Hours after ABC canceled its top-rated sitcom “Roseanne” on Tuesday, Hollywood power players weighed in on the stunning turn of events that followed a racist tweet sent by star Roseanne Barr.
“I think ABC did absolutely the right thing in canceling the show. I commend (Disney’s) Ben (Sherwood) and Bob (Iger) and the whole ABC team,” Richard Plepler told Variety while attending Lincoln Center’s American Songbook Gala in New York, where he was honored for his contributions to the arts as chairman and CEO of HBO. “There’s absolutely no room in our culture for that kind of bigotry. It’s unacceptable and I applaud the alacrity in which they did it,” Plepler said.
Barr posted a message on Twitter Tuesday morning saying, “muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes had a baby=vj” in reference to Jarrett, an African-American woman born in Iran. As the backlash erupted on social media, ABC pulled the plug on Barr’s revival series, which was due to return in the fall with 13 more episodes. As the news of the cancellation rocked the industry, there was much discussion about all the jobs lost in the split second it took for Barr to post her racist statement, which she later apologized for.
“I don’t know in this situation if it was fair or not,” said Ted Sarandos, chief content officer for Netflix. “When we were faced with a similar situation in how to keep ‘House of Cards’ going post-Kevin [Spacey], we decided to keep on going for the 300 people who worked on the show and the 2,000 people in Baltimore who depend on that show for their living. It’s a really tough situation to end any production and leave people without jobs. For us, we went forward and it allowed us to provide a new great season of television.”
The “Roseanne” debacle underscores the perils and pitfalls of social media for the entertainment industry. While it can be a great promotional tool and a means of stars communicating directly to fans, it has its downsides. Some critics say it’s a breeding ground for negativity. Sarandos says Twitter is “unfiltered for better or for worse” while Bravo’s Andy Cohen argues that Twitter is nothing but harmful.
“Twitter is a cauldron of hate,” said the ‘Watch What Happens Live!’ host. “You have to be really careful about the things you say — the outrage police is strong. People are waiting to be outraged and attack you over everything. But, in this case with Roseanne, this was something that actually should be outraged about.”
Cohen admits he does censor himself at times when using Twitter in order to keep peace with his fans. As a result, most of his tweets are used to promote his work.
“If I didn’t have a talk show, I probably would not be on Twitter,” he said.
While the dizzying demise of “Roseanne” dominated conversations during the gala’s red carpet arrivals and cocktail hour, HBO stars such as John Oliver, Lena Dunham and Nicole Kidman later took the stage of Alice Tully Hall to thank Plepler for his support and commitment in creating meaningful television shows and films on the cabler. Kidman called the exec her “cheerleader, mentor and very good friend,” and said he has changed her life by allowing her to produce “Big Little Lies” with Reese Witherspoon.
“He took a chance on us. Not only as actresses, but also as producers. He greenlit the production primarily produced by women, starring women way before there was a big push to do so,” said Kidman. “Thank you Richard for believing in us and giving us the chance to do it all over again and greenlighting season 2.”
The night’s crowd-pleasing performances included Tony Bennett, Jimmy Buffett, Keith Urban, Renée Elise Goldsberry and “Game of Thrones” star Emilia Clarke, who sang a soulful rendition of “The Way You Look Tonight.” Also in attendance were gala co-chairs CAA managing director Bryan Lourd and his husband, restaurateur Bruce Bozzi, as well as IAC and Expedia chairman Barry Diller and wife Diane von Furstenberg.
This year’s gala raised $3.1 million and the proceeds will support the American Songbook series, which is a celebration of the country’s greatest songwriters, as well as the Lincoln Center’s educational and community programs.
(Pictured: Richard Plepler)