'This was a last straw': ABC exec defends decision to fire Roseanne Barr after racist tweet

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ABC Entertainment president Channing Dungey gave her first interview since Roseanne Barr’s racist tweet led to the cancellation of the network’s hit <em>Roseanne</em> reboot.&nbsp;(Photos: Getty Images)
ABC Entertainment president Channing Dungey gave her first interview since Roseanne Barr’s racist tweet led to the cancellation of the network’s hit Roseanne reboot. (Photos: Getty Images)

Roseanne Barr apparently had it coming.

ABC Entertainment president Channing Dungey talked for the first time about her decision to cancel TV’s top comedy Roseanne in a new interview with the Hollywood Reporter. According to the exec, the “egregious tweet” — in which Barr compared former Obama aide Valerie Jarrett, who is black, to an ape — was “a last straw.”

Asked “how difficult” it was to pull the plug on ABC’s money-making show, Dungey said, “It wasn’t that difficult. It felt like a line had been crossed and we needed to stand by our values as a company.”

After all, Dungey said that she and Barr had conversations about the things the star had been posting on Twitter. “It’s not a secret that she has had a tendency in the past to be sort of outspoken and go off-book,” Dungey said. “We’ve had multiple conversations about wanting to keep the focus on the show and not to let some of the other stuff eclipse the show. So, in some ways, this was a last straw. But it was also such an egregious tweet that it felt like no matter what, there would have been some action that we would have taken.”

The speed at which the show was canceled isn’t something Dungey regrets either. “I think the swift, decisive action really spoke volumes, and I think we’re proud of what we did,” she said.

Channing Dungey and Roseanne Barr with cast and executive producers of <em>Roseanne</em>&nbsp;in January. (Photo: Group LA via Getty Images)
Channing Dungey and Roseanne Barr with cast and executive producers of Roseanne in January. (Photo: Group LA via Getty Images)

Dungey was also asked why ABC failed to discipline Barr when, just prior to the premiere of the reboot, old photos of her dressed as Hitler while pulling a tray of charred cookies, in the shape of people, surfaced. She explained the rationale: “Those photos were from a long time before our show. She has had a slightly vitriolic history when she was on the show the first time around. One of the things she came to us to say was, ‘I regret my past actions, and I feel like I have important stories to tell. I am looking for a second chance.’ And I’m a believer in second chances.”

That led to a follow-up question about James Gunn‘s old tweets leading to his firing from Guardians of the Galaxy 3 by ABC’s parent company Disney. Dungey wouldn’t address that directly, but she did say that “every situation is unique.” (She was also asked about ABC’s top comedy producer Kenya Barris leaving the studio and whether the pulled Black-ish episode was the sticking point. She admitted to “frustrations” on “all sides” but said it was a “mutual decision.”)

Dungey, who said she hadn’t heard from Roseanne since the drama unfolded, and she had no message for her, was more eager to talk about the Roseanne spin-off, The Conners, which was born out of the debacle

“I am excited about the fact that we were able to bring the cast back and a majority of the crew back to work on The Conners — that’s important to me,” she said. “That was my one disappointment that day — thinking about the innocent people who were affected by the decision. The fact that we’re now able to move forward with The Conners feels good.”

Dungey wouldn’t confirm how the character of Roseanne would be dealt with (rumor has it she’ll be killed off) but did say that all of the actors — minus Barr — will be back. The Conner family remains the focus of the show, with “Dan dealing with what he’s dealing with, Darlene dealing with what she’s dealing with,” and “all those issues that were set up so well in the first nine episodes” continuing.

But when asked whether she thinks the show will lose its fanbase now that it has lost Barr, “the poster child for middle America,” Dungey insisted that, the show is not about politics. “People keep wanting to make it about red versus blue [states], and we dealt with that very effectively in the first episode with Roseanne’s and Jackie’s different political views. The subsequent episodes are very much not about that. It’s a family comedy,” she explained. “We’re very proud of the creative and feel good about [it].”

Barr, who has been on a Twitter break recently, hasn’t addressed Dungey’s comments online yet. Barr gave her first TV interview in July, in which she said, “I made a mistake. It cost me everything, my life’s work. I wish I worded it better.” However, it was unclear how serious she took the matter considering she ended her apology to Jarrett, whom she she said she “didn’t know … was  African-American,” by adding an insult about Jarrett’s appearance.

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