Roseanne came into America's homes October 18, 1988, introducing the Conners, a blue-collar family from Illinois. The show quickly shot to the top spot in television ratings and lasted for nine seasons before it ended May 20, 1997. But despite its success, the show was plagued by backstage drama involving actors, writers, and behind-the-scenes staff, some of which is highlighted in Joy Press' new book, . The drama continues in 2018: After the show was rebooted by ABC in March, the network cancelled it after one season following offensive remarks made by Roseanne Barr on Twitter.
Before the two got married, Roseanne Barr tried to get Tom Arnold as her TV husband, Dan Conner. In , casting director Risa Bramon Garcia revealed producers instead wanted someone with more experience. Creator Matt Williams told that Goodman got the part after his first interaction with Barr. "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."
Brandon Stoddard, the then-president of ABC, told that while the network was desperate for a hit, they had a minor setback before they could start. Before the cast could even shoot the pilot, the set had to be shut down for a week due to fire code violations.
The cast and crew of Roseanne came together October 18, 1998 to watch the show live for the first time. But Barr became furious after seeing Matt Williams' name as the creator of the show, while Barr only get a "starring" credit. Barr wrote for , "I was devastated and felt so betrayed that I stood up and left the party. Not one person noticed."
Williams later told , "This desperate and angry cry that 'I created everything,' well, it's not true. I did write it. Did I pick her brain and talk to her and watch her stand-up a thousand times? Absolutely. The Writers Guild of America determines these [credits]." Barr tried to file a complaint to the Writers Guild of America, but it was too late.
After Barr tried to get Williams' "created by" credit taken off, Barr also banned producers from coming on the set. As a result, Williams tried to see if there was possibility to get rid of Barr and just do the show with a focus on Goodman and Laurie Metcalf. According to Stealing the Show, they both refused to do the show without her.
Barr started feuding with the wardrobe master over the various outfits they were having her wear. "I wanted vintage plaid shirts, T-shirts, and jeans, not purple stretch pants with green-and-blue smocks," Barr wrote for . According to Stealing the Show, a producer told wardrobe to ignore Barr's requests. Barr then took a pair of scissors to the producer's office to confront the producer and said, "B--tch, do you want me to cut you?"
Before the show ran its first episode, Barr supposedly kept a list of all the people she had trouble with. According to Stealing the Show, the note said, "These are the people who are going to be fired if they're not nice to me. People who I am the boss of – everybody … all producers, all writers, all subject to change." The president of ABC's name was also included in the list along with Matt Williams, the book claims.
While shooting one of the earlier episodes of season one, Press writes in Stealing the Show, that Barr refused to say a line because she didn't believe that her character would actually say it. Barr previously edited scripts during the show's run, but this time Williams was serious about her saying the line. Lawyers were then brought in to persuade her, but she was adamant about her decision.
As tensions rose on set, Barr was told multiple times on set that she was going to be fired. Barr told that George Clooney came to her side during the feud. "[He] put this sign on my door, where it said, 'Roseanne Barr.' He took that name tag out and put 'Valerie Harper' instead because she had just been fired off her own show [Valerie]. I will always love George for that."
As production continued on the first season, tension between Barr and Williams continued to escalate. Williams ended up leaving after episode 13 which meant, according to Barr in her column for , "[he] stayed just long enough to ensure him a lifetime's worth of residuals." Jeff Harris, writer and creator of Diff'rent Strokes, came in to replace him. Williams later created Home Improvement starring Tim Allen.
In December 1988, Roseanne hit number one in the ratings, beating out The Cosby Show. ABC decided to send Barr a giant chocolate bar in the shape of the number one to celebrate. Barr, however, wasn't happy with the gift. Barr told , "A big piece of chocolate, like a fat girl would be real happy with. I'm like, "Are you s--tin' me?" Clooney took a baseball bat to it. I threw it up in the air and George swung at it with a bat. He goes, "Take a picture of this! F--k those a--holes!" We took a picture and sent it to ABC."
Barr told Press in Stealing the Show, that her family would often affect production and shooting days due to problems. "I remember I was filming one of the first episodes and I got a call saying, 'Your daughter has run away.' On tape day. They were always f--king with me on tape day." During the first season, Barr's daughter Jessica was in rehab and Barr also reunited with her daughter that she had given up for adoption as a teenager, Brandi.
In the middle of season one, Barr left her husband and soon married Arnold. Barr later hired Arnold as a writer on Roseanne, hoping to have someone new who was close to her and would listen to what she wanted. According to Stealing the Show, writer Norma Safford-Vela was told by a producer to teach Arnold how to write. "We all thought he was 100% talent-free," she said. "[Barr] was very upset because she thought we didn't respect her choices, and it's like, well, no, we just don't respect this choice."
Arnold reportedly caused chaos on set, constantly going against other writers, including Jeff Harris. At one point, Harris tried to fire Arnold, but instead Arnold went to Barr for help. Press writes in Stealing the Show, that Arnold then told Harris, "This is not a f--king democracy. This is a Queendom," referring to Barr. In February of 1990, Harris took out a full-page ad in Variety, announcing his departure from the show. "I have chosen not to return to the show next season. Instead, my wife and I have decided to share a vacation in the relative peace and quiet of Beirut."
Tom Arnold was later featured in a documentary called Feeding the Monster: A Week in the Life of Roseanne, showing a behind-the-scenes look of the set of Roseanne. According to the , "Her husband and co-producer, Tom Arnold, seemed even creepier, exhibiting a mean, tight-lipped smile, nonstop hand-pummeling and a gross delight in his power to hire and fire."
Whedon, creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and a Toy Story co-writer, joined the show as a writer during season two. Whedon's first script for the show ended up being the second episode, "Little Sister." The episode was supposed to feature an abortion storyline involving Jackie. However, according to , Whedon was notified by a producer over a script change, which changed Jackie's abortion to a miscarriage. "Welcome to my dream and my first heartbreak," he said in reaction to the change.
Whedon wrote two more scripts for the season, including "Brain-Dead Poets Society," which also got reworked for unknown reasons. "He couldn't believe we would rewrite that script because, you know, he had done a really good job," Safford-Vela told Press in Stealing the Show. "I said, 'Look, this is television, and this is what will happen on every show until you run the show." Safford-Vela then told Whedon to work on something on his own for the rest of his contractual period. For the rest of the season, Whedon ended up working on a vampire screenplay: Buffy the Vampire Slayer. He would later adapt the movie into a hit television series which ran from 1997 to 2003.
After the success of the second season, Barr was invited by producer and San Diego Padres owner, Tom Werner, to sing "The Star-Spangled Banner." Barr, however, decided to take a more comedic approach and proceeded to yell the national anthem. After the performance, Barr grabbed her crotch and spit to the ground, parodying baseball players. According to Stealing the Show, "the media uproar didn't dent the show's ratings, though. Barr's chutzpah played well with her audience."
During season 5 of Roseanne, the episode "Crime and Punishment" aired featuring a domestic abuse storyline. Shortly after, according to , Barr revealed to an audience at a Survivors United Network private event that her father molested her when she was younger. "My name is Roseanne, "she said, "and I am an incest survivor." A month later, on the Sally Jesse Raphael Show, Barr also said that her father molested her daughter at her wedding, according to .
About three episodes after "Crime and Punishment," the domestic abuse plot line continued with the episode "Wait Till Your Father Gets Home," ending with Roseanne's father dying on the show. Late in 2011, Barr revealed to , that she regrets going public about her story and calling it incest. Barr's sister, who was also in the episode, revealed that she and Barr were estranged for 12 years and that her entire family went to therapy because of the revelation. "I want to say that nobody accuses their parents of abusing them without justification to do that," she said. "I didn't just make it up. A lot of things were true and abusive and horrible things that happened to me that my father did."
While shooting season 4 of Seinfeld, Julia Louis-Dreyfus accidentally parked in Arnold's space at the CBS Studio Center. At the time, Arnold was also working on The Jackie Thomas Show, which was on the same lot as Roseanne. Upon discovering Louis-Dreyfus was parked in his spot, according to , Arnold left a note saying, "How stupid are you? Move your f--king car, you a--hole!" Louis-Dreyfus and several cast and crew members of Seinfeld went to The Jackie Thomas Show set to confront Arnold, who admitted he wrote the note.
Despite Louis-Dreyfus moving her car back to her old spot the next day, Arnold and Barr were still not happy. According to the , Louis-Dreyfus returned her car that day to find, "a Polaroid of someone's buttocks left on her windshield and the word 'c--t' written in soap." While Louis-Dreyfus refused to speak out about the event, the couple decided to take the matter public. "Barr called Louis-Dreyfus a b--ch on Letterman," according to the . Arnold later told , "I think it's funny. So does Rosey. We probably gave them a whole episode with this. They can write about a parking space."
During season 6 of the show, writers were made to wear T-shirts with numbers on them, so Barr could call them by their numbers instead of their own names. Barr told , "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." New writers Stan Zimmerman and James Berg were both 12 and 13, respectively. Amy Sherman-Palladino, who later created Gilmore Girls, told , "I was number 2. The writers did not think it was funny. Anytime you tell someone, 'I'm not going to learn your name, here's your number,' you're diminishing their worth."
Lecy Goranson, who played Becky during the first five seasons of the show, decided to leave before the show started its sixth season in order to attend Vassar College in New York. "It wasn't about malice or disrespect. I felt that I devoted all my teenage years to working, and I just wanted to get back to a little normalcy," Goranson told "It was a situation that a lot of people still don't understand. It was painful, too. You're in a family and someone leaves. I think they didn't really know how to deal with that separation. They offered me a lot of money to stay." Sarah Chalke replaced her for the sixth and seventh seasons until Goranson returned for season 8. Goranson left again, and Chalke took over the role for the ninth season. For the reboot, Goranson will take over the role of Becky while Chalke plays a new character named Andrea, who hires Becky to be her surrogate.
Zimmerman and Berg only wrote two episodes during their time on the show, but one of them was one of Roseanne's most controversial. The episode, "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" contained a moment where Roseanne, while at a gay bar, gets kissed by a lesbian character, played by Mariel Hemingway. According to Stealing the Show, the episode was almost censored by ABC until Barr and Arnold threatened to move the show to a different network. ABC aired the episode with a parental warning. Afterwards, ABC revealed, "that of the one hundred calls they received in response to the episode, 75% of them were positive."
After season 6, Arnold and Barr's relationship soured. They divorced between seasons 6 and 7, while Arnold left the writers' room for good. Barr filed for divorce on April 18, 1994, citing irreconcilable differences, according to . Arnold also played Arnie Thomas on the show, who was last seen in season 5. He also appeared as a surprise guest on Comedy Central's Roast of Roseanne.
Season 7 brought many changes to Roseanne, including a lot of writer exits. Sherman, Zimmerman, Berg, and Arnold all left at the end of the sixth season. Goodman revealed on that Barr was harsh on writers but it was necessary for the show. "If she was little abrupt with people, that's the way it goes." When asked if it bothered him what was happening behind the scenes, Goodman replied, "No, sir, because I knew what was coming on. I knew what was happening."
During its seventh season, Roseanne dropped out of the top 10 ratings for the first time, something Barr says caused "the end of my addiction with fame," in her column. "The feeling of being used all those years just because I was in the top 10 — not for my money or even my gluttony — was sobering indeed. I vowed that I would make a complete change top to bottom and rid myself of the desires that had laid me low."
The ninth season of the show started off with the Conners winning the lottery, something that caused a lot of tension in the writers' room over how the family would react and the right way the show should end. Executive producer Marcy Carsey told , "By the time the last season was on the air, the show was spinning out of control a bit. We didn't have the [network] support that we used to have." According to Stealing the Show, Barr told Spin magazine that she was returning the show to its roots. She also wanted to communicate, "how dreams come true. You know, the American dream and how these incredible things happened to me, who used to be this housewife with all these kids."
On May 20, 1997, Roseanne ended after 9 seasons and 222 episodes. The two-part season finale shocked viewers when it was revealed everything that happened in the current season was a fantasy written up by the fictional Roseanne to deal with the loss of her husband, Dan, who'd died from a heart attack. noted that the ending showed off Barr's creative control over the show. She responded to the controversial ending saying, "I always shaped every show, every script, and you know, it continued to go out exactly the way I wanted to go out. That's how it ends. It doesn't end with a happy reunion on ABC every Christmas. You know, it's not gonna go like that."