As It Happens

Roseanne is 'not the person I remember,' says former show producer

William Lucas Walker, a former writer and producer on the original Roseanne TV series, says he loved the reboot, but is glad ABC cancelled it.

'There was never an inkling back then that she would swing to these kinds of rants,' says William Lucas Walker

Roseanne Barr's new show was cancelled after she tweeted a racist comment about Valerie Jarrett, a one-time aide to former U.S. president Barack Obama. (Valerie Macon/AFP/Getty Images)

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William Lucas Walker, a former writer and producer on the original Roseanne TV series, says he loved the show's reboot, but is glad it got cancelled.

ABC pulled the hit sitcom Tuesday after star Roseanne Barr tweeted a racist comment about Valerie Jarrett, a one-time aide to former U.S. president Barack Obama, referring to the Iranian-born African American woman as a product of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Planet of the Apes.

She later tweeted an apology for what she called "a bad joke" about Jarrett's "politics and her looks."

Walker spoke to As It Happens host Carol Off about how Barr has changed since he worked with her in the '90s.

Here is part of that conversation.

What do you think of ABC's decision?

I applaud it. I think it was the only thing possible to do. Especially since they are a money-making machine and that they stood to make a fortune off of the show, and you don't often see networks make decisions that are morally correct over what they might make in profit.

I have a lot of friends who are actors in the show or writers on the show or crew members on the show, and they all  lost their jobs today and I feel terrible for them.

The cast of the Roseanne reboot, which was cancelled Tuesday by ABC. (ABC)

Have you spoken with them? What are they saying?

I've been on Facebook with some of them. All of them felt like there was no other choice, that it was inevitable.

I thought the reboot was excellent. Of course, I didn't know how it would turn out, but I was thrilled when I saw it.

I thought it was an excellent show that was very true to the original in terms of exploring class issues and emotional issues and things that aren't normally talked about in television comedies.

The only wild card, of course, was Roseanne Barr's personal tweeting habits. But she's certainly not the person I remember.

There's something that Roxane Gay, a columnist, said [in the New York Times] — Roseanne Barr was once "edgy and provocative." Now she's "absurd and offensive." How has she changed? Is this the same Roseanne that you worked with?

She was always provocative and she always had a real instinct for what would make headlines and what would bring viewers to the show.

But I never knew her to be racist. I never knew her to be anti-any minority. There was just never any inkling back then that she would swing to these kinds of rants and conspiracy theories and racist remarks, and I'm flabbergasted by it.

Valerie Jarrett, pictured here with Barack Obama, said she was "fine" after the slur. She later urged in an MSNBC special Tuesday about racism that the incident become a teaching moment. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

But that's not the first time she has tweeted something racist like that. She called Susan Rice, Obama's national security adviser, compared her to a monkey as well.

That was well before ABC decided to launch relaunch the show, so the network knew that she said things like this. So what did you make of the decision to actually put her back on the air?

I think this one probably just happened to land at the right spot at the right time and everybody saw it.

I don't think there was anybody else on the writing staff or the cast or the crew who shared her views.

It's a show about an American family, and a show that has all different sorts of viewpoints, and I think for a long time they felt like that would work.

In this image released by ABC, Barr, left, and John Goodman appear in a scene from the season finale of the Roseanne reboot. (Adam Rose/ABC via Associated Press)

Lots of people who don't like Roseanne Barr were enjoying the show for all the reasons you're describing —  that it was as rich as the first one that you were part of, it was showing all of the different kinds of characters who make up the United States, and all the different kinds of uncomfortable issues that families deal with.

But do you think that in the end, it was just too difficult to separate Roseanne Conner, the Trump supporter, from Roseanne Barr, who is a Trump supporter and saying things that it looks like Roseanne Conner would never be scripted to say?

Well, she wouldn't. And Roseanne herself knew that the character could not be her. And I think she was smart enough as a businesswoman to know that if Roseanne Barr was Roseanne Connor, nobody was going to tune in.

I've worked on a lot of different shows and ... a lot of the actors in them are wildly different from the characters that they play.

But this is, especially in the in the climate we're living in now, that it's such a powder keg, you just can't say things like that.

For ABC to have kept the show on the air after this, I think would have caused a boycott of the network. I just don't see how they could have done anything but what they did. 

Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview produced by Jeanne Armstrong. Q&A edited for length and clarity.