6 Bizarre Explanations From the Set of Roseanne

Getty Images
Getty Images

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 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 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 and 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 17. When real-life Roseanne discovered retroactively that her parents were evil, she rewrote 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 retelling 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 ...

10 Timeless Facts About The Land Before Time

Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

Five years before Jurassic Park roared into theaters, a gentler, more meditative dinosaur film endeared itself to audiences of all ages. Initially met with mixed reviews, The Land Before Time is now regarded as an animated classic. Here are 10 things you might not have known about the Steven Spielberg-produced film, which arrived in theaters 30 years ago.

1. IT WAS CONCEIVED AS A DIALOGUE-FREE MOVIE.

Gabriel Damon and Candace Hutson in The Land Before Time (1988)
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

In the mid-1980s, executive producer Steven Spielberg began toying with the idea of a Bambi-esque dinosaur film. “Basically,” he later said, “I wanted to do a soft picture … about five little dinosaurs and how they grow up and work together as a group.” Inspiration came from the “Rite of Spring” sequence from Disney’s Fantasia (1940)—a scene in which prehistoric beasts wordlessly go about their business. At first, Spielberg wanted his own dinosaur characters to follow suit and remain mum. Ultimately, however, it was feared that a non-verbal approach might bore or confuse the film’s intended audience. As such, the animals were given lines.

2. DIRECTOR DON BLUTH WAS AN EX-DISNEY EMPLOYEE.

Don Bluth grew up idolizing Disney’s work, and began working for the studio in 1955. Over the next two decades, he did various odd jobs until he was brought on as a full-time animator in 1971. Once on the inside, Bluth got to peek behind the magician’s curtain—and disliked what he found there. “I think [Walt Disney] would’ve seen that the pictures were losing their luster,” Bluth said. Frustrated by the studio’s cost-cutting measures, he resigned in 1979. Joining him were fellow animators Gary Goldman and John Pomeroy. Together the trio launched their own company, Sullivan Bluth Studios, and began working on The Land Before Time in 1986.

3. OVER 600 BACKGROUND PAINTINGS WERE MADE FOR THE FILM.

Most of these depicted beautiful but barren wastelands, which presented a real challenge for the creative team. As one studio press release put it, “The artists had to create a believable environment in which there was almost no foliage.” Whenever possible, Bluth’s illustrators emphasized vibrant colors. This kept their backdrops from looking too drab or monotonous—despite the desolate setting.

4. LITTLEFOOT’S ORIGINAL NAME WAS “THUNDERFOOT.”

This was changed when the filmmakers learned that there was a triceratops in a popular children’s book called Thunderfoot. Speaking of three-horned dinosaurs: Cera evolved from a pugnacious male character called Bambo.

5. THE FILMMAKERS HAD TO CUT ABOUT 10 MINUTES OF FOOTAGE.

“We compromised a lot with The Land Before Time,” Goldman admitted. Nowhere was this fact more apparent than on the cutting room floor. Spielberg and his fellow executive producer George Lucas deemed 19 individual scenes “too scary.” “We’ll have kids crying in the lobby, and angry parents,” Spielberg warned. “You don’t want that.”

6. “ROOTER” WAS INTRODUCED AT THE URGING OF CHILD PSYCHOLOGISTS.

In Bambi, the title character’s mom dies off-screen. The same cannot be said for Littlefoot’s mother, whose slow demise goes on for several agonizing minutes. Naturally, there was some concern about how children would react to this. “A lot of research went into the mother dying sequence,” Pomeroy said. “Psychologists were approached and shown the film. They gave their professional opinions of how the sequence could be depicted.” Thus, Rooter was born.

One scene after Littlefoot’s mom passes, the wise reptile consoles him, saying “You’ll always miss her, but she’ll always be with you as long as you remember the things she taught you.” Sharp-eared fans might recognize Rooter’s voice as that of Pat Hingle, who also narrates the movie.

7. JAMES HORNER DID THE SOUNDTRACK.

The late, Oscar-winning composer behind Braveheart (1995), Titanic (1997), and Avatar (2009) put together a soaring score. Along with lyricist Will Jennings, he also penned the original song “If We Hold On Together,” which Diana Ross sings as the end credits roll.

8. THE ACTRESS BEHIND DUCKY PASSED AWAY BEFORE THE MOVIE’S RELEASE.

Judith Barsi’s career was off to a great start. By age 10, this daughter of Hungarian immigrants had already appeared in 70 commercials and voiced the leading lady in Don Bluth’s All Dogs Go to Heaven (1989). For The Land Before Time, Barsi voiced the ever-optimistic Ducky, which was reportedly her favorite role. Then tragedy struck: In July of 1988, Barsi’s father József murdered both her and her mother before taking his own life.

9. IT HAD A RECORD-SETTING OPENING WEEKEND.

From the get-go, The Land Before Time had some stiff competition. Universal released it on November 18, 1988—the same day that Disney’s Oliver & Company hit theaters. Yet, for a solid month, Bluth gave Oliver a box office beating. The Land Before Time enjoyed the highest-grossing opening weekend that any animated film had ever seen, pulling in $7.5 million to Oliver & Company’s $4 million. Since then, of course, The Land Before Time has long been dethroned; today, Incredibles 2 (2018) holds this coveted distinction with a $182.7 million first-weekend showing.

10. THERE ONCE WAS TALK OF A LAND BEFORE TIME STAGE MUSICAL.

“The time has come for dinosaurs on Broadway,” the late theatrical producer Irving Welzer told The New York Times in 1997. Emboldened by the recent cinematic success of Spielberg’s The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1996), Welzer expressed an interest helping Littlefoot, Cera, Ducky, and the rest of the gang make their Big Apple debut. Soon, however, the idea faded.

Billie Lourd Shares What (Very Little) She Can About Star Wars: Episode IX

Frazer Harrison, Getty Images
Frazer Harrison, Getty Images

​Nearly nothing is known about the final film in the latest Star Wars series, except that J.J. Abrams, who helmed The Force Awakens, will be returning as director, and many of the cast members from both Abrams's earlier effort and The Last Jedi will be reprising their roles. Even the late Carrie Fisher, who sadly passed away on December 27, 2016, will be included in Episode IX, through unused footage from the previous two films.

Though all the stars of the upcoming film are sworn to secrecy about it, Fisher's daughter, Billie Lourd, is spilling what she can. Lourd, who played the minor role of Lieutenant Connix in the last two films, teased what it was like being back on set.

"I gotta watch myself because the Star Wars PD is going to come get me, but it is incredible. I’ve read the script and I’ve been on set," Lourd told ​Entertainment Tonight. "I was on set for, like, three weeks back in September, and it is going to be magical. I can’t say much more, but I’m so excited about it and so grateful to be a part of it. Star Wars is my heart. I love it."

A lot of things are riding on Episode IX, especially considering how divided fans were over The Last Jedi. Though with Abrams back in the director's chair, it seems likely that the new film will be a return to form. The as-yet-untitled film hits theaters on December 20, 2019.

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