Roseanne was probably the most realistic sitcom portrayal of a blue-collar family in US television history up to its time. The closest America had to a real working-class comedy was Jackie Gleason's brilliant The Honeymooners, in the early and mid-1950's. But while Ralph Kramden was the boss of his Brooklyn flat (with wife Alice to keep him in line), Roseanne Conner was the queen of her Lanford, Illinois home, and called the shots.
Roseanne depicted the struggles of the lower middle class in the post-Ronald Reagan America, which never really benefited during the go-go 1980's. Unfortunately as the economy picked up steam, Roseanne somehow lost its populist voice and became a shadow of its former self. Politics and economics usually don't play a role in the shelf life of a television series, but they did with Roseanne.
Roseanne Barr was a struggling wife and mother in Utah when she reluctantly became a stand-up comic in the early 1980's. Billing herself as the "domestic goddess", she made jokes about her disinterest in raising children, cleaning house and making her husband happy. The theme struck a chord with women who tried to "have it all", but found their hubbies and kids wouldn't cooperate. (The men laughed as well.) Roseanne's fame spread to the point where she was asked to appear on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, then considered the pinnacle for struggling comics. Her act was a hit, which led to a number of cable television specials.
In 1986, the television production team of Marcy Carsey and Tom Werner (who gave America The Cosby Show) offered Roseanne the chance to do a situation comedy based on her stand-up act. NBC, the home of "Cosby", passed on the show; the network's late Entertainment President Brandon Tartikoff admitted he rejected Roseanne because she didn't have the requisite "gleam in her eye". But ABC snapped it up, and Roseanne (originally to be called Life and Stuff) went on the air in the fall of 1988.
The Conner two-story home at 714 Delaware Street was decidedly lower-middle-class, with well-worn furnishings and a kitchen that had seen better days. Roseanne and Dan (John Goodman) were not your typical parents: Both were decidedly overweight but seemed to have a strong passion for each other. Dan was a contractor who got jobs occasionally; when the show began, Roseanne had a full-time job at the Welman Plastics plant (her boss was Booker Brooks, played by a pre-ER George Clooney). The two also worked to raise their three children, boy-crazy older daughter Becky (see below); sardonic tomboy and middle child Darlene (Sara Gilbert); and the rather strange young son David Jacob (otherwise known as D.J. who was played in the pilot by Sal Barone, then replaced with Michael Fishman). When Dan was no help, Roseanne turned to her younger sister, Jackie Harris (Laurie Metcalf) for support; Roseanne also seemed to run Jackie's life, getting involved in her various career choices and relationships).
Roseanne was a force to be reckoned with. She was loud, boisterous, and sarcastic-but there was a smile behind every putdown. The show itself was a true departure from the sweeter and warmer Cosby Show. But viewers liked what they saw; Roseanne ended its first season as the second most-popular series on television (behind "Cosby"). A year later, it tied for first place with the Cos, proving that a different type of family sitcom could work in America.
Over the years, the Conners faced major setbacks as the real-life U.S. economy slipped into a recession. Roseanne quit her job at Welman Plastics and took a series of jobs, ranging from cleaning a beauty shop to working in a fast-food restaurant. Dan tried to start a motorcycle sales and repair shop in Lanford, but the business failed despite his hard efforts. Older daughter Becky began dating handsome but not-too-bright Mark Healy (Glenn Quinn); the two eventually eloped. Becky herself underwent a transformation of her own that viewers could see. Actress Lecy Goranson played the role from 1999 until 1992; Sarah Chalke took over the role from 1992 until 1995 when Goranson returned to the show. During the 1995-96 season, Chalke and Goranson alternated as Becky until Goranson took over the role for the remainder of the series.
Meanwhile, the other Conner daughter, Darlene, underwent a sort of depression, becoming moody and withdrawn. She did find love in the form of Mark's brother David (Johnny Galecki); the pair eventually married and had a baby. Jackie wasn't immune to the times. She continued her search for the right career; kept dating the wrong men (one of who physically abused her); and kept fighting with Roseanne. Jackie did eventually get pregnant from a truly nice guy, Fred (played by Michael O'Keefe). The two eventually married but later got divorced, leaving Jackie to raise her child alone.
It wasn't long before Roseanne's real-life antics made for great tabloid material. She was blasted for singing "The Star Spangled Banner" off-key during a baseball game in 1990; she divorced husband Bill Pentland and married fellow comic Tom Arnold, who became a semi-regular and later producer on the series. (The pair's rather unorthodox marriage also led to more publicity.)
Roseanne was also well known for turmoil behind the scenes of her show. During the first season, she managed to win a battle with creator and head writer Matt Williams, who was fired after clashing with Roseanne over the show's direction. Over the years, there was plenty of turmoil and changes in the writing and producing staff. They didn't make Roseanne any friends in notably chummy Hollywood, but the staff changes did help keep the show's quality at a high level. And to her credit, Roseanne was not afraid to deal with issues many other comedies refused to tackle-teenage sex; adultery; homosexuality; economic setbacks; and so forth.
Despite the show's popularity, Roseanne never won an Emmy for Best Comedy Series. Co-star Metcalf did pick up a statue; Goodman was nominated many times but never won. In 1993, the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences finally did the right thing and awarded an Emmy to Roseanne as well.
Also that year, Roseanne threatened to take her show to another network after ABC cancelled Tom Arnold's sitcom The Jackie Thomas Show-a series dealing with a temperamental, arrogant sitcom star, which was meant as a parody of the behind-the-scenes antics at Roseanne. Despite a plum timeslot (following Roseanne on Tuesday nights), "Jackie Thomas" turned off many viewers. But Roseanne had no say on which network aired the show, since it was owned by production company Carsey-Werner; Roseanne stayed on ABC but the marriage soon ended in a much-publicized and overplayed battle between Roseanne and Arnold.
During the 1995-96 season, Roseanne gave birth to a fourth child, Jerry Garcia Conner (the actress was also pregnant in real life), while Dan suffered a near-fatal heart attack during Darlene and David's wedding; the pair ended the season with a major fight and a temporary separation. The plot device was meant to accommodate John Goodman, who wanted to appear in fewer episodes as his film career began to take off.
For a show that tried to be true to its blue-collar roots, Roseanne stumbled and lost its direction during its final season. In the fall of 1996, Roseanne, Dan and Jackie became multi-million dollar Illinois State lottery winners. The entire season showed how the family tried to keep their good fortune from changing their ways. But for many fans, the lottery win was a betrayal of the original concept behind Roseanne. Despite some notable guest stars this final season, Roseanne fell out of the top 25 shows for the first time ever. (One pair of guest stars included Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley of Absolutely Fabulous fame. It was no accident; Roseanne had bought the U.S. rights to the popular BBC comedy; despite several efforts, she was unable to sell the show to ABC or any other American network.)
The series finale on May 20th, 1997 had Darlene giving birth to Harris Conner Healy. In the final minutes, viewers also learned that the entire final season of Roseanne was a figment of Roseanne's literary imagination. The family did NOT win the lottery, while Dan actually died after suffering a second heart attack. Roseanne decided to move on with her life by becoming a writer.
A year after the show's demise, Roseanne returned to television with her own talk show. The Roseanne Show was syndicated to local stations, but viewers weren't ready to see the former sitcom star talking to celebrities and chatting with various guests. The series ran only two years.
In 2003, the success of The Osbournes and other family reality shows led to Roseanne's return to television. The concept of The Real Roseanne Show was to give the star her own cooking show called Domestic Goddess on cable's ABC Family network. To promote the programme, the parent ABC network planned to air a six-week "reality show" that showed Roseanne and her family working behind the scenes to create and put together the concept. (The show was also co-created by documentary producer R.J. Cutler.) But not long after its August 2003 debut, it was clear Roseanne's latest comeback effort was not working.
Critics were unkind, and viewers were simply not interested in seeing the 50-year-old Roseanne try reality TV. The Real Roseanne Show was yanked from ABC before it scheduled finale, in part because Roseanne had to undergo a hysterectomy in real life. News reports at the time indicated that the first episode of Domestic Goddess was so bad, ABC Family refused to air it. Faced with those factors, ABC scrapped the entire concept, leaving Roseanne with no show at all.
There is no doubt Roseanne will return to television one day. What she'll do next is anyone's guess. But it's very likely her long-running sitcom will be the true and much-deserved testament to Roseanne's talent.
Review: Mike Spadoni (2004)
On 16 May 2017, ABC announced it had greenlit a revived 10th season of Roseanne as a mid-season replacement in 2018, with the original cast returning. On 29 May 2018 they abruptly cancelled the series after Roseanne Barr likened former President Obama administration official Valerie Jarrett to Planet of the Apes, in a comment considered racist on Twitter which was described by the network's president as being "abhorrent, repugnant, and inconsistent with our values." The following month, ABC ordered a spin-off series entitled The Connors featuring the family and picking up three weeks after Roseanne's funeral.
Published on January 25th, 2019. Written by Mike Spadoni (2004) for Television Heaven.