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Roseanne Barr and original members of the cast of her hit ‘80s and ‘90s show Roseanne reflected on the impact of the original and previewed the upcoming ABC revival on 20/20‘s one-hour special “Roseanne: The Return” Thursday night.
When it aired for nine seasons on ABC between 1988 and 1997, Roseanne focused on the lives of a working-class family just outside of Chicago and addressed topics including domestic abuse, birth control and racism. Guest stars included George Clooney, Ellen DeGeneres and Johnny Galecki; two of its writers became the co-creators of The Middle, one was Amy Sherman-Palladino (Gilmore Girls), another Bruce Helford (Kevin Can Wait, The Drew Carey Show) and another Chuck Lorre (Mike and Molly).
The revival, which will premiere March 27 at 8 p.m. ET/PT, will see the return of original cast members Barra (Roseanne), John Goodman (Dan), Laurie Metcalf (Jackie), Sara Gilbert (Darlene), Michael Fishman (DJ), Lecy Goranson (Becky) and Sarah Chalke. Johnny Galecki (Dan), Estelle Parsons (Beverly Harris), Sandra Berhard (Nancy), James Pickens Jr. (Chuck), Natalie West (Crystal) and Adilah Barnes (Anne Marie Mitchell) will also make appearances in the new series.
Barr is writing and co-executive producing alongside Tom Werner, Bruce Helford and Gilbert. Newcomers Whitney Cummings (2 Broke Girls) and Tony Hernandez of Jax Media are also producing.
The upcoming reboot was the brainchild of Gilbert, who played Roseanne’s daughter Darlene on the original series, the special revealed. Gilbert, now the creator, co-host and executive producer of CBS’ The Talk, said that the idea germinated after she did a spoof on the show with Goodman in March 2017. When Goodman told a host of The Talk that he’d be interested in revisiting Roseanne, Gilbert started calling old cast members. Barr came on board after Goodman committed and Gilbert promised to pitch the rboot.
“I felt like having a working-class family on TV, talking about current issues, is something we need more of right now,” Gilbert said.
“We’re at a time in our country where there’s a lot of … economic frustration, and I think the Connors really represent that,” Fishman added.
The special also unveiled that the reboot creators attempted to reclaim the ABC show’s signature plaid couch and afghan, only to find it was being housed in a private collection. The set designers made a replica instead. The so-called “chicken shirt” will also make a return, Barr said.
The special showed the first moments where the cast visited the recreated set for the table read: Metcalf pointed and squealed, and Goodman pretended to seize up.
“The set, for us, really feels like home,” Fishman said. “And so walking in on Season 10 and seeing them rebuild that, it’s like revisiting your childhood home and pretty much having everything right where you left it but realizing that time’s past and some things change but some things remain the same.”
Ever since she announced that her character would be a Trump supporter in the revival in January, Barr has been asked to explain the character’s political leanings. She revisits that question in the special, in which she says that Trump would appeal to the working class because he talked about jobs. Moreover, she says, “Trump offended half of America, and she [Clinton] offended the other half, so that’s great for sitcoms. We’re lucky to have him as a president; it’s great for comedy.”
Reflecting on the show’s original run, Barr remembered how acting with Goodman convinced her the show would be a hit. But the last weeks leading up to the pilot were rocky: Executive producer Tom Werner said Barr told him she might not want to continue the show right before the pilot aired. “The network wants to pull the plug, Roseanne hates the script, the writer hates Roseanne,” he recalled.
Executive producer Bruce Helford reflected on how Barr and creator and executive producer Matt Williams sparred over creative control before Williams left over “creative differences.” “As a woman, especially, coming into it, she had to fight for power,” Williams said.
Indeed, when Roseanne became the number-one show on television, the network sent her a chocolate cake in the shape of a number one, while Barr had heard that male showrunners received cars when their shows received number one.
“They gave me a fucking chocolate number one, excuse me,” Barr said. “But once Bob Iger got on ABC, they started upping the gifts, let me tell you.”
Contributors to the special also highlighted how the show’s portrayal of domestic abuse, birth control and a working woman was unique during its run. “Roseanne was the first woman I saw on television that was rejecting the social construct of what women were supposed to be,” Cummings said.
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