Behind-the-Scenes from the Set of “Roseanne”
Last week I discovered Kara Kovalchik from mentalfloss.com. She is a wonderful writer (IMO) and her subject matter is exactly what I originally intended for this blog to be. Therefore, I will feature some of my favorite of her blogs.
Thanks Kara. I’m a fan.
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 Arnold 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 Ms. 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 ‘n 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 seventeen. When real-life Roseanne discovered retroactively that her parents were evil, she re-wrote 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 re-telling 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, and feel free to mention your own questions/comments in the meantime – they may be fodder for part deux!
Shhh…super secret special for blog readers.
When we left you last week we were in the midst of some Roseanne behind-the-scenes trivia. We now continue with all the facts that fit…or at least all those we couldn’t fit in the first time.
Entering Season Three with Trepidation
The San Diego Padres invited Roseanne to sing the National Anthem prior to a game against the Cincinnati Reds on July 25, 1990. Perhaps the first finger of blame should point at the Padres management – what were they thinking? Roseanne was a sitcom star, not a singer, and her speaking voice alone should have clued them in that she was no Barbra Streisand (or even no Ashlee Simpson). Nevertheless, Roseanne agreed to the gig and was flown via helicopter along with husband Tom Arnold to Jack Murphy Stadium. In one of his rare lucid moments, Tom peered out of the ‘copter at the crowd below and suggested to his wife (who had already made it clear that she intended to “have fun” with the anthem) that she may want to reconsider. “There are a lot of people out there,” he warned her, “and they probably take the National Anthem very seriously.” Roseanne shrugged off his warning and went ahead to screech “The Star Spangled Banner” off-key and capped off her performance by grabbing her crotch and spitting. She was unanimously trounced by the media the next day, with even then-president George Bush denouncing her performance as “disrespectful.” Needless to say, the producers and sponsors of her show were nervous about the upcoming Season Three, due to start filming in a few days. Would the public remember the National Anthem debacle by the time the first show aired and boycott the series? In typical Roseanne fashion, she had her character poke fun at the situation, with Roseanne Conner announcing at the beginning of the season opener “It’s such a beautiful morning today, it just makes me want to sing!” The spontaneous applause of the studio audience was an indication that all was forgiven.
Alicia “Lecy” Goranson was the first and original Becky Conner. She left the series at the end of the end of Season Four in order to attend Vassar College full-time. Or so went the official explanation. However, several years later Roseanne was a guest on Howard Stern’s radio show, and Robin Quivers asked her something along the lines of “Is it true Lecy Goranson left the show because she was being sexually harassed by one of the producers?” Roseanne was momentarily taken aback and asked, “Where did you hear that?” before quickly changing the subject. Goranson graduated from Vassar in 1996 with a degree in English (with a concentration in poetry). She re-appeared as Becky for what was supposed to be the final season of Roseanne, and then left the show again. Alicia (as she prefers to be called now) has appeared in a few films and on some TV shows, and was recently spotted reading tarot cards for money at the Gowanus Yacht Club in Brooklyn, New York.
Sarah Chalke, who took over the role of Becky Conner after Lecy left (both times), expressed a desire in 2001 to take a break from acting in order to go to college. But later that same year she landed a co-starring role on the hit sitcom Scrubs.
The Chuck Cunningham Syndrome?
Natalie West was cast as Roseanne’s best friend and co-worker, Crystal Anderson. Crystal was consistently unlucky in love (with several failed marriages in her past) and her character alternated between naïve and just plain goofy. The character of Crystal was conceived during the original “pitch” meetings before the Roseanne show was sold – after all, it’s a golden rule of sitcoms that every main character needed a wacky friend or neighbor to “bounce” off. However, as the series progressed, it became evident that not only did Laurie Metcalf (“Jackie”) and Roseanne Barr have better chemistry, it was also easier for the writers to concoct situations involving Roseanne and her sister than Roseanne and her best friend (especially since Crystal had a young son to care for). When Roseanne married Tom Arnold and he joined the cast as Arnie, Sandra Bernhard was brought aboard as Arnie’s free-wheeling love interest (Nancy) in order to provide story lines for Roseanne’s new hubby. With Jackie acting as Roseanne’s best friend and Nancy providing the wackiness quotient, there wasn’t much left for Crystal to do, so Natalie West was eliminated from the opening credits after Season Four and reduced to “recurring character” status.
She Looks the Same but She Isn’t the Same
During the hiatus after Season Five, Roseanne treated herself to some major plastic surgery: face lift, nose job, cheek implants, eyes, chin, the works. Unfortunately her surgeon (according to Roseanne) sewed a scalpel inside her face and she had to undergo a second round of surgery to have it removed. As a result, she hadn’t completely healed by the time filming for Season Six began. In the first few episodes, the heavy makeup she wore to cover the bruises gave her face an almost orangey glow
The 9th Ring of Sit-com: The Awful Season
Season Nine was the final one for Roseanne, and it also marked the first time that the show failed to crack the top 25 in the Nielsen ratings. Not surprising, since the stories and characters had strayed far from their original Blue Collar premise. Sturdy, dependable Dan Conner suddenly left his family to head to California where he had an “almost” affair with a nurse. (This story arc was used to accommodate John Goodman’s schedule; he had a burgeoning film career and hadn’t wanted to return for the show’s final season.) Then the Conners won $108 million in the Illinois lottery and went on a variety of bizarre spending spree-type adventures. Since the main source of comedy on the series was the family’s never-ending struggle to pay their bills, this plot twist truly confounded the show’s fans. However, there was some twisted Roseanne Barr reasoning behind the lottery episodes: she had purchased the U.S. rights to the hit British TV series Absolutely Fabulous, but had been unable to sell it to any of the major networks. So she simply turned her own show into Roseanne-Fab, and even had Joanna Lumley and Jennifer Saunders guest star in one episode for those who didn’t “get” the joke.
Shouldn’t you “beep” when you backpedal that much?
Roseanne had been pummeled from all sides by critics, fans and Nielsen numbers during that disastrous ninth season, so in an effort to maintain some professional dignity and credibility, she used a classic TV escape valve: all those lousy episodes never really happened. During the season finale, it was revealed that all of the last season (and parts of earlier seasons) had come from the pen of Roseanne Conner, the writer. Roseanne’s dream of becoming a writer had been mentioned often during the course of the series, so apparently it seemed logical to her to make much of her sitcom fodder for a book she’d been writing all along. Remember Dan’s heart attack at Darlene’s wedding? Turned out he’d actually died shortly afterward. His California affair was Roseanne’s mind trying to reconcile the fact that he’d left her. After his death, she’d imagined what it would be like to have all the money in the world, hence the lottery episodes. By the way, Darlene actually married Mark and Becky married David, and Jackie was a lesbian… Oh heck, it’s easier if you just keep track on your own scorecard while you listen to Roseanne explain it all herself:
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