From 3rd Rock From the Sun to That ’70s Show, Marcy Carsey is a television executive behind some of the most iconic sitcoms that shaped kids and entertained adults in the ’80s and ’90s, many of which remain relevant today. This year at the ATX Television Festival, Carsey was the recipient of the ATX Award in Television Excellence and on Friday morning she chatted with Kathleen McCaffrey, SVP Programming at HBO, about a career that has spanned more than 35 years — and which included both Roseanne and The Cosby Show.
Carsey is one-half of the founding team of the production company Carsey-Werner (the other half being Tom Werner), which produced the original Roseanne and The Cosby Show, both of which have titular stars that have been part of recent headline-making controversies.
It was inevitable that McCaffrey would ask about Roseanne, but Carsey, who had a positive and delightful energy on Friday morning, handled it well. She said that she enjoyed building shows around Roseanne Barr and Bill Cosby but the downward spiral of their careers due to their behavior and actions was a “shocker” to her.
With Roseanne, Carsey said, “I am very proud of the show we did originally.” She didn’t have a part in the revival, but she thought it was terrific. As for the controversy and cancellation of the show due to Barr’s racist tweet to Valerie Jarrett, Carsey said, “I am as distant from it as you are.”
She added, “It’s a shame to have it disappear like that.” She pointed out that there were many people from the original show that were working on the revival and it’s disappointing to have them lose their jobs.
Carsey agrees with ABC’s decision to cancel the show and says that the network has done an excellent job at diversifying its programming and its executive ranks and Barr’s views weren’t what they wanted to reflect that.
When asked if she were still producing Roseanne and in the position to do a spin-off without Barr, Carsey said it would be difficult. “I would just move on,” she adds.
As for Cosby, who was found guilty in April during his sexual assault retrial, she shares the same sentiment. She is still proud of what she did with the show. She says at the time, “it was a life-changer for many people” and it had an impact on that era of television.
When addressing the Cosby scandal she said, “Life gives you these surprises.” She adds, “He was a great collaborator and kind-hearted.” That said, to Carsey, when the controversy that he has been embroiled came into the spotlight, “It was a shocker.”
“All these decades later, to have these revelations — it’s awful,” she said.
But the panel wasn’t just a gloomy cloud of Hollywood scandal, Carsey shared stories about her career which included many highlights from her early days at ABC and how Michael Eisner championed women in creative roles to getting her production company with Werner off the ground with a small office above a shoe shop in L.A., Carsey’s progressive and ambitious drive as a woman in the industry remains unparalleled. She may have had many successes with the 2,000 episodes of TV she has produced, but she had some shows that haven’t done too well — but it’s all about being fearless and taking risks for Carsey. She said that if you succeed, succeed big, but if you fail, “do noble failures…just go for it.”
If you are looking for Carsey to make a comeback a la Norman Lear, don’t hold your breath. She has been out of the business since 2005 and says that the TV landscape is different now from when she first started. Carsey-Werner was an independent production company and she enjoyed. “I’m not sure I like how it’s different now,” she said. “The business has changed. That model has changed. I would have to be a pawn of some studio — I don’t know how to that. I’m too feisty.”
She adds, “For whatever reason, I’m not driven [for a comeback]. Life is full of wonderful things — I don’t have to do that. I can just watch it.”