Hey, ABC, Let Me Save You A Few Million Dollars…[Updated]

Following the implosion of the new “Roseanne,” ABC is reportedly considering rebooting the show without its evil, racist star. The idea is to spin-off a new “Roseanne” spore, this one focusing on Darlene, the character played since the original show’s inception by actress Sara Gilbert, who smartly signaled her virtuousness by being the first cast member to condemn her TV mother’s ugly tweet. From The Hollywood Reporter:

“As we previously reported, executive producers Tom Werner, who also executive produced the original series, and Gilbert, the main driving force behind the revival, are believed to be spearheading the efforts to continue the show and keep the writers, led by executive producer/showrunner Bruce Helford, and crew employed post-cancellation.”

The ethical value here is either incompetence—for this idea is doomed to fail—or dishonesty,  if ABC and Disney know it will fail, but are just launching a hopeless mutant to remove any lingering bad public relations over punishing hundreds of artists and fans of the new “Roseanne” because of a single, misbegotten tweet.

It is one or the other.

Why is the show doomed? One word: “AfterM*A*S*H.  Here’s another one: “Joey.” And another: “Flo.” Or “Grady.” Here’s  three words: “Joanie Loves Chachi.” Another three: “The Lone Gunmen.” Taking a subordinate character (or more) from a successful, star-led TV hit and trying to make a supporting actor type carry an otherwise starless enterprise is almost always a recipe for disaster. The exception, of course, is when the star of the new spin-off, previously just a supporting character, is a unique, vivid,charismatic, star-quality performer who just needed a chance in the spotlight. Sherman Hemsley, aka. “George Jefferson,” was an example.

Sara Gilbert is not such an example. She’s a decent actress with a narrow range, mostly consisting of sarcastic and cynical repartee.  She is no new face: Gilbert is 43 [This is a correction from the original post, which said she was 34.] .  She is no beauty; nobody is going to tune is to look at her. She has never been the star of any of her projects. She hasn’t made a film since 2004; on TV she has made the rounds of various dramas and dramadies, fewer comedies, though she has a continuing episodic role on “Big Bang Theory.” The verdict is in, however: Gilbert’s not a star. She’s a serviceable, competent, working actress. (Her sister, now retired, did have star power: Melissa Gilbert.) Nobody watched “Roseanne” to see Darlene.

I find it hard to believe show-business professionals actually believe a Roseanne-less “Roseanne” centering on a character played by a lifetime supporting actress is going to succeed. Then again, Tom Werner is the one who let Roseanne sing the National Anthem, so I guess it’s possible.

My best guess, however, is that Sara is being set up to fail, so ABC can say, “Well, we gave the cast a chance! It’s not our fault they flopped!”

33 thoughts on “Hey, ABC, Let Me Save You A Few Million Dollars…[Updated]

  1. I think the most apt comparison would be 8 Simple Rules, which had its initial run interrupted by the unexpected death of John Ritter, which put them in an awkward position. It did last a season and a half without him, but his ghost hung over the whole thing.

    You also don’t mention the successful spinoffs of Frasier and… well, Frasier’s the only one that comes to mind, so maybe you have a point. That was also hot off the heels of Cheers’ success and had a character worth exploring. Technically, Family Matters is a spinoff, but it became The Steve Urkel Show and was a monstrosity that bore no resemblance had no moving parts from its predecessor.

    Revivals are weird things, especially when its got the whole cast and crew back. It’s not like remakes, where they take an old property and make it new, like with My Little Pony. (Boy, I wish I could think of a less embarrassing example.) Actual revivals of shows like Will and Grace and Roseanne aren’t that common, except for Perry Mason, I think. Even the 90’s Get Smart was a remake with a veneer of authenticity provided by the participation of Don Adams.

    Well, movies are more my specialty, so I should just shut my face.

      • They brought in several stars of varying vintage: Henry Winkler played a role, as did David Spade.

        It did not help a show that lost it’s sparkle. Oh, it was interesting, but not the diversion before Ritter’s death.

    • An even better example of an animated remake would be the new “Ducktales”. It had a lot to live up to with the original, and IMHO, has largely surpassed it.

      Seems to me that in order to “bring back” any kind of show you’ve got to walk a tightrope between satisfying the original fans while staying relevant enough to bring in new ones.

    • Revivals are weird things, especially when its got the whole cast and crew back. It’s not like remakes, where they take an old property and make it new, like with My Little Pony. (Boy, I wish I could think of a less embarrassing example.)

      Battlestar Galactica, Nikita, V, Voltron: Legendary Defender.

      Actual revivals of shows like Will and Grace and Roseanne aren’t that common, except for Perry Mason

      They weren’t before. Don’t really know how they became trendy. Now we had 2 completely unnessesary X-files revival seasons, 90210, Fuller House, Girl Meets World, 2 new seasons of Dallas till Major Nelson died, the aforementioned Will and Grace, an attempt to bring back Heroes, that attempted Knight Rider abomination,

      • And none of the revivals were any good. (Some of the shows weren’t any good to begin with.) In those cases, the show now stars inferior versions of the original stars—grown up kid stars who haven’t been able to cut it as adults, or adult actors who have aged out of their roles, like Mulder and Scully. THAT one is just depressing. The two actors look enervated and tired, and Gillian Anderson’s voice is shot. Mostly they are nostalgia exercises with no other artistic or entertainment justification.

  2. I only watched the first episode of the reboot, but it had a much bigger roll for Darlene this time around. It focused on Darlene, a liberal leaning women living under the roof of Rosanne again.

    Sara Gilbert was also the executive producer who worked behind the scenes for years to make the reboot possible. She is the one hurt the most professionally by Rosanne’s implosion. The network is not so much setting a side character up to fail, as giving a producer that drew 7% of the American television audience another chance with the concept.

    • Thus setting her up to fail. Producers aren’t performers. The fact that she is hurt most and was a lead in getting the show up doesn’t cut any ice with the audience. In 20 years, audiences have made it crystal that she can’t carry a show, a movie, a series. She mostly has worked on “The Talk” a rip-off of “The View.”

  3. I liked Major Crimes better than The Closer. Trapper John was a good show. Some shows, are seed beds for spinoffs, All in the Family and Mary Tyler Moore spring to mind.

    Those were built from strong character/actors, spinoffs must have a strong cast member or concept shift to make it different. Maybe there would be room in the budget for a new major character with that star power?

  4. They’d have to take her, move her away and give her really good writers. “Frasier” worked, in part, because we didn’t have to wonder where Sam and the gang were. Although, they still managed to get everyone but Kristie Alley to make an appearance.

    There has to be an angle. “Trapper John, M.D.” took place years after M*A*S*H and made virtually no mention of his Korean War years. “Laverne & Shirley” rarely ran into the Fonz, Vicki Lawrence’s character had to be softened for “Mama’s Family” and “Maude”/”The Jeffersons” lived far, far away from Archie. Talented supporting cast members like Ken Berry, Carol Burnett, Rue McLanahan, etc, also help a spin-off.

    But, leave a “Roseanne” spin-off where it belongs. Goodman’s the best actor in the cast; hence, he’s rarely out of work.

    • God, “Mama’s Family” was a horrible show. The skits it was based on were also awful. But that’s a good counter example: Vicky Lawrence was the most second banana second banana imaginable.

      I don’t think “Frazier” is, though. I was surprised the series worked, but Kelsey Grammar is star quality, as “Boss” showed, and David Hyde Pierce was a discovery. That series also deftly engaged in outright farce, which was (and is) rare on TV.

  5. 2 1/2 men lasted 3 seasons after Charlie Sheen left, but they did bring in Kutcher who was the highest paid TV actor at that time. The Office lasted two seasons after Steve Carell left (though they were really forcing those last two seasons).

    Stargate lasted a little while after Richard Dean Anderson left, but it was really a different show after that. He was one of the title characters, but the other three were enough to carry the show.

    None of them are what Rosanne is to Rosanne.

    I like what CBS is doing to Young Sheldon. None of the cast, but all of the story line.

    • Oh, goodness. Your first two should have ended when their lead actor left. I found nothing funny about “Two and a Half Men at all; “The Office” tried desperately to replace Steve Carell whose schtick as an idiot boss was getting old by the time he left; ultimately they had to derail Ed Helms’ character to put him in charge and the show was begging for the bullet to put it out of its misery by the end.

  6. Star Trek managed several workable spinoffs, each new one designed — or if not designed then self-evolved with the aid of design (and writing and most of all casting) genius — to satisfy different audiences. But then, space opera, (fictionalized science) has the advantage of being able to move its root concept around in space, time, and behavior the way usual television offspring of popular parentage do not. The Trekkies TV day is gone, except for the occasional big screen flash, just like the Western and the perfect family show (both themselves spinoffs from radio); the medical shows (remember them? ); the “legal”* and police heyday; the dumb rural and/or Southerner shows (where the ugly ignorant idea of “deplorables” originates … and their producers have a lot to answer for), the quirky-time-of-teenager phase; the violent — emotionally and physically — so-called reality shows; the modern/dysfunctional normal family; the alternate perfect family followed by the imperfect of same; and so on. Every new good idea eventually tamed into a sitcom. Unless it was a sitcom in the first place, in which case it either lived long and prospered (op.cit. or q.v.**) or grew up a little and died in childbirth, past its prime. The only “good” spinoff is a show that, unlike it’s human counterpart, can stand on its own from birth. It is a New Show. It may have referents, but anyone not knowing from whence it sprung could perceive it whole as it stands. And that is not then a spinoff at all.

    That was just off the top of my head so don’t get picky about examples.

    * “legal” – I wouldn’t dare print the word in this context in Jack’s presence without the deprecating “”s.

    ** Vulcan Language Dictionary (VLD) Compiled by Selek from Vulcan Language Institute, Marketa Z. Usage, e.g. shalom and aloha, for both greeting and parting.

    p.s. I just found out that the U.K. banned Latin abbreviations from its government websites c. 2016, in favor of “plain English”. Damned if I will give up my i.e.: et.al., c., vs., a.m./p.m., Q.E.D., sic, i.e., ibid., Ph.D., R.I.P., S.O.S., etc.. Now they spell everything out . . . while the rest of the world uses the most language-corrupting of all: texting.

    p.s. The language of the United States is American. Just a spinoff of English, y’know.

  7. I just think ABC has been playing this so wrong from the beginning. First, I would not have fired Roseanne. (This, of course, is a separate question from whether she deserved to be fired-she did something aggressively stupid and has no legitimate gripe with ABC’s decision). The show was extremely successful, and showcased two excellent character actors (John Goodman and Laurie Metcalf). Roseanne’s stupid and racist tweet does not change that. There were other options. I would have likely suspended her for a season without pay, and explained her absence as the character was incarcerated, and would have ended some in the know third wall breaking jokes suggesting she was incarcerated because of something she said (might have even had the Jackie Harris character mention that she should have known to stay off Twitter).

    Then, after a season, I would have brought her back. The show was making money, and there is no reason to believe that after this blows over, it wouldn’t make money again. It was also employing people. Finally, one racist and insensitive tweet does not make a racist, and Roseanne, similarly to our president, is not a racist. She’s mean and nasty to everyone she disagrees with, she’s an equal opportunity asshole-not a racist. This is not a Cosby situation-he was straight up raping women for years. She did and said one stupid thing that could be construed as racist (I actually think it was just meant as mean, not as particularly racist, but I know I’m in the minority). I’ve said mean things that could be construed as racist too in a moment of frustration. The difference being I’m smart enough not to say such things only in front of my wife, and I avoid saying anything at all on social media.

    Additionally, despite her faults, it was obvious in the original run of Roseanne, that she did make a concentrated effort to be inclusive. She had black characters on the show, and even had a ridiculous episode in which DJ did not want to kiss a girl int he school play because she was black. (I found it ridiculous because no one ever asked the kid if he was simply not attracted to black persons, which to my way of thinking, would not bet racist. I am almost never attracted to Asian women, but I don’t think that’s racist anymore than it would be eyeist to fail to be attracted t women with brown eyes.) I know you haven’t watched the original run because Roseanne is a very off-putting individual. If you had, you could never come to the conclusion she was racist. Abrasive, vicious, unethical, and sometimes mean? Sure. But racist, no.

    All in all, to me, ABC has an obligation to make money. If the show is successful, and can be successful again, you shouldn’t can it for political reasons. Of course, the show won’t be successful for a little while if it uses Roseanne while the controversy is fresh, but that’s why you put her character elsewhere and let it blow over. Then, bring her back and see what happens.

    Lastly, to me, the most ethical course would have been to use the show to discuss the controversy. The show could then have maybe even pointed out the blatant hypocrisy going on whereby supporters of Trump have to be careful not to offend anyone, but non-supporters can feel free to say any vicious and vile thing they wish. It didn’t happen, but that’s what I think should have happened.

    • Interesting thoughts. It was clear from this season that she was suffering from opioid addiction. They could have put her character in rehab very easily.

  8. I can’t see any way where “Roseanne” without Roseanne is a success. Anyone on the production team who thinks otherwise is overlooking a major factor in all this: a sizeable chunk, perhaps the majority, of the audience that made the revival a hit probably feels like Roseanne got a raw deal and won’t come back to a show without her on principle. Especially with the glaring double-standard (so obvious and elephant-in-the-room-ish that even CNN’s hosts had to comment on it) that TBS provided with Samantha Bee in the same week. The core audience that liked the new Roseanne isn’t coming back to watch “Darlene”, or “Aunt Jackie”, or “Heeeere’s DJ!” or any other idiotic, ill-conceived spinoff, because many of them will want to punish ABC for what they consider unfair treatment of Roseanne Barr.

  9. I’m so happy I tuned in this morning to hear a bunch of men critiquing a woman’s looks — again.

    I have no idea if a spin-off would work or not, but a ton of successful ones (with arguably not Ms. America-type leads) knocked it out of the park: Frasier, Laverne and Shirley, Mork & Mindy, every Law & Order, Star Trek, and CSI spin-off, Angel (okay, he is objectively attractive — but a terrible actor), A Different World, Melrose Place, Benson, The Facts of Life. I’m sure I’m missing some obvious ones.

    As for Darlene — she was my favorite character on the old show and I love her recurring role on The Big Bang Theory.

    I have no idea if a reboot is wise or not, but I think your analysis above is a bit too far out on the ledge.

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