It’s a network executive’s worst nightmare — having to cancel a hit show.
That was the scenario ABC Entertainment president Channing Dungey faced Tuesday morning. Fresh off the holiday weekend, Dungey and other ABC and Disney leaders were thrown into crisis mode after realizing that Roseanne Barr, the volatile star of its biggest show, the revival of “Roseanne,” went on a Twitter tear late Monday night and Tuesday morning.
A bizarre tweet that savaged former Obama administration advisor Valerie Jarrett, who is black, as the byproduct of “muslim brotherhood and planet of the apes had a baby” was the last straw for ABC amid a gathering storm of outrage online calling for ABC to cancel the show.
But there was almost as much surprise a few hours later when ABC distributed a terse one sentence statement from Dungey: “Roseanne’s Twitter statement is abhorrent, repugnant and inconsistent with our values, and we have decided to cancel her show.”
ABC’s move has been praised by many while others — including Variety TV critic Caroline Framke — say the network’s real fault was in giving Barr a platform in the first place, given her history of making racist, derogatory and out-there public statements.
Dungey made TV history in February 2016 when she became the first African-American woman to serve as entertainment president of a Big Four network. She had already faced the awkward situation of having to defend a joke in a “Roseanne” episode that was interpreted by many viewers as a slam on ABC’s effort to bring diversity to its comedy lineup with shows revolving around African-American and Asian families, “Blackish” and “Fresh Off the Boat.” In that instance, Dungey firmly said she stood behind the “Roseanne” writers.
But there was no question of interpretation in Barr’s off-screen comment regarding Jarrett. Those who have long worked with Dungey say she is decisive, grounded, and unfailingly ethical in business dealings. Dungey has climbed the ranks as a programming executive at ABC and ABC Studios since joining the company in 2004.
The swiftness of the Barr controversy made for a tough few hours on Tuesday morning, but a source familiar with the situation said the decision to end the show’s run on ABC — even with its impressive ratings — was not a hard call for Dungey and her boss, Disney-ABC TV Group president Ben Sherwood. As Disney boss Bob Iger said in his own tweet: “There was only one thing to do here, and that was the right thing.”
The imbroglio undoubtedly raised Dungey’s profile in the eyes of viewers who wouldn’t otherwise know the name of ABC’s top programmers. Writers, directors, and producers were quick to praise Dungey’s action.
Here’s a sampling: