laborers Of Color Whom We Don’t Have To Pay Consistently.” For 15 years after that, I had to scrape together a living writing cultural criticism and novels about the Jewish-American experience until I got my next TV job, which also ended when Norman Lear wrote the controversial episode “George Jefferson Poops At The Shul.”
Finally, I managed to score myself a sweet gig at “Knight Rider,” but that fell apart when David Hasselhoff said, in an interview with Der Speigel, “I wish I could drive KITT into the ghetto and clean up all the filth.”
The problem has persisted into the modern era. The BBC forced Julian Fellowes to give up “Downton Abbey” when he tweeted out that “Lady Edith contracted gonorrhea by listening to race music.” Shonda Rimes was forced to move her operations to Netflix after an episode of “Scandal” titled “Immigrants Are Bad At Sex.” “Two Broke Girls” prominently featured an Asian character who spoke with a broken accent and was consistently depicted as being less intelligent than a horse. That last one is actually true.
In the end, though, Barr’s bigotry went further than all the others. It ended up being too much for just about everyone. Even Bill O’Reilly, Gary Busey, and David Duke spoke out against her.
Yet I don’t think we’ve seen the last of this controversy, or any controversy. Since Tuesday alone, Steve Levitan of “Modern Family,” David Benioff and D.B. Weiss of “Game Of Thrones,” and Sharon Horgan, co-creator of “Catastrophe,” have all retweeted a meme that implies a eugencial solution to global overpopulation.
Surprisingly, Lena Waithe, creator of “The Chi,” created that meme. Meanwhile, David Kohan said that “I’ll keep making the ‘Will And Grace’ reboot as long as I don’t have to hire any black actors.” Soon, only Judd Apatow and The Duplass Brothers will remain to make TV shows, though that’s already almost the case anyway.
The Barr imbroglio continues to ripple throughout the industry, like an enormous macadamia nut thrown into the deep end. Within minutes of the “Roseanne” cancellation, I received a message from my friend Henry, who worked on the technical end of the show, asking me if I had any job leads.
An hour passed and I got seven more emails, from people in the makeup department, a cameraman, three writers, and John Goodman, also looking for work. Soon I realized that, other than my beleaguered manservant Roger, every single one of my friends and acquaintances worked for Roseanne Barr.
It appears that my monthly poker game will have to be postponed indefinitely. I’m working on my own TV pilot, for a streaming network that doesn’t yet exist but has still ordered full series runs for 47 shows. Hopefully I’ll be able to give jobs to some of my friends.
But they won’t have security. At some point, I might publicly write something that could be construed as racist. It’s always possible.