Walt Disney Co’s decision to cancel “Roseanne” leaves ABC without its most-watched primetime program

By Lisa Richwine

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) –

FILE PHOTO: Actress Roseanne Barr waves on her arrival to the 75th Golden Globe Awards in Beverly Hills, California, U.S., January 7, 2018. Picture taken January 7, 2018. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

Walt Disney Co’s decision to cancel “Roseanne” leaves ABC without its most-watched primetime program and an important platform for the television network to promote the rest of its lineup in a highly competitive battle for viewers.

ABC ended its revival of 1990s hit “Roseanne” on Tuesday hours after star and creator Roseanne Barr posted a tweet that compared former Obama administration official Valerie Jarrett, who is black, to an ape.

It was a rare move by a network to scrap its most popular entertainment program because of the off-screen behavior of a star.

The recent success of “Roseanne” helped lift ABC ratings at a time when broadcast networks are struggling to attract audiences who are migrating to streaming services like Netflix Inc.

The “Roseanne” revival had aired only nine episodes and generated $22.8 million from advertisers, or 2.5 percent of ABC’s ad revenue for the 2017-2018 season, according to data from measurement firm iSpot.

ABC had ordered a new season that was expected to run for 13 episodes and had touted the comedy in a recent sales pitch to advertisers. Potential ad dollars from those airings would have been as much as $60 million, research firm Kantar Media estimated.


Aside from ad revenue, ABC is losing a large audience to which it could promote the network’s other sports and entertainment programming, said Jason Damata, founder of Fabric Media, which advises TV networks and measurement companies.

“The pain is really coming from taking a franchise off the table and all the things that come with it,” Damata said.

“Roseanne” could have helped draw online audiences to ABC’s website and mobile apps, he added.

Cable networks also will take a financial hit. Three Viacom Inc channels and E.W. Scripps Co’s Laff TV said Tuesday they were pulling reruns of the original 1990s “Roseanne” series.

Reruns of “Roseanne” have been a big draw for advertisers, generating $1.2 billion in ad revenue for the syndicators and cable networks that aired them from 1995 to 2017, according to Kantar Media.

It is unusual for a show with such strong revenue potential to get canceled, but off-screen controversies have toppled a few others in recent years.

In April 2017, Fox News fired Bill O’Reilly after The New York Times reported Fox and O’Reilly had paid five women a total of $13 million to settle harassment claims. O’Reilly said in a statement at the time that he had settled only to spare his children from controversy.

His popular show, “The O’Reilly Factor,” brought in $147.13 million in advertising revenue in 2016, Kantar Media said.

In 2014, Comcast Corp’s NBC and Netflix canceled plans for new shows featuring comedian Bill Cosby over sexual assault allegations against him, and reruns of “The Cosby Show” also were taken off the air. Cosby was convicted in April 2018 of drugging and sexually assaulting a onetime friend in 2004.

(Reporting by Lisa Richwine; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Cynthia Osterman)