‘Roseanne’ cancellation leaves crew members in the lurch: ‘That’s the way it is in a freelance universe.’
Last month, Anne Ahrens received a phone call asking if she could work as a set decorator on an upcoming TV project. The week in May when networks announce their new shows always involves a big scramble for jobs, she explained, as they look to quickly staff the picked-up series before they start production over the summer. But Ahrens turned down the offer.
“I said, ‘Oh, I’m going back to “Roseanne,” so I’m not available,’” she recalled.
Ahrens got another call on Tuesday, from her assistant, who wondered if she had seen what Roseanne Barr had tweeted that morning. He scrolled through Twitter as they spoke and discovered within minutes that ABC had axed the show after its star called former Barack Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett a product of the “Muslim brotherhood” and “planet of the apes.” Just like that, someone’s racist tweet cost Ahrens her job for the latter half of the year: “So, yeah. That happened.”
She doesn’t deny that it was the right move on behalf of the network, whose president, Channing Dungey, deemed Barr’s words “abhorrent, repugnant and inconsistent with our values.” But Ahrens is also one of the couple hundred people who have lost the opportunity to work on what became one of the top-rated shows on broadcast television. The cast and crew must find new gigs, having missed the scramble by just two weeks.
Some might emerge from the brouhaha financially unscathed. Three of the series’ stars — Sara Gilbert, who spearheaded the revival, plus Laurie Metcalf and John Goodman — had recently negotiated deals to receive $300,000 an episode for the 11th season, according to the Hollywood Reporter, and expect to be compensated for at least 10 of the 13 planned episodes. Details are fuzzier for the writing staff, who coincidentally had reconvened to start planning the upcoming season the same day news of the cancellation broke. The writers probably didn’t have the same clause the actors had in their contracts, and executive producer Dave Caplan told the magazine that several “did pass on other jobs to take this job, and nobody really knows yet what kind of compensation they’re going to get.”
Ahrens and veteran production designer John Shaffner anticipate that the art department will get hit hard. Shaffner noted that these crew members generally operate as weekly hires, meaning the producers could theoretically fire them at the end of any week. Loyalty unofficially acts as a long-term contract in these situations, he said, but the network and producers do not have a written obligation to provide compensation.
“The disparity of pay in our entertainment business has reached levels that are almost unimaginable,” Shaffner added. “I love Sara and John, and I’ve worked with Laurie in the past. These are amazing talents and deserve everything they get….