The Horror of Making ‘Roseanne’ Was Turned into a Tom Arnold Sitcom

‘The Jackie Thomas Show’ was a disaster
The Horror of Making ‘Roseanne’ Was Turned into a Tom Arnold Sitcom

The great Martin Mull passed away recently, leaving behind a prodigious comedic legacy that included Fernwood 2 NightClue and that one scene in Jingle All the Way — not to mention his oddball discography and acclaimed fine art career. Most remembrances of Mull, though, singled out his work in Roseanne, where he played Roseanne Conner’s boss/frenemy Leon.

Less well-known is Mull’s role in another Roseanne-produced project, 1992’s The Jackie Thomas Show, a short-lived sitcom starring Tom Arnold as the unhinged star of a fictional sitcom.

Mull played a network executive who once worked at NBC, where he tried to cancel Cheers before it became a hit. “A bunch of slobs sitting around a bar, who knew?” he asked in the pilot episode.

Created by Arnold and Roseanne (or Roseanne Arnold, as she was known at the time), the series featured guest stars that included Roseanne herself, as a crazed fan, and Chris Farley, as Arnold’s younger brother.

But it mainly focused on the show-within-a-show’s stressed out writers, who are forced to contend with an egomaniacal star’s wild temper and unreasonable demands. The first episode finds Jackie instructing the newest writer to kill off the show’s teenage son character just because he’s too popular. 

The Jackie Thomas Show only lasted for one season before it was canceled by ABC — okay, technically Arnold quit before the cancellation, but this was likely because he “saw the handwriting on the wall and was trying to save face.”  

What’s most fascinating about The Jackie Thomas Show, in retrospect, is the fact that it feels like a confession of sorts, an attempt to turn the real-life drama that went on behind the scenes of Roseanne into a half-hour comedy. 

Roseanne, famously, wasn’t kind to her writing staff, even assigning writers “numbered T-shirts” due to “the Arnolds’ penchant for high writer turnover on the ABC series.” An executive producer on the show claimed that this was merely “to make everyone feel welcome and at home,” but really it was so that Roseanne could “fire them without learning names.” At least she was spared that indignity when she was later fired off of Roseanne.

This didn’t go unnoticed by people at the time, either. There was a lot of talk about how The Jackie Thomas Show paralleled the horror stories concerning the making of Roseanne

The Los Angeles Times noted that Arnold’s new sitcom felt weirdly similar to the events seen in Feeding the Monster, a BBC documentary that captured the fraught production of Roseanne, in which “the show’s writers live in constant terror, their exhausting workweeks punctuated by Pepto-Bismol swigging and all-night writing sessions.”

The Times argued that the couple were “completely aware” of their reputation, which is why they could “convert the backstage goings-on of the Roseanne show into the premise of The Jackie Thomas Show.” 

Arnold claimed that Jackie Thomas was an attempt to fuse their real experiences running Roseanne with their public image. “We wanted to take the show-business end of our lives and mix the public perception of us and the reality of us and put them into the show — the images of what people think maybe we did or what they’ve read that we did,” he explained in an interview. 

In any case, the show’s ratings were bad, and it didn’t last. Although the “Jackie Thomas” character does live on thanks to one episode of Roseanne

Weirdly, none of the characters were bothered by the fact that Jackie Thomas looked exactly like Dan’s buddy Arnie.

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