Someday, when that Big Book of Sitcom Pitfalls to Avoid is published, Roseanne will definitely be the first entry listed under "star megalomania." What started out as a successful comedy about a struggling blue-collar Midwestern family eventually turned into a platform for its namesake's (often) bizarre and radical viewpoints. Of course, even before Roseanne Barr got in touch with her multiple personalities, there was stress and dissension behind the scenes. There were also a few plot/character inconsistencies and other mysteries regarding the show that we'll try to clear up in this week's column.
1. WHY ROSEANNE BOYCOTTED HER OWN SHOW (AND WORE AN ARMBAND).
When Roseanne first contracted for her television series with Carsey-Werner Productions, producer Matt Williams spent several days at her home taking notes as he watched her interact with her family. He also studied tapes of her stand-up act, and interviewed his star for hours on end. Much to Roseanne's dismay, however, when the credits rolled on that pilot episode Williams was listed as the "creator" of the show, instead of "developer" (which she thought was a more appropriate title). As time went on, relations between Williams and Roseanne became even more heated and came to a head when she boycotted an episode over one line of dialogue. Of course, the show must go on, and this one did so with its star only appearing in the opening scene and the tag (wearing an armband in protest).
That episode, "An Officer and a Gentleman," centered around an absent Roseanne and sister Jackie taking over the Conner household for a few days. It was so well-received that Williams asked Laurie Metcalf and John Goodman if they'd be willing to continue with the show if Roseanne suddenly quit. Both actors refused and later reported the meeting to Barr, winning her loyalty and support for the rest of the series' run. Matt Williams left the show after the first season and went on to co-create the Tim Allen sitcom Home Improvement.
2. WHY THE ORIGINAL DJ DIDN'T STICK AROUND.
Eagle-eyed viewers have often commented on how different DJ looked in the pilot as compared to later episodes. That's because the character of the youngest Conner son was originally played by Sal Barone. Shortly after the pilot was filmed in 1988, the Writers Guild went on strike. When production resumed after the long hiatus, it was discovered that Barone had grown. Not to NBA proportions, but enough to make the producers nervous: if he'd gained half an inch of height at age eight, how long would it be before DJ got taller than his older sisters? Additionally, his mother not only agreed that he was probably too old to play DJ, who was six-going-on-seven at the beginning of the series, but she'd also witnessed the backstage fights between her son and Sara Gilbert, who played Darlene. By mutual agreement, Sal Barone left the show and was replaced by Roseanne-lookalike Michael Fishman.
3. WE'VE GOT TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN.
Roseanne first met Johnny Galecki when he worked with her on a made-for-TV movie called Backfield in Motion. She was impressed with him enough to cast him as Darlene's love interest (and eventual husband) on her sitcom. When he was first introduced, he was presented as Mark's younger brother Kevin. Of course, in subsequent episodes Darlene's boyfriend was known as "David." Roseanne had wanted to call the character David from the get-go, but when Galecki was first hired, he was still co-starring on a Head of the Class spin-off called Billy, and his character on that show was named David. Once Billy was canceled, Kevin became David, and the explanation for his name change was revealed on a later episode during a Roseanne rant about Darlene's controlling behavior: "David's not even his real name, Darlene made it up!"
4. EXPLAINING JACKIE'S PREGNANCY.
One famous Roseanne story arc centered around Jackie's romance with a much younger hunk named Fisher. Eventually it was revealed that Fisher was abusive and had beat Jackie up (which landed Dan in jail when he sought retribution for his sister-in-law). In a somewhat ironic twist, Laurie Metcalf and Matt Roth (the actor who played Fisher) fell in love while working together, and the pair eventually married. Metcalf's real-life pregnancy was written into the show, albeit a bit late. In the "Stash from the Past" episode, Jackie's pregnancy had yet to be announced, but she was very obviously sporting a large baby bump when she hunkered in the bathtub while bemoaning that she didn't have anyone in the world except for her ganja. Just a few episodes later it was revealed that Jackie had been impregnated after a one-night stand with Fred, Dan's co-worker.
5. HOW LIL' JERRY GARCIA CAME ABOUT.
Roseanne the character announced her pregnancy in Season 7, about three months before Roseanne the person actually conceived via IVF, which explains why the TV character carried her baby for just over a year in TV time. To further confuse matters, in the "Maybe Baby" episode, Roseanne and Dan were informed by her obstetrician (after an amniocentesis) that she was carrying a girl. Of course, during a later Halloween episode Roseanne gave birth to a baby boy whom she named Jerry Garcia Conner. The reason for the switch was two-fold; Roseanne Barr Pentland Arnold Thomas wanted her show to reflect her real life (and her real-life baby, Buck, was a boy), plus she wanted to honor the (then) recently deceased Grateful Dead singer, Jerry Garcia.
6. ROSEANNE'S PARENTS ON USING THE FORCE.
Back in the day when Roseanne was still hot and heavy with Tom Arnold, he confessed to her that he'd been molested as a young boy by his babysitter. That revelation triggered a truckload of repressed memories for Roseanne, who soon appeared in the press and on various talk shows bemoaning her sexual abuse at the hands of her parents from age six months until she moved out of their house at 17. When real-life Roseanne discovered retroactively that her parents were evil, she rewrote her TV parents to be equally abusive and dysfunctional. In the early seasons, Grandpa Al's only faults were his fondness for playing "pull my finger" and retelling the same old stories. Suddenly, in Season Four, Al was revealed to be an unfeeling child-beater who hung a razor strop on the living room wall as a "reminder" to his daughters to toe the line. Mom Bev went from being a typical clucking-over-her-brood mother hen to a shrill harpy who turned a blind eye when her husband whipped his daughters.
Well, we're at the end of our allotted space and still haven't covered the revolving Beckies, Roseanne's changing face courtesy of plastic surgery, and the mind-boggling final episode. Stay tuned for a part two to our Roseanne saga ...