The project was pitched to ABC last Monday by the group of executive producers, led by Tom Werner, Sara Gilbert and showrunner Bruce Helford. I hear the meeting went well, with the idea of continuing the show without Barr while keeping the writers and crew employed getting thumbs up by the network. Since then, the matter has been mostly in the hands of the lawyers.
Because of the circumstances under which ABC canceled the Roseanne revival — over a racist tweet by Barr — the network’s executives had made it clear that they would only proceed with a spinoff series if she has absolutely no involvement — creative, financial or any other.
While Barr has a creative credit and ownership on the original series, the question is whether it would carry over to any spinoffs. If she was creator or co-creator of the mothership series, that is pretty unavoidable, but her specific credit could make it possible.
The opening credits for the revival (which mirror those for the original series, read: Roseanne was created by Matt Williams, based on a character created by Roseanne Barr (images on left). If Williams is considered the sole creator of the series, with Barr only credited for originating the character that became Roseanne Conner, if a follow-up series does not feature Roseanne Conner, one could make an argument that Barr is not entitled to profits.
However, things are not that simple — after all Roseanne, the series, exists because of the character created by Barr. The complexity of the issue explains the prolonged legal review and delayed pickup decision. The case has to be iron-clad as a new series without Barr would likely trigger a lawsuit by the comedian. (I hear ABC and the producers had hoped to settle the matter with Barr over the weekend, which did not happen.)
As of today, people close to the matter still remain optimistic and hopeful though they also are very aware that they are running out of time and a decision has to come very soon. That is because the producers can’t hold the cast and crew in limbo for much longer.
For the cast, including John Goodman and newly minted double Tony winner Laurie Melcalf, the issue mostly is being able to pursue other acting opportunities since they were already picked up for next season and should be paid regardless of whether it’s produced or not. But for the writers and especially the crew, the situation is much more dire. Many of them have families and have to secure employment to be able to support them and keep their insurance coverage, so they have to move fast. (Below-the-line staff usually is not paid for unproduced episodes.)
But, in anticipation of a pickup, I hear the show has been negotiating with the writers to hammer out new deals for a spinoff.
In another optimistic sign, ABC has not announced a replacement for Roseanne on its fall schedule. The network brass likely are waiting to see if a spinoff will come together. With that expected to become clear very soon, ABC would either have a easy substitute for Roseanne or will have to shuffle things around and possibly order another series to fill the void.