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6 Bizarre Explanations from the set of Roseanne

This article originally appeared in July of 2008.

Picture 342.pngSomeday 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 dissention 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

Picture 332.pngEagle-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 cancelled, 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

Picture 312.pngRoseanne 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

Picture 321.pngBack 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.

This article was originally published last July. For more 'Roseanne' drama, read Kara's sequel.

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Netflix's Most-Binged Shows of 2017, Ranked
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Netflix might know your TV habits better than you do. Recently, the entertainment company's normally tight-lipped number-crunchers looked at user data collected between November 1, 2016 and November 1, 2017 to see which series people were powering through and which ones they were digesting more slowly. By analyzing members’ average daily viewing habits, they were able to determine which programs were more likely to be “binged” (or watched for more than two hours per day) and which were more often “savored” (or watched for less than two hours per day) by viewers.

They found that the highest number of Netflix bingers glutted themselves on the true crime parody American Vandal, followed by the Brazilian sci-fi series 3%, and the drama-mystery 13 Reasons Why. Other shows that had viewers glued to the couch in 2017 included Anne with an E, the Canadian series based on L. M. Montgomery's 1908 novel Anne of Green Gables, and the live-action Archie comics-inspired Riverdale.

In contrast, TV shows that viewers enjoyed more slowly included the Emmy-winning drama The Crown, followed by Big Mouth, Neo Yokio, A Series of Unfortunate Events, GLOW, Friends from College, and Ozark.

There's a dark side to this data, though: While the company isn't around to judge your sweatpants and the chip crumbs stuck to your couch, Netflix is privy to even your most embarrassing viewing habits. The company recently used this info to publicly call out a small group of users who turned their binges into full-fledged benders:

Oh, and if you're the one person in Antarctica binging Shameless, the streaming giant just outed you, too.

Netflix broke down their full findings in the infographic below and, Big Brother vibes aside, the data is pretty fascinating. It even includes survey data on which shows prompted viewers to “Netflix cheat” on their significant others and which shows were enjoyed by the entire family.

Netflix infographic "The Year in Bingeing"
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14 Fascinating Facts About Saturday Night Fever
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Paramount Pictures

We can tell by the way you use your walk that you're a fan of Saturday Night Fever, the 1977 blockbuster that made John Travolta a mega-star and brought disco into the mainstream. (Whether that's a good thing or a bad thing is a matter of opinion.) To enhance your appreciation of what was the highest-grossing dance movie of all time until Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan (2010) and Steven Soderbergh’s Magic Mike (2012) beat it, here's a groovy list of facts to celebrate the film's 40th birthday. Put on your boogie shoes and read! 

1. THERE WAS A PG-RATED VERSION OF IT, TOO.

Saturday Night Fever was an instant hit when it was released in December 1977, quickly becoming one of the highest-grossing movies of the year. What's especially impressive is that it did this despite being rated R and thus (theoretically) inaccessible to teenagers, the very audience that a disco movie would (theoretically) appeal to. And so in March 1979, the film was re-released in a PG version, with all the profanity, sex, and violence either deleted or downplayed. This version took in another $8.9 million (about $30 million at 2016 ticket prices), bringing the film's U.S. total to $94.2 million. Both versions were released on VHS and laserdisc, though the R-rated cut didn't become widely available on home video until the DVD upgrade. 

2. IT WAS BASED ON A MAGAZINE ARTICLE THAT TURNED OUT TO BE SEMI-FICTIONAL.

"Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night," a detailed look at the new generation of urban teenagers by British journalist Nik Cohn, was published in New York Magazine in June 1976. The central figure in the article was Vincent, "the very best dancer in Bay Ridge," whose name was changed to Tony Manero for the movie. But years later, Cohn confessed: "[Vincent] is completely made-up, a total fabrication." The styles and attitudes Cohn had described were real, but not the main character. Cohn said he'd only recently arrived in Brooklyn, didn't know the scene well, and based Vincent on a Mod he'd known in London in the '60s.

3. THE BEE GEES HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH IT.

Most of the film had already been shot when music producer-turned-movie producer Robert Stigwood commissioned the Bee Gees to write songs for it. The brothers, only modestly successful at that point and hard at work on their next album, didn't know what the movie was about but cranked out a few tunes in a weekend. They also repurposed several songs they'd been working on, including "Stayin' Alive," a demo version of which was prepared in time to be used in filming the opening "strut" sequence. (You'll notice Travolta struts in sync with the music.) So if the movie's signature songs didn't come until later, what were the cast members listening to when they shot the dance scenes? According to Travolta, it was Boz Scaggs and Stevie Wonder. 

4. THE SOUNDTRACK ALBUM BROKE ALL KINDS OF RECORDS.

With 15 million copies sold in the U.S. alone, Saturday Night Fever was the top-selling soundtrack album of all time before being supplanted by The Bodyguard some 15 years later. It's also the only disco record (so far) to win the Grammy for Album of the Year, and one of only three soundtracks (besides The Bodyguard and O Brother, Where Art Thou?) to win that category. It was the number one album on the Billboard charts for the entire first half of 1978, and stayed on the charts until March 1980, long after the supposed death of disco.

5. THE MOVIE EXTENDED DISCO'S LIFESPAN BY A FEW YEARS.

Disco had been popular enough in the mid-1970s to land multiple disco tunes on the Billboard charts, but by the end of 1977, when Saturday Night Fever came out, the backlash had started and the trend was on its way out. But thanks to the movie (and its soundtrack), not only did disco not die out, it achieved more widespread, mainstream, middle-America success than it ever had before.

6. IT HAS SOME ROCKY CONNECTIONS.


Paramount Pictures

First connection: It was supposed to be directed by John G. Avildsen, whose previous film was Rocky. Ultimately, that didn’t work out and Avildsen was replaced with John Badham a few weeks before shooting began. Second connection: Tony has a Rocky poster on his bedroom wall. Third connection: Saturday Night Fever’s 1983 sequel, Staying Alive, was directed by ... Sylvester Stallone.

7. TRAVOLTA WAS ALREADY SO FAMOUS THAT MAKING THE MOVIE WAS A HASSLE.

Saturday Night Fever made Travolta a movie star, but he was already a teen heartthrob because of the popular sitcom Welcome Back, Kotter, where he played a delinquent teenager with the hilarious and timeless catchphrase "Up your nose with a rubber hose." Still, nobody was prepared for how Travolta's fame would affect the movie, which was to be shot on the streets of Brooklyn. As soon as the neighborhood found out Travolta was there, the sidewalks were swarmed by thousands of onlookers, many of them squealing teenage girls. (Badham said there were also a lot of teenage boys holding signs expressing their hatred for Travolta for being more desirable than themselves.)

Co-star Donna Pescow said, "The fans—oh, my God, they were all over him. It was scary to watch." Badham said, "By noon of the first day, we had to shut down and go home." Since it was nearly impossible to keep the crowds away (or quiet), Badham and the crew resorted to filming in the middle of the night or at the crack of dawn. 

8. THE WHITE CASTLE EMPLOYEES WEREN'T ACTING WHEN THEY LOOKED SHOCKED. 


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In the brief scene where Tony, his boys, and Stephanie are loudly eating at White Castle, those were the real burger-flippers, not actors. Badham told them to just go about their business. He also told his actors to cut loose and surprise the White Castlers in whatever way they saw fit. The shot that's in the movie appears to be a reaction to Joey standing on the table and barking, but Badham said it was actually in response to something else: "Double J (actor Paul Pape) pulling his pants down and mooning the entire staff of the White Castle."

9. THE FEMALE LEAD GOT THE PART THANKS TO A SERENDIPITOUS CAB RIDE.

Casting the role of Tony's dance partner, Stephanie, proved difficult. Hundreds of women auditioned, but nobody seemed right. Meanwhile, 32-year-old Karen Lynn Gorney was looking for her big break into show business. As fate would have it, she shared a cab with a stranger who turned out to be producer Robert Stigwood's nephew. He mentioned that his uncle was working on a movie, and Gorney replied, "Oh, am I in it?"— her standard joke whenever she heard about a film being made. The nephew wound up submitting Gorney as a candidate, and the rest is history. 

10. TRAVOLTA’S GIRLFRIEND DIED DURING FILMING.

John Travolta stars in Saturday Night Fever (1977)
Paramount Pictures

Travolta met Diana Hyland on the set of the TV movie The Boy in the Plastic Bubble, in which she played his mother. (She was 18 years older than him.) They had been dating for six months when Hyland succumbed to breast cancer at the age of 41, after filming just four episodes of her new gig on Eight Is Enough. Travolta was able to leave Saturday Night Fever and fly to L.A. in time to be with her before she died, then had to return to work. 

11. THE COMPOSER HAD TO SCRAMBLE TO REPLACE A NIXED SONG.

For Tony and Stephanie's rehearsal scene about 30 minutes into the movie, Badham had used the song "Lowdown" by Boz Scaggs, going so far as to shoot the scene, including the dialogue, with the song actually playing in the background. (That's usually a no-no, for exactly the reasons you're about to read about.) According to Badham, no sooner had they wrapped the scene than Scaggs' people reached out to say they couldn't use the song after all, as Scaggs was thinking of pursuing a disco project of his own. Badham now had to have the actors re-dub the dialogue (since the version he'd recorded was tainted by "Lowdown"); what's more, he had to find a new song that would fit the choreography and tempo of the dancing. Composer David Shire rose to the occasion, writing a piece of instrumental music that met the specifications, and that’s what we hear in the movie. 

12. THEY MADE UP A DANCE BECAUSE THE CHOREOGRAPHER DIDN'T SHOW UP.

In another rehearsal scene 55 minutes into the movie, Tony and Stephanie do the "tango hustle," which looks like a combination of both of those dances. This was something Travolta and Gorney invented as a matter of necessity: the film's choreographer didn't realize he was supposed to be on the set that day, and the actors didn't have any steps prepared. The tango hustle, alas, never quite caught on.  

13. TONY’S ICONIC WHITE SUIT WAS SUPPOSED TO BE BLACK.

Travolta and Badham both assumed Tony's disco outfit would be black, as men's suits tended to be at the time. Costume designer Patrizia Von Brandenstein convinced them it should be white, partly to symbolize the character's journey to enlightenment but also for practical reasons: a dark suit doesn't photograph very well in a dark discotheque. 

14. TONY’S SUIT WAS LATER SOLD FOR $2000—THEN FOR $145,500.

Von Brandenstein took Travolta to a cheap men's clothing store in Brooklyn (swamped by teenage fans, of course) and bought the suit off the rack—three identical suits, actually, so they wouldn't have to stop filming when one became soaked with Travolta's sweat. Two of the suits disappeared after the movie was finished; the remaining one, inscribed by Travolta, was bought at a charity auction in 1979 by film critic Gene Siskel, who cited Saturday Night Fever as one of his favorite movies. He paid about $2000 for it. In 1995, he sold it for $145,500 to an anonymous bidder through Christie's auction house.

In 2012, after a lengthy search, curators at London's Victoria and Albert Museum found the owner (who still preferred to remain anonymous) and persuaded him to lend it for an exhibit of Hollywood costumes. It is now presumably back in that man's care, whoever he may be. (P.S. Badham says on the 2002 DVD commentary that the suit is on display at the Smithsonian, a tidbit repeated by NPR in 2006 and Vanity Fair in 2007. But they must be mistaken. The suit’s sale in 1995 and rediscovery for the 2012 museum exhibit are verified facts; the suit isn't in the Smithsonian's online catalogue; and finally, a 2007 Washington Post story about the Smithsonian lists the suit as one of the items the museum director wanted to get.)

Additional sources:
John Badham DVD commentary
DVD featurettes

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