16 Things You Might Not Know About Roseanne

ABC
ABC

At a time when shows like The Wonder Years, Growing Pains, Murphy Brown, Designing Women, Dallas, and Dynasty still ruled the airwaves, the debut of Roseanne in the fall of 1988 introduced a new kind of family to television audiences and a new kind of matriarch. Praised for its portrayal of blue-collar America, the Emmy Award-winning series also broke new ground in terms of its envelope-pushing (for the time) storylines. And now it's ready to make a comeback.

On May 16, 2017, ABC announced that Roseanne will return for another season in March 2018. In the meantime, here are some things you might not know about the series that made Roseanne Barr a star.

1. THE SUCCESS OF ROSEANNE JUMPSTARTED THE TREND OF GIVING COMEDIANS THEIR OWN SITCOMS.

TV producers Marcy Carsey and Tom Werner were interested in developing a sitcom about a working mother. When they saw Roseanne Barr’s outspoken “domestic goddess” comedy routine on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson in 1985, they offered her a show. Barr wasn’t the first performer to transition from stand-up to TV, but her ABC show was an immediate hit. By its second season, it was number one in the Nielsen ratings and remained in the top four for six of its nine seasons.

As a result—and coupled with the success of Seinfeld—networks started offering more development deals to comedians, including Tim Allen (Home Improvement), Brett Butler (Grace Under Fire), Ellen DeGeneres (Ellen), and Ray Romano (Everybody Loves Raymond), to name a few.

2. THE SHOW WAS ORIGINALLY TITLED LIFE AND STUFF.

Roseanne creator, head writer, and executive producer Matt Williams said the benign title established the sitcom as an ensemble piece. But Barr argued that the show should be called Roseanne, since she was the lead character and the show was based on her life. (Williams left the show after season one.)

3. THE SHOW’S EXTERIOR SHOTS ARE OF EVANSVILLE, INDIANA, NOT ILLINOIS.

Why Evansville? It’s where co-executive producer Matt Williams grew up. The house used for the facade of the Conner home went up for sale, plaid couches not included, in early 2013. It was taken off the market less than a month later.

4. JOHN GOODMAN AND LAURIE METCALF WERE CAST WITH ULTERIOR MOTIVES.

Roseanne Barr had never acted before, so the producers hoped that surrounding her with a strong supporting cast would give her a crash course in acting. Barr and Goodman also had great chemistry and squabbled like a married couple from their first reading together. Goodman was the first and only actor to audition for the role of Dan Conner.

5. MACAULAY CULKIN AUDITIONED FOR THE ROLE OF D.J.

Had Culkin been cast, it would’ve been his big break (it would be another two years before Home Alone was released). Instead, Michael Fishman got the role, replacing Sal Barone from the pilot (who, in addition to hitting a growth spurt, didn’t get along with Sara Gilbert, who played his sister Darlene). “I wanted Michael Fishman because he looked like my family and he was a little Russian boy,” Barr told Entertainment Weekly. “He was so not like all the other little Hollywood bastards.” Added Fishman: “The network wanted one person, the production company wanted another person, and she wanted me. In many ways, I’m one of the first battles she won.”

6. ROSEANNE WAS A CRITICAL DARLING, BUT IT WAS NEVER NOMINATED FOR AN EMMY FOR BEST COMEDY SERIES.

Laurie Metcalf won three consecutive Emmys for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series for her role as Roseanne’s sister Jackie beginning in 1992 (in 1993, Barr won Outstanding Lead Actress). But the show never managed to nab a Best Comedy Series nomination. And while John Goodman’s portrayal of Dan Conner earned him the Outstanding Lead Actor nomination seven years in a row, he never took home an award.

7. IT WAS ONE OF THE FIRST PRIMETIME SHOWS TO FEATURE OPENLY GAY CHARACTERS.

Despite network protests, Barr insisted on featuring gay characters as friends, family members, co-workers, and neighbors. (Barr’s own brother and sister are gay.) In season eight, Roseanne’s former boss Leon (Martin Mull) married his partner Scott (Fred Willard)—a scene that wouldn’t be so unusual today, but was very controversial back in 1995. (It actually aired later than its usual time slot because of its “adult humor.”) A year later, Roseanne’s mother came out of the closet. Spoiler alert: In the bizarre “it was all a dream” finale, it was revealed that Roseanne’s sister Jackie was a lesbian. And of course, there was the scandalous kiss between Barr and guest star Mariel Hemingway.

8. ROSEANNE LAUNCHED JOSS WHEDON’S CAREER.

Joss Whedon began his television career as a staff writer on Roseanne. Whedon was only 24 years old when he wrote four episodes of the show’s second season, which Splitsider later dissected, looking for early glimpses of Whedon’s style:

“While John Goodman is a national treasure who can make any material work, Whedon’s take on his character stands out: Dan is goofier and more removed from the action, and notably less agitated than when written by other writers ... In these episodes, Dan Conner transforms into the Whedon proto-male a.k.a. the ‘Xander:’ an affable, quipping observer defined more by the women around him than by any strong internal life.”

A few other big names in television honed their skills on Roseanne, including Amy Sherman-Palladino, creator of Gilmore Girls and Bunheads, and Chuck Lorre, co-creator of Two and Half Men and The Big Bang Theory.

9. ALL THREE OF BARR’S EX-HUSBANDS MADE GUEST APPEARANCES ON THE SHOW.

Roseanne was inspired by life with the comedian’s first husband, Bill Pentland, and their three children. Pentland served as an executive consultant for three seasons, wrote two episodes, and played one of Dan’s buddies in an early episode. In 1990, Barr divorced Pentland after 16 years of marriage. Four days later, she wed comedian Tom Arnold, who had a recurring role as Arnie Thomas. Then in 1995 Barr married Ben Thomas, her former bodyguard, and gave him two bit roles as a cop. They remain his only acting credits.

10. THE FICTIONAL LANFORD LUNCH BOX INSPIRED A REAL-LIFE RESTAURANT.

Three years after they married, Barr and Arnold opened Roseanne and Tom’s Big Food Diner in Eldon, Iowa, near Arnold’s hometown. It served the same loosemeat sandwiches as the Lanford Lunch Box, the restaurant Roseanne opened with her sister, mom, and friend Nancy (played by Sandra Bernhard) in season five. The diner closed in 1995, a year after Barr and Arnold divorced.

11. ROSEANNE’S THEME SONG CHANGED DRAMATICALLY IN ITS LAST SEASON.

After using an instrumental version for eight seasons, Roseanne got a new theme—courtesy of Blues Traveler's John Popper—for its ninth (and final) season. The change foreshadowed an even more bizarre finale that would leave many viewers puzzled.

12. ABC REQUIRED THE CONNERS TO VISIT DISNEY WORLD.

It seemed incongruous for the Conners to visit The Happiest Place on Earth, but in season eight they did just that ... twice. That’s because the ABC-Walt Disney Company merger in 1995 required family shows to feature Disney World or Disneyland. Boys Meets World, Step by Step, Full House, and Family Matters all had at least one Disney Park episode.

13. IN 1990, BARR GOT A SPIN-OFF DEAL FOR A SATURDAY MORNING CARTOON.

Little Rosey was an animated series presumably about Roseanne—the real person, not the character—as a child. Barr didn’t voice her character in the first season, which may have been one reason the show didn’t take off. She agreed to voice Rosey in the second season, but the show was suddenly cancelled and replaced by Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Barr claimed that ABC gave her cartoon the axe because they were offended by her rendition of the National Anthem at a San Diego Padres game.

14. BARR HAS PREDICTED WHERE THE CONNERS WOULD BE TODAY ... AND IT ISN'T A HAPPY ENDING.

In 2008, Barr told Entertainment Weekly, “I’ve always said now that if they were on TV, D.J. would have been killed in Iraq and [the Conners] would have lost their house.” Barr divulged more potential plotlines in her blog a year later, including Becky’s job at Walmart, David and Darlene divorcing, and Roseanne and Jackie opening the first medical marijuana dispensary in Lanford. I guess we'll see how accurate those predictions were when the series returns in 2018.

15. ROSEANNE HAS ALWAYS WANTED TO COME BACK TO PRIMETIME TV.

When Roseanne ended in 1997, ABC considered a sequel about the main character’s life as a widow. It never materialized, but Barr has since had a talk show, a reality series, and a few sitcoms in the works. In 2011, she filmed a pilot called Downwardly Mobile about life in a trailer park, but it wasn’t picked up by NBC. In 2013, Barr was in talks with NBC again for a 10/90 sitcom deal—an agreement in which the network orders a straight-to-series run of 10 episodes and then orders 90 more if the show’s successful. The deal never came through. It looks like it took returning to her roots to finally make that comeback happen; in May 2017, ABC announced that Roseanne would return to primetime in 2018.

16. THOUGH THE ORIGINAL SERIES ENDED WITH DAN DYING, HE'LL BE ALIVE IN THE REVIVAL.

We're not exactly sure how this plotline will play out, but when Roseanne makes its return to television, Dan Conner will be alive and (presumably) well. ABC president Channing Dungey recently confirmed that the new season will conveniently ignore some of the major events that occurred in the series' finale.

“I can confirm that Dan is still alive,” Dungey said at TCA, though she didn't elaborate on how that will play out. Nor did she say whether any more of the last season's revelations would be ignored for the reboot. However, she did confirm that the network is currently in talks with The Big Bang Theory star Johnny Galecki about reprising hs role of David on the series.

11 Fun Facts About Them!

Joan Weldon and James Arness star in Them! (1954).
Joan Weldon and James Arness star in Them! (1954).
Warner Home Video

In the 1950s, Elvis was king, hula hooping was all the rage, and movie screens across America were overrun with giant arthropods. Back then, Tarantula (1955), The Deadly Mantis (1957), and other “big bug” films starring colossal insects or arachnids enjoyed a surprising amount of popularity. What kicked off this creepy-crawly craze? An eerie blockbuster whose impossible premise reflected widespread anxieties about the emerging atomic age. Grab a Geiger counter and let’s explore 1954's Them!.

1. Them!'s primary scriptwriter once worked for General Douglas MacArthur.

When World War II broke out, the knowledge Ted Sherdeman had gained from his career as a radio producer was put to good use by Uncle Sam, landing him a position as a radio communications advisor to General MacArthur. However, the fiery conclusion of the war left Sherdeman with a lifelong disdain for nuclear weapons. In an interview he revealed that upon hearing about the 1945 bombing of Hiroshima, he “just went over to the curb and started to throw up."

Shifting his focus from radio to motion pictures, Sherdeman later joined Warned Bros. as a staff producer. One day he was given a screenplay that really made his eyes bug out. George Worthing Yates, best known for his work on the Lone Ranger serials, had decided to take a stab at science fiction and penned an original script about giant, irradiated ants attacking New York City. "The idea appealed to me very much,” Sherdeman told Cinefantastique, "because, aside from man, ants are the only creatures in the world that plan to wage war, and nobody trusted the atomic bomb at that time.” (His statement about animal combat is debatable: chimpanzee gangs will also take organized, warlike measures in order to annex their rivals’ territories.)

Although he loved the basic concept, Sherdeman felt that the script needed something more. Screenwriter Russell S. Hughes was asked to punch up the script, but died of a heart attack after completing the first 50 pages. With some help from director Gordon Douglas, Sherdeman took it upon himself to finish the screenplay. Thus, Them! was born.

2. Two main ants were built for the movie.

Them! brought its spineless villains to life using a combination of animatronics and puppetry, courtesy of an effects artist by the name of Dick Smith. He constructed two fully functional mechanical ants for the production, with the first of these being a 12-foot monster filled with gears, levers, motors, and pulleys. Operating the big bug was a job that required a small army of technicians who’d pull sophisticated cables to control the ant’s limbs off-camera. These guys worked in close proximity and often crashed into each other as a result, prompting Douglas to call them “a comedy team.”

The big insect mainly appears in long shots, and for close-ups, Smith built the front three quarters of a second large-scale ant and mounted it onto a camera crane. During scenes that required swarms of ants, smaller, non-motorized models were used. Blowing wind machines moved the little units’ heads around in a lifelike manner.

3. Them! features the Wilhelm Scream.

Fifty-nine minutes in, the ants board a ship and one of them grabs a sailor, who unleashes the so-called "Wilhelm Scream." You can also hear it when James Whitmore’s character is killed, and the sound bite rings out once again during the movie’s climax. Them! was among the first movies to reuse this distinctive holler, which was originally recorded three years earlier for the 1951 western Distant Drums. Since then, it’s become something of an inside joke for sound recording specialists. The scream has appeared in Titanic (1997), Toy Story (1995), Reservoir Dogs (1992), Batman Returns (1992), the Star Wars saga (1977-present), all three The Lord of the Rings movies (2001-2003), and countless other films.

4. Leonard Nimoy makes an appearance.

In one brief scene, future Star Trek star Leonard Nimoy plays an Army man who receives a message about an alleged “ant-shaped UFO” sighting over Texas. He then proceeds to poke fun at the Lone Star State, because, as everybody knows, insectile space vessels are highly illogical.

5. Many different sounds were combined to produce the screeching ant cries.

Throughout the movie, the monsters announce their presence with a haunting wail. Douglas’s team created this unforgettable shriek by mixing assorted noises, including bird whistles, which were artificially pitched up by sound technicians.

6. Sandy Descher had to sniff a mystery liquid during her signature scene.

Like Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, Them! has a deliberate pace and the massive insects don’t make an onscreen appearance until the half hour mark. Douglas took credit for this restrained approach, saying, “I told Ted, let’s tease [the audience] a little bit before you see the ant. Let’s build up to it."

So instead of showing off the big bugs, the opening scene follows a little girl as she wanders through the New Mexican desert, listlessly clutching her favorite doll. That stunning performance was delivered by child actress Sandy Descher. Later, in one of the most effective title drop scenes ever orchestrated, a vial of formic acid is held under her character’s nose. Suddenly recognizing the aroma, the traumatized youngster screams “Them! Them!” Descher never found out what sort of liquid was really sloshing around in that container.

“They used something that did smell quite strange. It wasn’t ammonia, it was something else,” she told an interviewer. Still, the mysterious brew had a beneficial effect on her performance. “They tried to create something different and it helped me a lot with that particular scene,” Descher said.

7. Them! was originally going to be filmed in 3D and in color.

To hear Douglas tell it, the insect models looked a lot scarier in person. “I put green and red soap bubbles in the eyes,” he once stated. “The ants were purple, slimy things. Their bodies were wet down with Vaseline. They scared the bejeezus out of you.” For better or for worse, though, audiences never got the chance to savor the bugs’ color scheme.

At first, Warner Bros. had planned on shooting the movie in color. Furthermore, to help Them! compete with Universal’s brand-new, three-dimensional monster movie, Creature From the Black Lagoon, the studio strongly considered using 3D cameras. But in the end, the higher-ups at Warner Bros. didn’t supply Douglas with the money he’d need to shoot it in this manner. Shortly before production started on Them!, the budget was greatly reduced, forcing the use of two-dimensional, black and white film.

8. The setting of the climactic scene was changes—twice.

Yates envisioned the final battle playing out in New York City’s world-famous subway tunnels. Hughes moved the action westward, conjuring up an epic showdown between human soldiers and the last surviving ants at a Santa Monica amusement park. Finally, for both artistic and budgetary reasons, Sherdeman set the big finale in the sewers of Los Angeles.

9. Warner Bros. encouraged theaters to use Them! as a military recruitment tool.

The film’s official pressbook advised theater managers who were screening Them!& to contact their nearest Armed Forces recruitment offices. “Since civil defense in the face of an emergency figures in the picture, make the most of it by inviting [a] local agency to set up a recruiting booth in the lobby,” the filmmakers advised. Also, the document suggested that movie houses post signs reading: “What would you do if (name of city) were attacked by THEM?! Prepare for any danger by enlisting in Civil Defense today!”

10. The movie was a surprise hit.

Studio head Jack L. Warner predicted that Them!, with its far-fetched plot, wouldn’t fare well at the box office. So imagine his surprise when it raked in more than $2.2 million—enough to make the picture one of the studio's highest-grossing films of 1954.

11. Them! landed Fess Parker the role of TV's Davy Crockett.

When Walt Disney went to see Them!, he had a specific objective in mind: Scout a potential Davy Crockett. At the time, Disney was developing a new television series that would chronicle the life and times of the iconic frontiersman, and James Arness, who plays an FBI agent in Them!, was on the short list of candidates for the role. Yet as the sci-fi thriller unfolded, it was actor Fess Parker who grabbed Disney’s attention. Director Gordon Douglas had hired Parker to portray the pilot who ends up in a psych ward after an aerial encounter with a gargantuan flying ant. And while his character only appears in one scene, the performance impressed Disney so much that the struggling actor was soon cast as Crockett.

By the Texan’s own admission, his good fortune may’ve been the product of bargain hunting. “Walt probably asked, ‘How much would Arness cost?’ and then ‘This fellow [Parker], we ought to be able to get him real economical,” Parker once said.

George R.R. Martin Doesn't Think Game of Thrones Was 'Very Good' For His Writing Process

Kevin Winter, Getty Images
Kevin Winter, Getty Images

No one seems to have escaped the fan fury over the finals season of Game of Thrones. While likely no one got it quite as bad as showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, even author George R.R. Martin—who wrote A Song of Ice and Fire, the book series upon which the show is based, faced backlash surrounding the HBO hit. The volatile reaction from fans has apparently taken a toll on both Martin's writing and personal life.

In an interview with The Guardian, the acclaimed author said he's sticking with his original plan for the last two books, explaining that the show will not impact them. “You can’t please everybody, so you’ve got to please yourself,” he stated.

He went on to explain how even his personal life has taken a negative turn because of the show. “I can’t go into a bookstore any more, and that used to be my favorite thing to do in the world,” Martin said. “To go in and wander from stack to stack, take down some books, read a little, leave with a big stack of things I’d never heard of when I came in. Now when I go to a bookstore, I get recognized within 10 minutes and there’s a crowd around me. So you gain a lot but you also lose things.”

While fans of the book series are fully aware of the author's struggle to finish the final two installments, The Winds of Winter and A Dream of Spring, Martin admitted that part of the delay has been a result of the HBO series, and fans' reaction to it.

“I don’t think [the series] was very good for me,” Martin said. “The very thing that should have speeded me up actually slowed me down. Every day I sat down to write and even if I had a good day … I’d feel terrible because I’d be thinking: ‘My God, I have to finish the book. I’ve only written four pages when I should have written 40.'"

Still, Martin has sworn that the books will get finished ... he just won't promise when.

[h/t The Guardian]

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