Walt Disney Co.’s ABC canceled the sitcom “Roseanne” on Tuesday after its star sent a racist tweet about a top aide of former President

Barack Obama,

a stunning end for a hit show that had quickly become the centerpiece of the network’s prime-time schedule.

The decision to pull the plug came hours after actress

Roseanne Barr

tweeted “Muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes had a baby = vj.” That was a reference to

Valerie Jarrett,

who served in the Obama administration. Ms. Jarrett is black and was born in Iran.

For ABC, losing the show, which had returned after a two-decade hiatus to huge success, leaves a significant hole in its schedule. Developing hit TV shows is getting harder by the year, as viewership and audience attention fragments across streaming platforms like Netflix Inc. and Amazon.com Inc., and myriad cable channels.

ABC recently touted “Roseanne” as its first No. 1 new comedy in several years. The show spoke to a middle-American audience television executives are often accused of ignoring in their programming.

The about-face came just as ABC is negotiating with advertisers to secure commitments for the coming TV season. Some ad-time buyers said advertisers likely would have complained or boycotted the show if ABC and Disney hadn’t acted swiftly to cancel it.

ABC Entertainment President

Channing Dungey

said in a statement, “Roseanne’s Twitter statement is abhorrent, repugnant and inconsistent with our values, and we have decided to cancel her show.”

Disney Chairman and Chief Executive

Robert Iger

weighed in on Twitter, saying, “There was only one thing to do here, and that was the right thing.”

Ms. Barr apologized for the tweet about Ms. Jarrett, saying she was “truly sorry for making a bad joke about her politics and her looks. I should have known better. Forgive me – my joke was in bad taste.” Ms. Barr also said she is leaving Twitter. She was unavailable for further comment.

Streaming service Hulu removed “Roseanne” from its service. And Ms. Barr was also dropped by ICM Partners, her talent agency.

It was all part of a strange journey for Ms. Barr, who once was a pariah to conservatives for her intentionally awful singing of the national anthem at a San Diego Padres baseball game in 1990.

After the hot start for “Roseanne,” viewership began to decline. While some loss was expected after the initial curiosity wore off, ABC executives were worried that Ms. Barr’s real-life persona and the backlash it generated was going to overwhelm the show, which received many positive reviews, people familiar with the situation said.

Efforts by ABC executives to get Ms. Barr to curb her tweeting were unsuccessful. At times she said she would stop or say that someone else from her family would take over, but then she would resume and before long there would be more controversy, the people said.

By the time Ms. Barr sent her tweet about Ms. Jarrett—in a thread related to claims President

Donald Trump

has made that federal informants infiltrated his campaign in 2016—executives at ABC had reached the breaking point.

There was little debate inside ABC and Disney about how to proceed, the people familiar with the situation said. Ms. Dungey,

Ben Sherwood,

president of the Disney/ABC Television Group, and Mr. Iger all were adamant about canceling the show, the people said.

Under Mr. Iger, Disney has emphasized the value of its family-friendly brand name and of the other brands under its umbrella, including Marvel, Pixar, ESPN and ABC, over the short-term profits from any particular film or television show.

When talent with whom Disney works threatens to undermine its image, it has moved fast. That happened last year, for example, when Disney ended its partnership with YouTube’s biggest star, PewDiePie, in response to questions from The Wall Street Journal about videos he made featuring anti-Semitic jokes and Nazi imagery.

Disney has also run into controversies involving left-leaning talent, including at its ESPN sports operation. The network chose not to suspend host Jemele Hill last fall after she tweeted that Mr. Trump was a “white supremacist,” a remark that triggered an uproar among the president’s supporters but garnered support from others, including prominent black athletes. She was later suspended over a comment related to National Football League players’ national-anthem protests that the network deemed detrimental to its sponsors, the Journal reported.

In the case of “Roseanne,” the rebooted show delivered strong ratings early on. The first episode averaged around 18 million viewers, according to Nielsen, and even got a plug from Mr. Trump.

Just two weeks ago, ABC showcased “Roseanne” heavily at its annual programming presentation to advertisers in New York. Ms. Barr appeared on stage to rousing applause. There were even jokes that Mr. Sherwood was the one responsible for her reckless tweeting.

Behind the scenes, though, there were growing concerns that Ms. Barr’s social media presence could hurt the sitcom, the people familiar with the situation say.

Ms. Barr has used social media to take aim at President Trump’s opponents and defend his policies as well as to offer support at times for conspiracy theories. For example, she tweeted erroneously that a survivor of the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., had given a Nazi salute in a speech. She later apologized.

Her support of Mr. Trump was a topic on her show as well as in her real life. Some thought she gave a much-needed face to his backers. Others accused her of having distorted values.

There were discussions with Ms. Barr before the show’s cancellation was announced. A person with knowledge of the talks said she was contrite and apologetic.

Ms. Barr also tweeted incorrectly Tuesday that

Chelsea Clinton

was married to a nephew of billionaire and Democratic backer

George Soros.

Corrected by Ms. Clinton, Ms. Barr apologized but then accused Mr. Soros being a Nazi.

ABC didn’t say how it would replace “Roseanne.” The show generated $45 million in ad revenue this season, according to consulting firm Kantar Media.

Without the show in its lineup, ABC’s package for advertisers will be less compelling and that could affect ongoing negotiations for the coming season. Ads on the show sold for a premium compared to other ABC programming, ad-time buyers say.

Write to Joe Flint at joe.flint@wsj.com and Ben Fritz at ben.fritz@wsj.com

Appeared in the May 30, 2018, print edition as ‘ABC Axes ‘Roseanne’ After Offensive Tweet.’



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