15 Trivia Tidbits About ‘Roseanne’
On October 18, 1988, a new type of blue-collar family introduced themselves to audiences and would go on to dominate network television. Roseanne was a show without typical sitcom glamor, aiming and succeeding in portraying a realistic view of an American family struggling to get by while also dealing with each others’ complex quirks.
Starring Roseanne Barr in the lead, along with John Goodman as her lovable husband and the ever-hilarious Laurie Metcalf as her sister Jackie, the comedy did incredibly well. However, a lot of drama was also brewing behind the scenes, which is a shame for a 20th-century sitcom that was, in many ways, quite progressive for its time. Below are assorted tidbits about making the show that put Barr on the map and gave us one of the most bizarre sitcom finales of all time...
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The ‘Roseanne’/‘Breaking Bad’ Crossover
Famous for playing Saul Goodman in Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul, Bob Odenkirk once appeared in Roseanne as a character named Jim who pulls a scam on Roseanne and Jackie’s restaurant by pretending to be a health inspector and taking a bribe in the process. Not only does his character share a similar name to Saul (whose real name is Jimmy McGill), but both characters hail from Illinois, too.
‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ Was Created During the Production of ‘Roseanne’
You can credit Barr for allowing Joss Whedon to enter the world of television, as the young scribe joined the writers’ room during the show’s second season. The gig, however, did not go smoothly for Whedon as his first episode saw significant changes (he wanted Jackie to have an abortion instead of a miscarriage), and his scripts got reworked to death. He ended up getting sidelined, but the producers told him to go ahead and work on his own stuff for the rest of his contract period. This is how Whedon ended up writing the screenplay for Buffy the Vampire Slayer during his time on Roseanne.
John Goodman Was the Only Actor Who Auditioned for Dan
It turns out that Goodman was just so good (because, of course, he was) that the producers didn’t need anyone else to come in and read for the part. “We had to cast the best possible actors around her (Barr), so she could learn from them,” executive producer Marcy Carsey said about creating a show around the inexperienced lead actress. Creator Matt Williams said that the moment Goodman came in to read opposite Barr, they knew they’d struck gold. “We brought him in the room, he looked at Roseanne and said, ‘Scoot over.’ She said, ‘Shut up,’ he plopped down, and it was like they had been married for 16 years.”
The Reason Behind the Show’s Bonkers Series Finale
Season Nine of Roseanne unleashed one of sitcom history’s strangest and saddest finales ever when it revealed at the end that Dan had actually died and that multiple events from the series were alterations via Roseanne’s imagination. (Jackie being gay rather than her mom, her daughters swapping love interests, etc.) It also eliminated that season’s plotline, which saw the Conners winning the lottery and the once blue-collar family going on a feverish spending spree. It turns out that during the 1990s, Barr had purchased the U.S. rights to the British comedy series, Absolutely Fabulous but failed to sell it to a network. Reportedly this led to her turning her own show into “Roseanne-Fab,” and explains why Joanna Lumley and Jennifer Saunders made their cameo appearances seemingly out of nowhere.
While Barr has never fully addressed the rest of the mind-boggling season, it could probably be chalked up to some good old self-indulgence. After all, Barr had forever had carte blanche on her show, which is why no one batted an eye when it was decided to retcon Dan’s death and other things in the show’s revival.
The Beef Between ‘Roseanne’ and ‘Seinfeld’
Roseanne and Seinfeld were both being filmed at the CBS studio lot, leading to Julia Louis-Dreyfus accidentally parking her car in one of Roseanne’s then-husband and co-star Tom Arnold’s spots (Arnold and Roseanne had five parking spots on the lot). Arnold was livid and left a heated note on her windshield that went: “How stupid are you? Move your fucking car, you asshole!”
When Arnold learned that it was Louis-Dreyfus’ car, he apologized, but she and some of her Seinfeld crew told him that the letter was extremely rude and that security told her to park there because of construction going on. Later that day, Roseanne left a Polaroid of someone’s butt on Louis-Dreyfus’ car with the word “c**t” written in soap. She even faxed a letter to Variety about the unsavory incident, writing, “The combination of arrogance and ignorance is quite ordinary in this town, but Julia takes the cake.”
Roseanne Wore Her Own Clothes for the Show
Asked during an interview with The New York Times about the show’s wardrobe, Barr said she just used her own closet. “When I first went in, they had these horrible, insulting outfits,” she remembered. “And I thought: Are you kidding me? (The clothes were) like circus ponies. I was a big woman, so it’s got to be a purple shirt with green sleeves and a (diagonal) stripe. So I just wore my own.” Mindy Kaling (who was part of the interview) added that “Roseanne looked like Kurt Cobain four years before Kurt Cobain. I mean that as a compliment.”
Macaulay Culkin Was Considered for the Role of D.J.
The youngest Conner proved the most difficult to cast of all the characters. While the producers contemplated casting Culkin (who was then only at the very precipice of his career), Barr knew who she wanted and why. “I wanted Michael Fishman because he looked like my family,” she told Entertainment Weekly when the show turned 20. “He was so not like all the other little Hollywood bastards.”
Write What You Know
In an interview with Today, Williams said he returned to that old writing adage to create the show. “My father worked on an assembly line in a factory,” he explained. “My mother was a waitress who later became a beautician. Dan is an amalgamation of all my uncles, who were independent contractors.” And while Williams got out of Indiana to go and try his luck in Los Angeles, that wasn’t the case for many of his friends. “A lot have never left the Midwest, but they aren’t stupid people. They are good, hardworking people who worry about paying their bills and taking care of their kids.”
The Show Was Based on Roseanne’s Stand-Up Act
Barr got noticed while doing her “Domestic Goddess” bit on The Tonight Show, and the idea of casting her as a working-class mom in a television sitcom was born.
Roseanne Boycotted One of the Early Episodes
Barr was upset when the show’s pilot dropped, and only Williams was credited as a creator (and not developer, as she would’ve liked it). Barr felt that, since the show was based on her stand-up character and Williams had studied her at home with her own family, she should at least have received a co-creator credit.
Tensions started flaring up on set, and during the episode “An Officer and a Gentleman,” Barr only appeared in the opening scene and the tag, wearing an armband in protest over a line of dialogue she wasn’t happy with. “The line was a ridiculously sexist interpretation of what a feminist thinks — something to the effect of ‘You’re my equal in bed, but that’s it,’” Barr wrote in New York Magazine. “I could not say it convincingly enough for Matt, and his handpicked director walked over and gave me a note in front of the entire crew: ‘Say it like you mean it. … That is a direct note from Matt.’”
George Clooney Smashed a Gift Sent by the Network
When the show hit the top spot in the TV ratings, ABC sent over a giant chocolate bar in the shape of the number one. Clooney (who played Booker Brooks) suggested to Barr that they smash the thing with a baseball bat because he apparently knew that other actors had received much nicer gifts from their studios. He then persuaded her to send a picture of the battered gift to the network, which she did. “That caused a lot of problems for me. I should not have sent that picture,” Barr told Howard Stern.
The Show’s Writers Were Reduced to Numbers
In many ways, Barr ruled the production of Roseanne with an iron fist. A mere three months after the show first aired, she ousted Williams, threatening to go if he didn’t. Just over a year later, executive producer Jeff Harris called it quits, too. In 1993, she gave every writer on the show a numbered T-shirt. The producers said it was done in good faith, but given the high turnover of the show’s writing staff, it’s probably because she didn’t see the need to learn everyone’s name. Barr told Entertainment Weekly, “I wanted to strip them of their huge, colossal self-entitlement. ‘Hey, you’re just a cog in the wheel here! It’s not about you.’ I think they learned something from it.”
About Those Abuse Plots…
Roseanne didn’t shy away from taking on serious issues throughout its run, and during Season Four, the show hit viewers with a dark revelation about Roseanne and Jackie’s abusive father. Before this new development, Arnold told her he was sexually abused by his babysitter when he was a kid. According to Barr, this triggered memories she had apparently suppressed about being physically and sexually abused by both of her parents. All of this spilled into the show’s writing, but a decade later, Barr would recant the claims, stating that the abuse and incest didn’t occur and that she had made a big mistake while under the influence of myriad psychiatric drugs.
The Show Addressed Roseanne’s Infamous Singing of ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’
Speaking of suppressed memories, remember when Barr did this at the Jack Murphy Stadium?
It was a performance not well received, and the producers and sponsors of Roseanne were all worried about the show’s upcoming third season — specifically how the public would react toward their main star. In a clever move, they decided to address the issue head-on, with Roseanne proclaiming at the beginning of the season opener, “It’s such a beautiful morning today; it just makes me want to sing!” The studio audience reportedly ate it up.
The Big Kiss
If ABC had their way, we’d never have seen Roseanne get smooched by a lesbian in a gay bar on the show. The supposedly controversial episode “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” worried the execs, but when the suggestion of censorship came up, both Barr and Arnold threatened to take the show to a different network. The episode aired, accompanied by a parental warning, and ABC would later reveal that “of the hundred calls they received in response to the episode, 75 percent of them were positive.”