Roseanne Barr: Comedienne, Certifiable, or Self-Destructive Trainwreck? See the History on This Cancelled Goddess

 It is a crying shame some folks are born with rare talent and squander it with toxic behaviors.   As if napalming her name and successful sitcom was not enough in 2018, Roseanne Barr crawled into a new sewer yesterday, sinking to a new low with antisemitic remarks against Jewish people.  On Theo Von's podcast "The Last Weekend," she had the gall to vomit the following statement:

"And, that is the truth. And, nobody died in the Holocaust either. That's the truth. It should happen. Six million Jews should die right now cause they cause all the problems in the world. But, it never happened."

One would think after being outcast in 2018 she would have adjusted her medication and learned to play nice.  Whether her statement was intended with dark humor or with better intentions, today's comments confirmed Roseanne Barr is a destructive loose cannon.  A crying pity as she updated the sitcom brand with her successful 1988-97 self-titled sitcom which was worthy of a mammoth revival in 2018.  But a trail of self-destructive behavior scorched that successful revival which was the last scripted series to tower above a 5.0 18-49 demographic.  Barr blamed Ambien for a racist tweet against Barack Obama's senior adviser calling her "...Muslim Brotherhood & Planet of the Apes had a baby."  

ABC promptly cancelled the revival within hours, leading to Barr becoming a casualty of cancel culture.  As if tarnishing her own name wasn't enough, stations and streamers airing successful repeats of Roseanne promptly pulled the show from their programming, similar to what happened to The Cosby Show in 2014 amid sexual misconduct allegations.  These developments were polarizing as several turned their backs in revulsion or charged cancel culture made Barr a victim and took out a beloved sitcom.  

What many may not realize is this was not the first jarring incident Barr was involved in, stemming back to the early 1990's.  To further understand Roseanne's colorful history, let's examine her life in phases:

1952-85: Early Years, Scarring Events and a Golden Ticket.

Roseanne Cherrie Barr was born November 3, 1952 was born the eldest of four children to Helen and Jerome Barr in Salt Lake City, Utah.  Her family was Jewish yet resided in a predominantly Latter Day Saints (Mormon) community.  Barr described her family keeping her Jewish faith secret, partially involved in the Mormon church as many were forced to do in a judgmental era.  At the age of 3, she was stricken with Bell's Palsy, which thankfully cured with time.  Her family struggled financially, and at 16, she was struck by a car with the hood ornament striking her skull and causing a traumatic brain injury.  These tragic events led to Barr being institutionalized shortly after and having a baby which she put up for adoption.

As the 1970's progressed, Barr's life settled down as she married motel clerk Bill Pentland and the two raised a family of three children and later relocated to Colorado.  From a young age, Roseanne struggled to maintain her weight, but eventually accepted the cards she was given and perfected her art for humor.  Like many young couples, they feverishly worked to make ends meet with Barr later taking on a job as a waitress.  It was here Barr utilized her natural gift of humor to entertain customers, leading her to take the bold plunge to attempt stand-up comedy.  The 1980's brought an auspicious turn of events as an audition at The Comedy Store in Los Angeles led to great exposure, landing her on The Johnny Carson Show in 1985.

1986-90: Increasing Exposure, Lucrative Offers and a Role of a Lifetime

Several comedy specials followed, and in a shocking development, Barr was offered the leading role on Married... With Children in 1986.  To the shock of several, Barr turned down the opportunity as her self-branded Domestic Goddess comedy tour flourished.  Based on life's everyday pratfalls of a housewife, Domestic Goddess mined comedy from simple events such as instructing kids to find their allowance from change in the couch to doling out chores.  Barr's crisp comic timing gained notice from Cosby Show writers Marcy Carsey and Tom Werner, who sought to bring a working class sitcom to television.  In an era of glitz and glamour, Carsey and Werner cornered an opportunity and channeled Domestic Goddess to headline their pilot, Life and Stuff.

Barr aggressively negotiated getting the pilot self-titled and debuted on ABC on October 18, 1988 after the fallout of the 1988 WGA Strike pushing fall premiere dates back.  The result?  ABC landed the season's highest-rated freshman premiere at 21.4 million viewers (for more about Roseanne's ratings, check out TVRG's RATINGS HISTORY database).  The show had Barr in a starring billing, joined by character actor John Goodman, SNL alum and tour-de-force Laurie Metcalf, Lecy Goranson, Sara Gilbert and Michael Fishman rounding out the ensemble as her energetic and entertaining family.

The show was a hit, but the first signs of Barr's erratic behavior emerged during the first 13 episodes of the series.  Barr sought more creative control, feeling entitled due to the show's comic material mirrored much of the Domestic Goddess comedy.  All of this stemmed from seeing Matt Williams listed as the creator.  Depending on the slant, who is to say who the creator of Roseanne is.  Barr of course delivered successfully and was the face of the show, but Williams scripted the pilot which gave Barr the base to build.  Several battles of the wills engaged, ending with Williams being pushed out of his post as Roseanne climbed in the ratings.

Outside of this controversy, Roseanne flourished as the fun premise attracted viewers who enjoyed seeing a financially-struggling family enjoying life on limited means.  By 1989, Roseanne overtook The Cosby Show in the ratings while propelling ABC upward in the ratings as their network enjoyed another renaissance.  The success continued, and Barr gained enough exposure to foray into motion pictures.  She headlined 1989's She-Devil opposite Meryl Streep and St. Elsewhere alum Ed Begley as a scorned, jilted and vengeful housewife.  The movie garnered mixed reviews but was commercially successful.  And Barr realized she was not suited for motion pictures and focused on her successful craft with her self-titled show.

While her show propelled upward into 1st place, 1990 exposed Barr to infamy behind the scenes and personal changes.  Her marriage to Bill Pentland ended, and days later, she married comedian Tom Arnold whom subsequently had a recurring role as Arnie on the series.  That summer, she earned notoriety parodying the Star Spangled Banner at a Cincinnati Reds and San Diego Padres game, ending the ill-conceived appearance by spitting and grabbing her lower region.  The press devoured and roasted Barr, but nonetheless, Roseanne the show returned in fall continuing into its prime.

1991-94: Physical and Emotional Changes, Tackling Social Issues and Continual Turmoil Exposed.

Both Roseanne the person and the show experienced physical and emotional changes during this tumultuous era.  The first three season of the show were regarded as simplistic and family-friendly treasure.  Like many evolving and long-running shows, the series updated by tackling social issues.  Season 4 premiered with the lead's daughter Becky asking her mother to help her obtain birth control.  Sounds contemporary, and quite entertaining.  The show experienced a welcome influx of gay and lesbian characters, streamed beautifully and believably into the stories.  And the Conners faced financial struggles as a business venture went south and Roseanne pioneered the discussion of breast-reduction surgery.  All seemed well, but the tone darkened and changed on the show.  

Roseanne's father Al was retconned from being a jovial, humor laden senior to a suddenly womanizing, abusive derelict.  The sudden change delivered excellent material, but darkened the energy of the show.  These changes came about as Roseanne Barr exerted stronger control over the series.  Between the 3rd and 4th seasons, Barr underwent elective surgeries to adjust her nose, undergo a breast reduction and liposuction.  Her appearance changed drastically, and she wisely addressed the breast-reduction as a fitting plot development.  But turmoil in her personal life leaked into the series as in 1991, she publicly accused her parents as physically abusive, as well as accusing them of incest.  The polarizing revelations led Barr to be embroiled in headlines and lawsuits with her family.

The show continued to successfully remain in the Top 5 in the ratings, but Barr's personal life became a new spectacle the press sought as their latest bleed in Hollywood carnage.  Her new-ish marriage to Tom Arnold became tabloid fodder as the press exposed feuds, infidelities and bizarre behaviors.  Barr claimed she suffered from multiple personalities including the likes named "Bambi" and "Fucker" (Bitch, please!).  Personal troubles aside, Roseanne the series began to cannibalize itself due to several retconned changes evident from Barr's creative control.  Contrasted from the 1988-91 characterization, Roseanne became a mean-spirited, bullying menace by season 6.

Prior to this change, Roseanne was a tough-no-nonsense yet kind, loving person.  By season 6, she was vicious, biting and prone to provoking fights.  All this bitterness from outsiders' views stems from Barr's marriage to Tom Arnold disintegrated that season, and she conveyed said bitterness into the show.  And further marred by extreme accusations of spousal abuse at the hands of Arnold.  The results led the show to decay, sliding down to 9th place by the time Season 6 ended.

1995-97: Atonement and Ending A Landmark Show

The 7th Season of Roseanne made things evident the show jumped the shark and was eating itself to death.  Barr always wrote the lead as a feminist, but took it to extreme and combative measures this season.  A simple squabble over marital strife always led to couples arguing over male vs. female roles in life.  And rewriting history continued to run rampant with glaring examples like the Halloween episode which Roseanne made statements about her mother like "she's had that same hairdo for 20 years" when in fact the first 3 seasons viewers saw Beverly with a different look.  

And life changed the show as a prior-explored arc, which 40-somethings Dan and Roseanne contemplated a late-in-life child progressed was thrown a hampering curve.  Roseanne revealed in the Season 7 opener she was pregnant.  And midway through the reason, the real-life Roseanne became pregnant, leading to extensive absences due to being placed on bed rest.  This led to viewers forced to suspend disbelief as the plot became elongated.  Flash forward to season 8, and the real Roseanne delivered a healthy, beautiful baby boy.  But fictional Roseanne had not delivered, so this fueled the story for several episodes.  

Given the show had aged and sagged in the ratings, Season 8 was declared "the final" season.  Well-equipped with un-recasting Becky Connor Healy, firing Sarah Chalke and welcoming limited appearances from series original Lecy Goranson gracing the role.  Roseanne Conner eventually delivered a healthy baby boy on Halloween.  After 14 months pregnant, props, as that baby likely developed to 16 pounds!  Outside of this absurdness, season 8 seemed to be on track for a beautiful, realistic ending.  A poignant, educational Thanksgiving episode, characters finding finality, and Dan and Roseanne navigated realistic financial risks.  So what happened?

ABC and Barr negotiated another season, with Season 8 ending in a frightening, realistic finale which Dan and Roseane's marriage was dealt vicious assaults due to his recent heart attack and his unwillingness out of fear to change his lifestyle.  A gripping, slice of reality which viewers returned in the fall of 1996 to see... The Conners win the lottery.  Realism?  Forget about it in Season 9.  While it felt like a fun fantasy, viewers would have better benefited from a cocaine binge than watching this season and would have less of a hangover.  

A show founded on the principles of those who financially struggle can enjoy happiness became washed out in a stack of fantasy episodes.  Trips to the spa, rubbing elbows with Hamptonites, and sprucing up a house became focal points in this show's rich legacy.  But not all was lost to a lack of realism as the crusty matriarch, Beverly, came out as a lesbian.  While indeed grasping straws, the material did allow Estelle Harris to deliver her finest material with vulnerability and liberation.  And her scenes with fellow gay characters Leon and Scott (Martin Mull and Fred Willard, respectably)?  Priceless!

All culminated to what appeared to be a joyful, fitting ending until a bittersweet ending which showed Season 9 was a figment of Roseanne Conner's writing.  John Goodman's Dan Conner died of a heart attack, Bev never had a late-in-life sexual awakening, Jackie was a lesbian, and Roseanne's children had a mess and mixup.   That last 5 minutes felt like all we invested in was lost.

1998-2011: A Talk Show, Quieter Life, Reality TV and Radio

After Roseanne Barr's prized sitcom ended, she took a well-deserved year off, cut her hair and came back with a syndicated talkshow.  Contrasted to Barr's role as Roseanne Conner, her delivery was toned down and serious.  A distinction as her show arrived when the schedule was chock full of talkers which were riding the trend of Jerry Springer's trash talkshow.  Her self-titled talkshow was not long for viewers as it was cancelled after two seasons, and Barr spent the 2000's living a quieter life having relocated to Hawaii.  Her third marriage to Ben Thomas ended in 2003 and she began a long-term partnership with Johnny Argent.

Barr returned to her roots with successful standup comedy headliners, as well as guest spots on television shows such as My Name is Earl.  She negotiated a new sitcom in 2008 with Arrested Development writer Jim Valley writing.  The series was never picked up, but she returned to her weekly radio show "The Roseanne and Johnny Show" with her partner Argent and aired in Los Angeles.  Come 2011, Barr took a swing at reality TV on Lifetime called Roseanne's Nuts based on her macadamia nut farm in Hawaii.  The series was short lived and cancelled within months, but managed to spotlight the kinder nature of her personality.  

In 2011, Barr also appeared on Oprah Winfrey's final 25th season of her self-titled talkshow setting the record straight regarding the acrimony and accusations she had with her family.  Displaying heartwarming remorse, Barr admitted her actions were inaccurate, especially using the word "incest" against her parents as she admitted bitterness over an abusive home environment mitigated with medications fueled her rage.  It seemed like in the islands had mellowed her bite and she was eager for a comeback.

2012-17: Redemption, Roasts, Recurring Roles and Revivals

The 2010's proved auspicious for Roseanne Barr as her name recirculated gaining interest.  A successful Comedy Central Roast in fall 2012 was critically acclaimed and reunited her with several faces during her long life, including 2nd husband Tom Arnold.  Decades of bitterness seemed to have cooled and the two had amicable exchanges.  Coming on 60, Roseanne again updated her look with rave reviews and sported naturally graying hair long before it became a trend.  

As Barr's name gained notice, she landed a well-received recurring role on ABC's struggling series Cristela as embittered divorcee Veronica Culpepper.  While Cristela never picked up steam and was cancelled inside one season, several observed the Barr's role represented a missing element in the uneven premise and may have saved the series.  As the 2010's progressed revivals and reboots became the trend of continuing long-gone favorites after the successful sequel Fuller House on Netflix from Full House and NBC reviving Will & Grace to sturdy ratings.  With Roseanne still a successful syndication staple for over 20 years, Barr managed with precision keeping discussion of a Roseanne revival active long after the series ended in 1997.  ABC finally announced an 8-episode revival of Roseanne would debut in the 2017-18 season.  Barr was going home to 714 Delaware Street.

2018: A Rebirth, Wrath and A Beloved Show Gone Too Soon

Will & Grace debuted to a solid 3.0 18-49 demographic in fall 2017, it gave NBC welcome windfalls.  However, it burned off over half of its debut audience by the season's close.  Predictions saw Roseanne successfully pulling in similar or lower numbers given spring performances being weaker, but executives and the media were blasted out of the water when the first two episodes blasted out fireworks with a 5.2 demo.  Such numbers had only been seen with The Big Bang Theory a few years earlier, and Roseanne's 10th season finished the season the highest-rated sitcom and scripted series of the season, as well as propelling 4th place ABC into a tie for 2nd place.  

The series recaptured most of the charm of the original with the cast intact, as well as an impressive roster of prior recurring characters making punchy returns.  The sets were restored to what viewers knew, and the Conners took on modern-day problems in a struggling blue-collar town.  Dan and Roseanne struggled financially as well as dealt with medical issues, Darlene was forced to return home with her children after losing her job, and Becky struggled to look for purpose as a waitress.  While entertaining, energetic and Roseanne Barr's impeccable comic timing made the ride fun, certain elements had changed and were subject to criticism.  

Barr had a notorious history of leveraging her power to interfere with the writing and tone of the show as she wanted it to reflect her own life (as discussed in the 1991-94 section of the article).  The trouble came about distinguishing Roseanne the character from Roseanne the person as she demanded to rewrite the character's prior liberal political preferences to supporting Donald Trump, reflecting Barr's own political views changed over the years.  In the prior years, Roseanne made positive and glowing references to Hillary Clinton, and devolved to making remarks like "liar, liar, pantsuit on fire!"  This was not how Roseanne Conner was defined in the past and forced longtime viewers to suspend disbelief to enjoy the reunion.  Even more jarring was Roseanne suddenly exhibiting prejudiced behaviors toward Middle Eastern neighbors (read the review of the 7th episode Go Cubs), a rewrite of a character who prior embraced diversity.  One redeeming point of the new political egging was the writers wisely avoided mentioning names directly or showing visuals, leaving nauseated viewers some room to just enjoy the humor.

All these nuances aside, the 9-episode season retained viewers from a 2.5-5.2 demo for the season, making for an exciting entry into television.  Following the finale, Barr napalmed her renaissance by tweeting against Valerie Jarrett.  While she did exhibit remorse immediately after and took down the assaulting tweet, ABC promptly cancelled Roseanne, devastating the cast and viewers.  The decision again polarized people, arguing over race, profiling and cancel culture.  However, Barr's erratic behavior cost her work family, cast and crew their jobs.  Television outlets and streamers immediately yanked reruns, ending a successful 25+ year institution.

What many may not realize is the actors and several folks behind the scenes received royalties from syndication.  And the folks who either retired from the industry or cooled their involvement relied on those royalties to either pay bills, or some wisely used as a retirement fund.  Given the scalding damage done to a show so beautifully executed, Barr made a redeeming decision to waive her control and involvement with the characters from Roseanne to allow the cast to participate in a continuation series, The Conners.  While indeed an inferior entry minus Roseanne's branded humor, the series managed to succeed and allow Barr's work family to continue delivering the craft. 

2019-23: Pariah, A Quiet Rebirth (Again!) and Cancelled (Again!)

Following backlash and scandal, Roseanne Barr mostly stayed out of the spotlight and behaved herself most of the time during the last 5 years.  The Conners became ABC's successful flagship sitcoms and killed off Roseanne Conner, a devastating move which the continuation miraculously survived.  In the wake of the Twitter scandal, TV daughter Sara Gilbert spoke out against Barr's actions and denounced.  Barr felt betrayed as costars John Goodman, Laurie Metcalf and Lecy Goranson took the neutral route while Gilbert spoke out against Barr.  In retaliation, Barr has slammed Gilbert repeatedly in the proceeding years.

Barr admitted her mental health struggles intensified after losing her empire, but sympathy from devastated and enraged viewers remained low.  Barr's career was all but gone, but her name occasionally peered into the headlines.  Come 2022, FOX Nation took a a gamble and enlisted her views, comedy and efforts.  A cleverly branded comedy special, Cancel This!, came to be and gave Barr some positive traction as she approached 70.  After Tucker Carlson's unceremonious firing from FOX News in April 2023, several bantered Barr's name as a potential replacement for Carlson (read about that HERE).  But merely weeks later, Barr again self-sabotaged herself with brash, blunt and offensive remarks.  After this week's developments, FOX News will likely keep Barr's name at arm's length.

Can Roseanne Barr See Another Comeback?

Barr has certainly overcome and worked past several obstacles and survived ruin, whether with life's situations being thrown at her or her poor behaviors oozing consequences and backlash.  She has the gift of humor and sharp comic timing, and certainly full of personality.  And her landmark sitcom demonstrates she is brilliant and business-savvy, having created a franchise which endures 35 years later.  But demonstrated history of erratic and unpredictable behaviors, mitigated with she is firmly entrenched in her senior years, leaves fewer opportunities to enjoy a comeback.  

Tina Turner stated in prior interviews she retained her name following her divorce after she realized she could use it as a business to work off of.  Wise celebrities use their status this way and protect it to the best of their abilities to avoid scandal.  Barr has her share of physical and mental health struggles, and perhaps may enjoy fading into a relaxed pace.  Taking this rhythm in the 2000's through the mid-2010's brought out the best in her as her name continued to burn bright.  But just as unpredictable as her words and behaviors are, perhaps she could surprise us all and wind up back in the spotlight.

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