At a time when shows like The Wonder Years, Growing Pains, Murphy Brown, Designing Women, Dallas, and Dynasty still ruled the airwaves, the debut of Roseanne in the fall of 1988 introduced a new kind of family to television audiences and a new kind of matriarch. Praised for its portrayal of blue-collar America, the Emmy Award-winning series also broke new ground in terms of its envelope-pushing (for the time) storylines. Here are some things you might not know about the series that made Roseanne Barr a star.
1. THE SUCCESS OF ROSEANNE JUMPSTARTED THE TREND OF GIVING COMEDIANS THEIR OWN SITCOMS.
TV producers Marcy Carsey and Tom Werner were interested in developing a sitcom about a working mother. When they saw Roseanne Barr’s outspoken “domestic goddess” comedy routine on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson in 1985, they offered her a show. Barr wasn’t the first performer to transition from stand-up to TV, but her ABC show was an immediate hit. By its second season, it was number one in the Nielsen ratings and remained in the top four for six of its nine seasons.
As a result—and coupled with the success of Seinfeld—networks started offering more development deals to comedians, including Tim Allen (Home Improvement), Brett Butler (Grace Under Fire), Ellen DeGeneres (Ellen), and Ray Romano (Everybody Loves Raymond), to name a few.
2. THE SHOW WAS ORIGINALLY TITLED LIFE AND STUFF.
Roseanne creator, head writer, and executive producer Matt Williams said the benign title established the sitcom as an ensemble piece. But Barr argued that the show should be called Roseanne, since she was the lead character and the show was based on her life. (Williams left the show after season one.)
3. THE SHOW’S EXTERIOR SHOTS ARE OF EVANSVILLE, INDIANA, NOT ILLINOIS.
Why Evansville? It’s where co-executive producer Matt Williams grew up. The house used for the facade of the Conner home went up for sale, plaid couches not included, in early 2013. It was taken off the market less than a month later.
4. JOHN GOODMAN AND LAURIE METCALF WERE CAST WITH ULTERIOR MOTIVES.
Roseanne Barr had never acted before, so the producers hoped that surrounding her with a strong supporting cast would give her a crash course in acting. Barr and Goodman also had great chemistry and squabbled like a married couple from their first reading together. Goodman was the first and only actor to audition for the role of Dan Conner.
5. MACAULAY CULKIN AUDITIONED FOR THE ROLE OF D.J.
Had Culkin been cast, it would’ve been his big break (it would be another two years before Home Alone was released). Instead, Michael Fishman got the role, replacing Sal Barone from the pilot (who, in addition to hitting a growth spurt, didn’t get along with Sara Gilbert, who played his sister Darlene). “I wanted Michael Fishman because he looked like my family and he was a little Russian boy,” Barr told Entertainment Weekly. “He was so not like all the other little Hollywood bastards.” Added Fishman: “The network wanted one person, the production company wanted another person, and she wanted me. In many ways, I’m one of the first battles she won.”
6. ROSEANNE WAS A CRITICAL DARLING, BUT IT WAS NEVER NOMINATED FOR AN EMMY FOR BEST COMEDY SERIES.
Laurie Metcalf won three consecutive Emmys for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series for her role as Roseanne’s sister Jackie beginning in 1992 (in 1993, Barr won Outstanding Lead Actress). But the show never managed to nab a Best Comedy Series nomination. And while John Goodman’s portrayal of Dan Conner earned him the Outstanding Lead Actor nomination seven years in a row, he never took home an award.
7. IT WAS ONE OF THE FIRST PRIMETIME SHOWS TO FEATURE OPENLY GAY CHARACTERS.
Despite network protests, Barr insisted on featuring gay characters as friends, family members, co-workers, and neighbors. (Barr’s own brother and sister are gay.) In season eight, Roseanne’s former boss Leon (Martin Mull) married his partner Scott (Fred Willard)—a scene that wouldn’t be so unusual today, but was very controversial back in 1995. (It actually aired later than its usual time slot because of its “adult humor.”) A year later, Roseanne’s mother came out of the closet. Spoiler alert: In the bizarre “it was all a dream” finale, it was revealed that Roseanne’s sister Jackie was a lesbian. And of course, there was the scandalous kiss between Barr and guest star Mariel Hemingway.
8. ROSEANNE LAUNCHED JOSS WHEDON’S CAREER.
Joss Whedon began his television career as a staff writer on Roseanne. Whedon was only 24 years old when he wrote four episodes of the show’s second season, which Splitsider later dissected, looking for early glimpses of Whedon’s style:
“While John Goodman is a national treasure who can make any material work, Whedon’s take on his character stands out: Dan is goofier and more removed from the action, and notably less agitated than when written by other writers ... In these episodes, Dan Conner transforms into the Whedon proto-male a.k.a. the ‘Xander:’ an affable, quipping observer defined more by the women around him than by any strong internal life.”
A few other big names in television honed their skills on Roseanne, including Amy Sherman-Palladino, creator of Gilmore Girls and Bunheads, and Chuck Lorre, co-creator of Two and Half Men and The Big Bang Theory.
9. ALL THREE OF BARR’S EX-HUSBANDS MADE GUEST APPEARANCES ON THE SHOW.
Roseanne was inspired by life with the comedian’s first husband, Bill Pentland, and their three children. Pentland served as an executive consultant for three seasons, wrote two episodes, and played one of Dan’s buddies in an early episode. In 1990, Barr divorced Pentland after 16 years of marriage. Four days later, she wed comedian Tom Arnold, who had a recurring role as Arnie Thomas. Then in 1995 Barr married Ben Thomas, her former bodyguard, and gave him two bit roles as a cop. They remain his only acting credits.
10. THE FICTIONAL LANFORD LUNCH BOX INSPIRED A REAL-LIFE RESTAURANT.
Three years after they married, Barr and Arnold opened Roseanne and Tom’s Big Food Diner in Eldon, Iowa, near Arnold’s hometown. It served the same loosemeat sandwiches as the Lanford Lunch Box, the restaurant Roseanne opened with her sister, mom, and friend Nancy (played by Sandra Bernhard) in season five. The diner closed in 1995, a year after Barr and Arnold divorced.
11. ROSEANNE’S THEME SONG CHANGED DRAMATICALLY IN ITS LAST SEASON.
After using an instrumental version for eight seasons, Roseanne got a new theme—courtesy of Blues Traveler's John Popper—for its ninth (and final) season. The change foreshadowed an even more bizarre finale that would leave many viewers puzzled.
12. ABC REQUIRED THE CONNERS TO VISIT DISNEY WORLD.
It seemed incongruous for the Conners to visit The Happiest Place on Earth, but in season eight they did just that ... twice. That’s because the ABC-Walt Disney Company merger in 1995 required family shows to feature Disney World or Disneyland. Boys Meets World, Step by Step, Full House, and Family Matters all had at least one Disney Park episode.
13. IN 1990, BARR GOT A SPIN-OFF DEAL FOR A SATURDAY MORNING CARTOON.
Little Rosey was an animated series presumably about Roseanne—the real person, not the character—as a child. Barr didn’t voice her character in the first season, which may have been one reason the show didn’t take off. She agreed to voice Rosey in the second season, but the show was suddenly cancelled and replaced by Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Barr claimed that ABC gave her cartoon the axe because they were offended by her rendition of the National Anthem at a San Diego Padres game.
14. BARR HAS PREDICTED WHERE THE CONNERS WOULD BE TODAY ... AND IT ISN'T A HAPPY ENDING.
In 2008, Barr told Entertainment Weekly, “I’ve always said now that if they were on TV, D.J. would have been killed in Iraq and [the Conners] would have lost their house.” Barr divulged more potential plotlines in her blog a year later, including Becky’s job at Walmart, David and Darlene divorcing, and Roseanne and Jackie opening the first medical marijuana dispensary in Lanford. I guess we'll see how accurate those predictions were when the series returns in 2018.
15. ROSEANNE HAS ALWAYS WANTED TO COME BACK TO PRIMETIME TV.
When Roseanne ended in 1997, ABC considered a sequel about the main character’s life as a widow. It never materialized, but Barr has since had a talk show, a reality series, and a few sitcoms in the works. In 2011, she filmed a pilot called Downwardly Mobile about life in a trailer park, but it wasn’t picked up by NBC. In 2013, Barr was in talks with NBC again for a 10/90 sitcom deal—an agreement in which the network orders a straight-to-series run of 10 episodes and then orders 90 more if the show’s successful. The deal never came through. It looks like it took returning to her roots to finally make that comeback happen; in May 2017, ABC announced that Roseanne would return to primetime in 2018.
16. THOUGH THE ORIGINAL SERIES ENDED WITH DAN DYING, HE'LL BE ALIVE IN THE REVIVAL.
We're not exactly sure how this plotline will play out, but when Roseanne makes its return to television, Dan Conner will be alive and (presumably) well. ABC president Channing Dungey recently confirmed that the new season will conveniently ignore some of the major events that occurred in the series' finale.
“I can confirm that Dan is still alive,” Dungey said at TCA, though she didn't elaborate on how that will play out. Nor did she say whether any more of the last season's revelations would be ignored for the reboot. However, she did confirm that the network is currently in talks with The Big Bang Theory star Johnny Galecki about reprising hs role of David on the series.