Hollywood Desperately Needs to Fill the Hole Left by 'Roseanne'

By Salena Zito

June 5, 2018 6 min read

I have never been a Roseanne Barr fan — she reinforced my instincts on July 25, 1990, when she stood in the center of Jack Murphy Stadium in San Diego, California, and decided it would be funny to stick her fingers in her ears and grab her crotch while shrieking the national anthem and then spit to her right and exit.

Not only was she treated to a hurl of boos and projectiles during the performance; during a flight on Air Force One, then-President George H.W. Bush condemned her performance as "disgraceful."

Twenty-eight years later, I still do not personally care for her, but I had to give her props for a singular stroke of brilliance. In the now-canceled reincarnation of her show, "Roseanne," she presented an honest — though not entirely sympathetic — American middle-class family that struggled not just economically but also with differing political views. It was spot on.

Simply put, it did something no other television program has done in the modern era. Her two-episode premiere earned an astonishing 18.2 million viewers, overperforming in the media markets located in Middle America, with Tulsa, Oklahoma, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh leading the numbers. Cities like New York and Los Angeles, which almost always drive the No. 1 slot, didn't even crack the top 20.

In a twist of irony, she — of all people — delivered.

What those numbers showed is a craving for simple respect, a genuine look at a family who has a Donald Trump supporter as one of their own and is not the butt of all the jokes or incessantly mocked.

Critics, meanwhile, were unable to separate Roseanne the person from "Roseanne" the show. But on TV, Roseanne is a mouthy, loving working-class mom.

The show's only controversial moment was when Roseanne and her husband, Dan, fall asleep in front of the TV and upon waking, start talking about the shows "Black-ish" and "Fresh off the Boat."

Dan goes, "We missed all the shows about black and Asian families."

And Roseanne says, "They're just like us. There, now you're all caught up."

In real life, Barr is a crass and vulgar provocateur. If you followed her career with even the slightest attention to detail, you could have predicted it was only a matter of time before she sparked fresh controversy.

Her tweet last week likening black former Barack Obama aide Valerie Jarrett to an ape was disgraceful and punished immediately — rightly so. Unfortunately, moments after she was fired, Trump haters went for their usual target, Trump supporters, using their favorite weapon: the race card.

Pundits paraded through cable news programs, suggesting that because Barr portrayed a Trump supporter on her show and because Trump supporters loved her show, her real-life racism revealed their real-life racism.

Two years after Trump was elected and despite plenty of evidence to the contrary (a study by the Democracy Fund Voter Study Group showed that 9.2 percent of Obama voters went for Trump, helping him seal his victory), people who hate Trump still fundamentally believe his supporters are bigots at heart.

To them, Barr's demise offered proof once again that Trump haters are superior and correct while Trump voters are exactly who they thought they are.

If the lesson the left takes away from this is that all Trump voters are racist, it will be making the same mistake the Republican Party, the Democratic Party, the national news media and the NFL have made in misunderstanding this coalition of people. But if wisdom prevails, the left will step back and realize there was a void in the market that even Roseanne Barr could fill — a person who conservatives have reviled for years.

If there was a hole that big in Hollywood, then we should take an honest look at our programming and how our entertainment industry treats Middle America. Plenty of lessons are coming out of this chapter of Barr's life. Most of them are obvious: Words matter, and there are consequences for hateful behavior.

But people will miss two other very important lessons. The first is we have to stop leaping to the assumption that all people who voted for Donald Trump are racist and everything they like has tinges of racism — from guns to how the NFL has handled the national anthem controversy.

The second is that Hollywood hasn't been serving a great big chunk of this country for a long time. As a result, a show no one predicted would be popular broke all the records. I sincerely hope ABC is able to revive some version of "Roseanne" under a different name and with some of the same characters, as has been reported. Because right now, people in a large swath of the country are hungry for something that authentically reflects their lives. That's where the story is.

Salena Zito is a CNN political analyst, and a staff reporter and columnist for the Washington Examiner. She reaches the Everyman and Everywoman through shoe-leather journalism, traveling from Main Street to the beltway and all places in between. To find out more about Salena and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.

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