When sitcom Roseanne debuted in 1988, it wasted no time in becoming a sensation. At its peak, the show amassed over 30 million viewers, with the season five premiere launching to 36.7 million people across the country. Its success saw it rank in the top five of the Nielsen ratings for six years in a row, with season two taking the top spot in 1989-90. It’s not uncommon for sitcoms to perform well in the States, but few have managed to reach the dizzying heights that Roseanne did back in the day. Even less have achieved a revival that’s had quite the same impact as this sitcom has. 30 years after the series first began, the show returned for its tenth season with a massive 25 million viewers. That’s more than most new shows get nowadays, let alone ones that are three decades old.
Despite Roseanne’s immense success, there’s been a fair bit of drama behind the scenes. Bringing the show to life hasn’t always been a smooth ride for everyone involved, and the pressure even forced some people to lose their jobs. Considering the buzz surrounding the recent cancellation of the sitcom and the outrageous reason behind it, it shouldn’t be a surprise that things have sometimes turned sour when the cameras stopped rolling. It’s just hard to believe some of the things that the show’s lead stars have done behind closed doors.
Whose show is it anyway?
Roseanne Barr isn’t only the star of the sitcom. As most of the episodes draw heavily from her own life experiences, she is essentially the inspiration for the show. Due to her influence on the storylines, Barr has always considered herself to be the creator of the show. However, not everyone agrees with her. When the first episode aired back in the late ‘80s, Barr’s name was nowhere to be seen in the “created by” section of the credits. Instead, it was producer Matt Williams who was given the honor. This didn’t go down well with the actress. She reportedly lost it at a viewing party and accused Williams of discrimination. The two have yet to make up.
Going into Roseanne, some of the cast members were already incredibly experienced in the world of acting. Someone who definitely wasn’t was Roseanne herself. The actress had never done any work like this before, and therefore her talent on the sitcom was questionable. To try and hide Barr’s inexperience, the producers decided to build up a strong cast of actors who already knew what they were doing. That’s why people like Laurie Metcalf and John Goodman landed such significant roles on the show. The latter was actually the only actor who went for the part, and his chemistry with Barr was immediate, so the producers struck lucky with that one.
Starting a trend
Roseanne may not have had experience as an actress, but there was no doubt she would play the role of the titular character. The show was initially created because they were so impressed by her stand-up routine on The Tonight Show. It turned out that the producers had nothing to fear by giving Barr her own show, because it was an immediate success. In fact, it was such a hit that it started a trend of networks giving comedians their own shows, including Tim Allen, Ray Romano, and Ellen DeGeneres.
The first disagreement
It’s hard to imagine the sitcom being anything other than Roseanne. It’s had that name for decades, but it wasn’t the title that producers initially chose for the show. Before Matt Williams was upsetting Barr with his “creator” title, he was trying to name the series something the comedian didn’t agree with. He wanted it to be called Life and Stuff, because it was more reflective of the ensemble cast featured on the show. Roseanne, however, wanted it named after herself, seeing as it was largely based on her life.
Take a number
This wasn’t the first disagreement that Barr had with people behind the scenes. Her relationship with the writers was always a strained one, mainly because Roseanne felt she deserved to have more influence on how the storylines should play out. She’d often make changes to the scripts after reading through them, which didn’t go down well with the writers. Barr wasn’t fazed, though, and instead took things further. She started referring to the writers by numbers rather than name and even made them wear shirts with said numbers on them.
Roseanne’s conflict with the writers only grew from there. The star fell out with so many people that she actually wrote up a list of who she’d fire if given the opportunity. Rather than hiding that list away, she posted it for all to see. Few of the writers took it seriously, but they should have seen it as a warning. Once Roseanne became a hit, Barr was given the control of the show that she’d wanted from the start. Soon after, the writing team dwindled in numbers.
The disputes came to a head during the season 2 episode “An Officer and a Gentleman.” The writers had included a line where Roseanne tells her husband that he’s “my equal in bed, but that’s it.” Neither Barr nor John Goodman felt that the line was appropriate, and saw it as a promotion of inequality. Instead of dropping it from the script, the producers insisted Roseanne say the line. They even got their lawyers involved and forced her to say it, though the network later dropped it.
Lost in translation
While the network may have favored Roseanne in this scenario, her and ABC haven’t always gotten along. Following the first season’s tremendous success, the network sent Barr a cake shaped like a number one. It was supposed to symbolize the massive hit that their first season had been – it had broken records – but it was misconstrued as a dig at her weight. She ended up destroying the cake with a bat, and she wasn’t alone either. George Clooney, who was starring in the show at the time, also lent a hand.
Taking its toll
Although the actress appeared strong and defiant behind the scenes, she was actually struggling on the inside. Being on a TV show was completely out of her comfort zone, and the stress of the series was leading her to have nervous breakdowns. She didn’t know how to cope with the intense schedule, or the way producers treated her, and it took a severe toll on her mental health. Fortunately, she was able to find ways to work through her problems, such as praying, to get back to her usual self.
Barr wasn’t the only one struggling on the show. Her co-star and on-screen husband also had a tough time of it during Roseanne’s initial run. As the show grew in popularity, so too did the pressure hanging over the actors, something that pushed John Goodman to turn to the bottle. The difficulties became so severe that he ended up drinking on the job, but luckily Roseanne was there to pull him back from the brink. She talked to him about his problem and convinced him to get help.
For some of the younger people who go into acting, the industry isn’t their only passion in life. They want to educate themselves in other avenues, which is why they continue to go to school. Sara Gilbert is one of those people. While filming Roseanne, she attended Yale University where she majored in art. Putting her education first proved to be a nuisance for producers, who felt that Gilbert’s character was too valuable to lose. Therefore, they had to compromise by filming her scenes away from the set.
Keeping it in the family
In the later seasons of the show, Barr had greater control over what happened and who got to write for the series. Unfortunately for those on the writing team, the star was occasionally biased in who she chose. Several of her now-ex husbands have written for Roseanne, including comedian Tom Arnold who some of the crew felt wasn’t quite up to the task. All of the actress’ exes have actually appeared on the show at one point or another. Arnold had a recurring role, while the rest had bit parts.
Even though Roseanne may have favored the men in her romantic life, the show wouldn’t have become a success if it didn’t have a good team behind it. Some people who worked on the sitcom back in the ‘80s and ‘90s have gone on to incredible success. Joss Whedon first got his start on Roseanne, before going on to produce the hit supernatural drama series Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The creators of drama Gilmore Girls and sitcom The Big Bang Theory also worked on Roseanne in their early days.
Taking it back
Shows sometimes make decisions that they later come to regret. This usually happens when trying to wrap up a series, which is exactly what happened with Roseanne. In the show’s last episode of its first run, the majority of the final season is shown to be a work of Roseanne’s imagination as part of a book she’s written. Among other things, Goodman’s character is revealed to have died. However, following news of the revival, the producers backtracked on this decision, essentially retconning almost everything that happened in the previous season.
One of the things that took the cast by surprise upon filming the sitcom again was how perfectly the crew had replicated their old set. It was a near-immaculate recreation of the original set they’d worked on several decades earlier, right down to the fan letter they kept in the freezer. Although the interior design might be a bit behind the times, it stays loyal to the nature of the show and feels more authentic than any modern redesign ever could.
Roseanne and her show have never been afraid of controversy. When the show was revived, it came at a time of great political turmoil for the country. The network wanted to give a voice to the working class people of America, an audience who appreciated their viewpoint being shown on TV. While the new episodes appealed to one proportion of voters, it upset some of the others. These viewers felt particularly alienated when the show made an offensive remark about other sitcoms, such as ‘Fresh Off the Boat’ and ‘Blackish’ which kicked off Roseanne’s downfall.
As a proud Conservative woman, Roseanne isn’t afraid to voice her political opinions on Twitter. She’s hardly the first or only person to do this, and she has a right to use the platform to share her views. However, there’s a line you should be careful not to cross when you’re in the public eye. Barr didn’t help herself when she made offensive tweets towards a survivor of the Parkland School shooting in early 2018. The tweets were quickly deleted, but it left a bad taste in many people’s mouths.
Fast forward a few months and Roseanne posted the tweet that finally broke the camel’s back. Or rather, the stream of tweets. In late May 2018, the actress posted several offensive tweets, one of which likened Barack Obama’s former senior advisor Valerie Jarrett to an ape. The controversy led Barr to delete her account, although she later returned to blame Ambien for her outrageous behavior. Unfortunately, the damage had already been done, and Roseanne had created the storm that a few apologies wouldn’t be able to fix.
An unfortunate end
In the wake of Barr’s comments, Roseanne was canceled by ABC, despite previously being renewed for an additional season. The network cited the star’s behavior as “abhorrent, repugnant and inconsistent with our values,” so saw no other possible action than to give the sitcom the ax. It’s a sad end to a show that’s been a ratings hit, both in its original run and revival, but one that would be hard for ABC to avoid. Following the announcement, many of the show’s cast have reacted to the cancellation on Twitter.
Sara Gilbert, one of the show’s longest-running cast members, voiced her sadness at the show being canceled, but said Barr’s views are not the values the sitcom ever wants to spread. Likewise, Emma Kenney, who joined the series in the revival, said she was glad to see ABC taking immediate action after the controversial tweets. Even some of the show’s old writers like Danny Zuker voiced their opinions, saying Barr’s views were the kind he used to denounce when working for the sitcom. Roseanne was good while it lasted.