Roseanne Barr’s Stormy Past Foreshadowed Her Show’s Dramatic End

Roseanne Barr holds as she screams the National Anthem in 1990.

Roseanne Barr holds as she screams the National Anthem in 1990.

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Barr nevertheless benefited handsomely from her show’s success, cashing in with sweetened contracts and production commitments, including a series starring her then-husband, Tom Arnold. But she frequently chafed at what she saw as slights from the network, with producer Marcy Carsey recalling in an interview for the Archives of American Television that the star “didn’t understand how you behave, and what your job is as a professional on a set. So she was difficult to work with.”
Those problems only grew as the show progressed, which produced inordinately high turnover among the writing staff.
One producer, Jeff Harris, took out a full-page ad in Daily Variety to announce that he was leaving the series, saying he had decided to “vacation in the relative peace and quiet of Beirut.” At another point, Barr issued numbered jerseys to the writers, sending a message that they were so disposable she didn’t need to learn their names.
    In the 1990s, the task of dealing with Barr fell to then-ABC Entertainment president Ted Harbert, who recalled being summoned to Barr’s house to hold meetings — and seek ways to mollify her — while Barr and Arnold sat in bed.
    Remembering the level of discord, Harbert told CNN, “It did happen more than any other show,” adding that it was often “difficult to identify what her problem was, and how to fix it.”
    Harbert noted that there’s a long history of talent becoming demanding once they are associated with a major success, joking that while he got to experience “the good times” in fielding Barr’s complaints, when you’re in the position of running a network, “It’s a cost of doing business.”
    The cast of the original 'Roseanne'

    The cast of the original 'Roseanne'

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    “Roseanne” ended its historic run on ABC in 1997, and Barr segued largely into the world of reality television. She hosted a syndicated talk show, then appeared in a documentary-style series titled “The Real Roseanne Show.” ABC yanked the latter after airing just two episodes in 2003, when its sister network — then-known as ABC Family — didn’t proceed with a planned companion show, titled “The Domestic Goddess Hour.”
    Barr surfaced again in a Lifetime series, “Roseanne’s Nuts,” which chronicled her move to Hawaii to live on and operate a nut farm. Among other things, she cited her disgust with Los Angeles in her direct-to-camera interviews.
    “I can’t act like I’m interested in somebody who’s boring the f–k out of me, and I don’t have to because I’m too g–damn rich,” she said in the heavily bleeped premiere.
    “Roseanne’s” return followed a flurry of similar made-for-TV revivals, including new versions of “Full House” and “The Gilmore Girls” (for Netflix) and NBC’s “Will & Grace.” Even before the show premiered, there were those who expressed concern about the star’s more outlandish postings on social media and her embrace of various conspiracy theories — raising questions, as Vox chronicled, about the Sept. 11 terror attacks, circulating material claiming Democrats are behind a pedophile sex-trafficking ring and calling Israel a “Nazi state.”
      The huge tune-in for “Roseanne” when it premiered in March surely had ABC officials — in serious need of a hit — hoping that they could control the mercurial star, or perhaps more accurately, that Barr would control herself, to reap those benefits.
      It didn’t turn out that way, reinforcing the sense that understanding Roseanne Barr is, perhaps, one of the few things more difficult than managing her.


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