Roseanne barr the conners

In Season Two, Roseanne Barr Haunts ‘The Conners’

  • by Adam Buckman , Featured Columnist, December 18, 2019

The ghost of Roseanne literally haunts “The Conners.”

It was surprising to hear the name Roseanne uttered during a recent episode of the ABC spinoff series that was created after the “Roseanne” revival of 2018 imploded along with Roseanne Barr’s decades-long relationship with ABC.

Her name came up in the Christmas-themed episode of “The Conners” that aired last week (Tuesday, Dec. 10). In the show, the Roseanne Conner character is deceased — and has been dead and gone since the spinoff series’ premiere episode more than a year ago.

This would seem to preclude Roseanne Barr from ever rejoining the show in the event that her image somehow undergoes a rehabilitation acceptable to America’s court of public opinion.

In fact, like the death story that was contrived to explain the absence of the Charlie Sheen character on “Two and a Half Men” after he too flamed out, the Roseanne death scenario seemed especially contrived to signal that the new “Conners” spinoff would have nothing do with her or her memory.

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But here we are at the halfway point of the show’s second season and the ghost of Roseanne Conner is very much on the family’s mind.

In last week’s episode, she was the topic of conversation between her now-widowed husband, Dan (John Goodman), and her sister Jackie (Laurie Metcalf) — both seen in the above photo from the show.

The issue is that Dan has apparently begun to see another woman, Louise, who owns a local bar — played by Katey Sagal. And this is not sitting well with Jackie, who lectures Dan about Roseanne and her position as the head of the family — portraying her late sister as the family’s most important and most influential member.

A cynic who has observed the TV business for a very long time might wonder if ABC and “The Conners” are conspiring to set the stage for a Roseanne Barr guest appearance.

Certainly, unless they plan to concoct a “bad dream” scenario in which Roseanne was never dead at all, it would be impossible to bring back the character permanently. But bringing her back in flashbacks would not be something anyone should put past a TV network.

On the other hand, it might also be possible that few of her former cast members, producers or other co-workers would look forward to having her on the set. ABC execs might not have the fortitude for it either.

How is the show doing without her? Well, by now, the family as it is currently constituted is more than enough to sustain this family sitcom. As it happens, the only time a viewer is reminded of Roseanne at all is when the characters bring her up.

Roseanne Barr just can’t shut up

Two questions into Roseanne Barr’s packed appearance at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center in late January, it happens: A reporter goes right for the Valerie Jarrett.

Last May, Barr tweeted 11 words that managed to reference the Obama adviser, the science-fiction film “Planet of the Apes” and the Muslim Brotherhood. Within hours, ABC killed its most popular show of 2018. And Barr went from beloved sitcom star to spreader of hate.

“You are a sorry excuse for a human being,” actress Rita Moreno tweeted at the time.

“Roseanne made a choice. A racist one,” added “Grey’s Anatomy” creator Shonda Rhimes.

“There is not any room in our society for racism or bigotry,” tweeted civil rights icon and congressman John Lewis.

Now, from the third row of the auditorium, Sagi Bin Nun of the news website Walla takes his own shot.

“Israel is the place where people ask to be forgiven by God,” he says. “Would you like to take this opportunity to apologize for your racist tweet?”

Boos rain down on Bin Nun, and some guy yells, “You’re a jerk.” For two days, Barr has been telling anybody in Israel with a camera that she’s a “Jewy Jew,” a warrior for their homeland and disgusted with “repulsive” Natalie Portman and other so-called Hollywood hypocrites. During her two-week excursion to the Holy Land, she will pray at the Western Wall, tour the West Bank, huddle with government officials, serve on a panel with spoon-bending illusionist Uri Geller and, when she’s worn out, crash back at her suite at the Inbal Hotel.

But right now, she can’t let Bin Nun go.

“You’re a mean person who just wants to insult people for no reason whatsoever,” Barr says in front of everyone. “I pray to God to raise the sparks in you so that you’ll become a decent person.”

What to make of this. It’s uncomfortable and entertaining and weird, particularly with Barr sitting between an Orthodox rabbi and the deputy speaker of the Israeli Knesset. Last March, Barr was on the cusp of one of the great comebacks in television history. Twenty years after wrapping her groundbreaking sitcom “Roseanne,” Barr, 66, had signed to return with the entire cast. The reboot premiere reached more than 27 million viewers. Three days later, ABC renewed the revived “Roseanne” for another season.

There was a problem, though: Barr had Twitter, and she wasn’t afraid to use it.

Roseanne Barr, right, stops at the Western Wall in Jerusalem on Jan. 27 during a two-week excursion to Israel. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

Just after Christmas 2017, a few months before the reboot’s premiere, she tweeted: “i won’t be censored or silence chided or corrected and continue to work. I retire right now. I’ve had enough. bye!”

The tweet did not slip by network brass.

“Sorry to bother you with this at the holiday, but wondering if you know what spurred this tweet from Roseanne,” Channing Dungey, then ABC Entertainment Group president, wrote in an email to the show’s executive producer, Tom Werner, on Dec. 29.

Thus began an unusual, behind-the-scenes battle, as ABC and Barr’s producers tried to protect their TV property, and Barr continued to speak out on Twitter, her preferred medium for pushing tales of Pizzagate and George Soros as well as profane blasts at TV personalities such as Stephen Colbert and Rachel Maddow. The network didn’t propose a no-tweet clause in Barr’s contact. Instead, as revealed by interviews with people close to the show and messages shown to The Washington Post, they spent months nudging her to stop while also trying to keep from offending her.

“It was always this back and forth of ABC not wanting to appear they were censoring Roseanne but also not quite pulling out the big guns,” says James Moore, Barr’s longtime publicist. “Going, ‘You’re one tweet away from us canceling the show.’ Something that would jar Roseanne.”

Despite repeated warnings — and even after her youngest son briefly hid her Twitter password — Barr stayed online.

“I admit it,” she says, in her hotel room. “I’m a troll. I’m the queen of the f‑‑‑ing trolls.”

Barr receives a gift from Israel’s culture and sport minister. The trip was a chance for her to return to a country that in previous visits has renewed her spirit. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post) A crowd, some wearing “Make America Great Again” hats, attend a discussion with Barr. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post) Barr returns to her hotel in Jerusalem. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post) TOP: Barr receives a gift from Israel’s culture and sport minister. The trip was a chance for her to return to a country that in previous visits has renewed her spirit. LEFT: A crowd, some wearing “Make America Great Again” hats, attend a discussion with Barr. RIGHT: Barr returns to her hotel in Jerusalem. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

‘They had to know’

By all accounts, Barr, whose 1990s network go-round had been surrounded by chaos — whether it was firings on the set, the “Star-Spangled Banner” debacle or that whole Tom Arnold thing — was a model citizen during the reboot, hugging audience members after tapings, hustling to news conferences and baking chocolate chip cookies for a get-to-know-you-again lunch with Disney Chairman Bob Iger.

Online, though, she remained as polarizing as ever.

This shouldn’t have surprised anyone. Comedy is full of misfits and oddballs obsessed with disruption. They roam stages, television sets and the Internet, teetering between the sort of shock that sparks deep reflection and that other kind, which leads to groans, backlash or, at worst, a public retraction.

Wasn’t that President Trump’s bloody, rubber head that Kathy Griffin offered to the masses? Didn’t Samantha Bee call Ivanka a “feckless” four-letter word that rhymes with bunt? And why did Trevor Noah make that joke about Aboriginal women? Of course, they apologized — or, in Griffin’s case, apologized and then retracted the apology — and were forgiven.

Barr and her family contend there’s a simple reason she has been treated differently: her support of Trump.

“I’m not saying any of the others should be fired,” says Jake Pentland, Barr’s 40-year-old son who runs her studio and voted for Bernie Sanders in 2016. “I’m a free speech absolutist. But you can pretty much say whatever you want as long as you supported Hillary Clinton. Soon as Mom donned that MAGA hat, she was an enemy.”

As a comic, Barr has always ignored the typical standards of subversion. Her freewheeling attacks seem almost designed to rack up a list of enemies in high places. It’s as if she’s not just playing for laughs, she’s trying to blow up the entire system — even if that means blowing up herself.

After the Jarrett tweet, daughter Jenny Pentland’s first words to her mother were to accuse her of self-sabotage.

“You did this on purpose,” she told her.

Barr performs the national anthem at a Padres game in 1990. (Joan Fahrenthold/AP) Barr and co-star John Goodman arrive at the premiere of the “Roseanne” reboot last March. (Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP) LEFT: Barr performs the national anthem at a Padres game in 1990. (Joan Fahrenthold/AP) RIGHT: Barr and co-star John Goodman arrive at the premiere of the “Roseanne” reboot last March. (Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)

The pre-Internet Barr had been the most headline-grabbing comic of her time. At her 1990s peak, she blasted the women allegedly harassed by Sen. Bob Packwood, saying “they should have just kicked his balls in.” In a sprawling New Yorker profile, she called Meryl Streep, Jodie Foster and Susan Sarandon “castrated females.”

Her Twitter feed would go even further.

In 2012, she tweeted the home address of George Zimmerman’s parents after the Trayvon Martin shooting. The Zimmermans sued, but the case was dismissed. As the 2016 election heated up, and she completed her shift from lefty agitator to Trump booster, Barr was distributing deep-state conspiracy theories like a UPS driver on Christmas Eve.

“Her tweets, before the one that got her in trouble, were absolute nonsense,” says Doug Stanhope, a comedian and friend of Barr’s who had a bit part on the “Roseanne” reboot. “Zionist things, a Palestinian thing, none of it made sense. The idea that a network would give her a show . . . they had to know what they were getting into.”

Whitney Cummings, the “2 Broke Girls” co-creator and an executive producer for the reboot, says Barr was her “hero” back in the day. But she signed onto the show, she admits, without looking closely at Barr’s social media: “I had not gone through the years of past tweets, and that was my mistake.”

Sara Gilbert, who was 13 when she starred in the first “Roseanne” and was a driving force with Werner in reviving the series, felt reassured about the reboot after talking with Barr. “I knew that Roseanne, the person, was unpredictable at times, but she told me this was her redemption,” says Gilbert, now 44. “I chose to believe her.”

It didn’t take long for Barr’s tweets to create tension within the show’s production team. In August 2017, Barr tweeted to defend Trump’s handling of the violent conflict in Charlottesville and attack the Antifa movement. Gilbert and Werner called Moore to set up a conference call. “I don’t want to talk about it — it will be gone,” Barr emailed Moore, before deleting the tweet.

That fall, Gilbert and Werner set up a meeting with Barr and Kelly Bush Novak, the powerful press agent they had hired to represent the show. Novak, who had read an upcoming script involving the grandson’s curiosity about girl’s clothes, was concerned the plot would lead the LGBTQ community to examine Barr’s online comments.

So Novak asked GLAAD, which had once lauded Barr as a champion of gay rights, to prepare a report called “Roseanne Barr’s Anti-Trans” record. The private, 27-page document called her out for such acts as “Tweeted story that Obamas killed Joan Rivers for saying Michelle Obama is a tranny.”

“I said, ‘I’ve already apologized’ ” Barr said, recounting the meeting with Novak. “And I did. Over days on Twitter. You know I understand that there’s a real serious issue with trans lives and trans rights for trans people. They want to be safe. But you know we tell our little girls to watch out for penises basically to stay safe. So what a mixed message this is. And I think it really needs more analysis and a lot more conversation, and I said that 400 f‑‑‑ing times.”

Ultimately, there was only one way to keep Barr off Twitter. In December 2017, Buck Thomas, 23, the youngest of Barr’s five children, saw her phone open on the table and grabbed it. He reset her password and signed her out. He had grown weary of her online presence. “And I didn’t want her to get in trouble before the show even started.”

In January, Barr complained about losing social-media access at a huge ABC press event. At some point, the badgering worked. Thomas turned over the password.

A month later, Barr questioned whether the Parkland shooting survivors were actors. Co-showrunner and executive producer Bruce Helford texted Barr, suggesting she take her tweets down before ABC saw them.

“I’m really sorry to ever ask you to hold your voice,” he wrote, “but I think there are even more powerful ways to put ideas out there through the show itself, which I hope we have the opportunity to do many, many more episodes of together.”

Barr tours the Old City of Jerusalem with Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, who she says saved her life amid the fallout of ABC canceling her show. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

A complicated narrator

Barr’s trip to Israel is a lot of things. A chance to return to a country that in previous visits has renewed her spirit. A way to raise awareness of what she views as the rise of anti-Semitism and the threat of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement. A paid-for vacation.

She’s been brought here by Shmuley Boteach, who calls himself “America’s Rabbi” and runs the World Values Network, a New Jersey-based organization funded largely by the Trump-boosting, casino-owning billionaire Sheldon Adelson. Pentland, Barr’s daughter, views Boteach as one more in a line of men who cozy up to her mother to get attention.

“At least,” she says with a laugh, “she didn’t marry him.”

Barr considers Boteach a great friend. When ABC canceled her show and she was holed up in her mom’s basement in Utah, chain-smoking and in tears, it was Boteach — not her co-stars — who called to check on her.

“Shmuley saved my life,” Barr says. “I was suicidal. He was the only person who stood by me and said they were going to destroy me because I love Trump and Israel.”

Boteach also helped Barr deliver what remains the closest thing to a heartfelt apology. He recorded the raw exchange with her two days after the cancellation and aired it, a month later, as a podcast. Barr has never listened to it. On the call, she tries to explain herself. That she didn’t know Jarrett, the Obama adviser, was black. She just knew Jarrett had played a part in the Iran nuclear deal, which she hated. Few may believe her, but she insisted that she would have never used the “Planet of the Apes” reference if she had known Jarrett’s race.

“I’m a lot of things, a loud mouth and all that stuff,” Barr said on the podcast. “But I’m not stupid, for God’s sake. I never would have wittingly called any black person, I never would have said, ‘They are a monkey.’ I just wouldn’t do that. And people think that I did that, it just kills me. I didn’t do that. And if they do think that, I’m just so sorry that I was unclear and stupid. I’m very sorry.”

As she tells the story now, from a couch inside her hotel room, Barr is completely unguarded. She doesn’t have a publicist or an agent to watch over her. (ICM dropped her after the tweet.) With no makeup or jewelry on, she nibbles at a hummus plate as the Jerusalem sun descends over the eighth-floor balcony.

Barr teases her son Jake Pentland, 40, who runs her studio. Soon as Mom donned that MAGA hat, she was an enemy, he says. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

She’s not an unreliable narrator so much as a complicated one. There are moments, now that it’s over, when she’ll insist she never had a chance. The lefty narcissists were always going to get her. There are other moments when she concedes she should have been smarter. Nobody wanted her on Twitter, not even her kids.

It feels like forever since she had nothing at stake, when a short set on “The Tonight Show” on an August night in 1985 introduced the world to her glorious, spontaneous laugh and marked the rise of the self-appointed “domestic goddess.” Gum-chewing. Overweight. That dry, nasally, Midwestern voice. Acting like she was about to say something so boring you might as well change the channel. Except you couldn’t.

She grew up in a family haunted by a generation wiped out by the Nazis. At 16, Barr was badly injured when she got hit by a car and, as a result, spent months in the state’s psychiatric hospital. As she found success, she didn’t hide her battles with mental illness. She revealed her multiple personality disorder, her compulsions with food, cutting herself and sex, and the years she spent in counseling.

In 1988, Werner and Marcy Carsey, the producers behind “The Cosby Show,” brought her to ABC as Roseanne Conner, the central figure of a sitcom that included husband Dan (John Goodman), sister Jackie (Laurie Metcalf) and daughter Darlene (Sara Gilbert). The show went where other sitcoms hadn’t — into working-class Middle America. It rose to No. 1 on the way to a nine-year run.

“People forget how groundbreaking and how good that show was,” says David Mandel, an executive producer on “Veep” and a former “Seinfeld” writer. “The notion of the house that wasn’t perfect and the multiple jobs and the factory line work. Things we had never seen before or in this exact way.”

Feminist activist and author Barbara Ehrenreich proclaimed Barr “the neglected underside of the American female experience, bringing together the great themes of poverty, obesity and defiance.”

“Roseanne” was daring — not only for the famous lesbian kiss episode, but also for the honest way it portrayed gay characters. (Barr’s brother and sister are gay.) There was also the 1994 episode centered on her son’s refusal to kiss a girl in the school play because she was black.

“I didn’t raise you to be some little bigot,” she snaps at D.J.

Most sitcoms would have ended there, with the star as the hero. Except “Roseanne” adds a scene. A black man approaches her diner one night. Roseanne flips the door’s sign from open to closed. It isn’t until the man identifies himself — he’s the father of the girl D.J. wouldn’t kiss — that Roseanne lets him in. He tells her he’s not surprised her son is prejudiced.

“If he was a white guy with the exact same build in those exact same clothes, you would have done the exact same thing,” sister Jackie says.

“Yeah, well, I’m glad one of us is sure,” Roseanne responds, as the credits begin to roll.

Barr had big aspirations for the Roseanne reboot until an explosive tweet ended it all. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

Beginning of the end

Barr had high hopes for the reboot when she signed on in early 2017. Her politics had shifted hard to Trump. But the country was deeply divided. The reboot would show that American families, like her own, could disagree politically without hating each other.

“She really wanted to bring people together and get them talking about it,” Goodman says.

The first episode, which premiered March 27, found Roseanne, a Trump supporter, re-connecting with Jackie, who wore a pink pussy hat and “Nasty Woman” T-shirt to dinner.

It also tackled racial issues. Roseanne had a black granddaughter, and there was the Muslim couple moving onto the street. At first, Roseanne snickered that they were “a sleeper cell getting ready to blow up our neighborhood” — until she met them and realized that she had been unfair.

Off screen, Barr’s politics were harder to resolve. At a January news conference in Los Angeles, reporters pressed Barr about Trump. She mostly deflected them. Then she took a question from Soraya Nadia McDonald of the Undefeated, an ESPN website.

McDonald, a former Washington Post reporter who is African American, told Barr how much she appreciated as a child watching Roseanne Conner blast her son for refusing to kiss a black classmate. But wouldn’t that same Roseanne find “candidate Trump’s xenophobia or racism to be a disqualifying trait for the office of the presidency?”

Barr: Well, that’s your opinion.

McDonald: But he said Mexicans were rapists.

Barr: Well, he says a lot of crazy s‑‑‑.

“It was a trial,” Goodman says now. “I just thought we were going to do this dumb a‑‑ ‘Entertainment Tonight’ s‑‑‑ but it just got heavy quickly. I can understand that there was still a lot of residual anger about Trump. . . . But she’s entitled to the way she voted.”

For Barr, already a conspiracy theorist, the message was clear. Everybody was in on it: ABC, the producers, even the press. They couldn’t sit idly as a Trump crazy took over their television sets.

She felt betrayed in May when the ABC entertainment president, Dungey, in a conference call with reporters, said the next season of “Roseanne” would move away from politics.

Who told her that? Barr had been planning to cast Luenell Campbell, an African American comedian and a good friend, and dig deeper into race.

Helford, the co-showrunner and executive producer, was as baffled as Barr when Dungey talked about the show’s new direction. During “Roseanne’s” first run, Barr had considerable clout, forcing out the show’s co-creator, Matt Williams, only 13 episodes in. This time, she began to feel powerless. When she learned the writers were starting work on the reboot’s second season without her involvement, she thought, “Oh, they took my show.”

Helford takes issue with that. “We didn’t do anything without consulting her,” he says. “One of the agreements was that Tom, her, Sara Gilbert and I would work as a group and whoever had the best idea would be the one who would win. She was very much a part of everything we were doing.”

But now, as he hears her take, Helford can see how Barr may have grown wary. There were the constant nudges from the producers over her tweets, the knowledge that her colleagues differed so much politically and that jarring statement from Dungey.

“I understand why she was paranoid and why she would feel the network wasn’t in sync with her,” he says. “But no one came to us and said ‘You’ve got to do it our way,’ and not what Roseanne wants.”

That evening in May, while Barr was visiting her mother in Utah and feeling down about the show’s direction, she says she took an Ambien and dozed off next to her laptop. In the middle of the night, she woke up and saw a thread started by SGTreport, whose tag is “the corporate propaganda antidote.” SGTreport referenced a WikiLeaks “bombshell,” which would apparently reveal that the Obama CIA had been spying on the French government.

@MARS0411 responded by bringing up the Obama aide: “Jarrett helped hide a lot.”

It was 2:45 a.m. in Utah when Barr replied to the thread: “Muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes had a baby=vj.”

Barr has continuously repeated that she was comparing the movie to Iran’s repressive regime. But even she understands it’s a leap to interpret that from those 53 characters.

That morning, people who didn’t know Barr slammed the tweet as racist. Her friends figured it was another perplexing online blast.

In the morning, ABC held an emergency call with Barr, Werner and Disney/ABC Television Group President Ben Sherwood.

Why did you do that? Sherwood asked her.

“I’m a comedian,” Barr told him. “We step in s‑‑‑ all the time. I already took it down. What else can I do?”

At 1:48 p.m., only hours later, ABC canceled “Roseanne,” after Iger called Jarrett to personally apologize. (Jarrett declined to speak to The Post.) In a statement that morning, Dungey called the tweet “abhorrent, repugnant and inconsistent with our values.” Werner would eventually negotiate a settlement with Barr — neither party will say for how much — so ABC could launch a spinoff. When the network announced “The Conners” on June 21, the release made sure to note that Barr would have “no financial or creative involvement.”

That deal now infuriates Barr. She says Werner told her she would be a hero if she signed over her rights and saved so many jobs. He would go out and say Barr was not racist. She had even hoped to perhaps return to the show. Instead, “The Conners” killed off Roseanne with an opioid overdose in the first episode. And Werner remained virtually silent.

Barr does meditation and pranayama in her hotel room, where she stayed during a two-week excursion to the Holy Land. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post) Despite warnings from ABC last year about her tweets, Barr stayed online. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post) But there are moments she concedes she should have been smarter. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post) TOP: Barr does meditation and pranayama in her hotel room, where she stayed during a two-week excursion to the Holy Land. LEFT: Despite warnings from ABC last year about her tweets, Barr stayed online. RIGHT: But there are moments she concedes she should have been smarter. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

She also can’t forgive Gilbert. On May 29, 27 minutes before ABC announced the cancellation, Gilbert tweeted that Barr’s comments were “abhorrent and do not reflect the beliefs of our cast and crew or anyone associated with our show.”

“She destroyed the show and my life with that tweet,” Barr says. “She will never get enough until she consumes my liver with a fine Chianti.”

Gilbert, in a brief interview with The Post about Barr, said that “while I’m extremely disappointed and heartbroken over the dissolution of the original show, she will always be family, and I will always love Roseanne.”

Like Gilbert, Werner reluctantly agreed to an interview with The Post after first declining several times. He said his focus has been on keeping the cast and crew working. He also acknowledged that, after the cancellation, distributors had briefly taken the show’s original nine seasons off the air, with deep financial implications for him and Barr. The original series is available again. ABC, though, has pulled the “Roseanne” reboot from all platforms. (Iger, Sherwood and Dungey declined interview requests.)

“The process has been difficult for me,” Werner says. “I did not want the last note of the series to be such a sour one.”

When asked about Barr’s complaint that he had not defended her, Werner said he has always found “her to be tolerant of others and inclusive.”

“It’s my belief that Roseanne is not a racist person,” Werner said, “although I find the tweet to be repugnant and racist.”

Goodman calls Barr’s tweet “stupid” and “incoherent,” but also says she isn’t racist. He believes that defending her will probably turn people against him. But he feels terrible for her. He texted her last May but didn’t press when she didn’t write back.

Luenell, the comedian Barr planned to cast on the show, remains torn. Barr had been one of her supporters and heroes, someone who “represented hope” for outsiders who didn’t fit into Hollywood culture. But she remains unhappy with how Barr handled herself after her tweet.

“The way she could have got some traction is if she immediately did a news conference and said, ‘I have f‑‑‑ed up. I am an idiot. I’m going to be seeing somebody to try to get myself together. I apologize to Valerie Jarrett. I apologize to the African American community and when you see me again, I’m going to be a more sensitive, responsible Roseanne.’ If she said that, she might be able to chill and come back.”

Barr visits Yad Vashem, Israel’s official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

New outlets

In Jerusalem, Barr meets with attorneys as she considers whether to sue ABC or Werner or everyone involved. She talks about an upcoming gig scheduled for Detroit and other potential projects, including a cartoon show and a Torah-themed program with Boteach.

At the Begin Center, after scolding Bin Nun, Barr calls on another journalist: Jordana Miller, a local television correspondent.

“To be honest, I had kind of a spiritual question about what happened with ABC,” Miller says. “Why, looking back, do you think this really happened?”

You can feel the mood shift. Barr walks to the front of the stage.

“Oh my God,” Barr says. “I’m so glad you asked that.”

She launches into what will effectively be an eight-minute monologue. It’s May 29. She’s in Utah, so proud to tell her mother she’s back at No. 1. That night, she surfs around all this Iran stuff, goes to bed and wakes up to find that, as she puts it, “Roseanne said that black people look like monkeys.”

She talks of pleading with ABC — to apologize, to get help, to do anything — and her voice cracks as she recounts how quickly they canceled “Roseanne.”

“I can’t believe that it takes them a year to get paper towels in the bathroom, but Disney in 40 minutes decided to fire me from my own creation,” Barr says.

But she doesn’t sound angry. She’s in control.

“I was so embarrassed in front of my mother, because she’s finally so proud of me that I was not married to any a‑‑hole. . . . You know. You know what I mean?”

She laughs.

“I know you’re all bored to death. I’ll end quick.”

The story ends in her mother’s basement. She’s terrified that everybody hates her, of the paparazzi gathered outside, when a group of fans knock on the door.

“And they said, ‘We don’t think it’s right what they did to her. We know she’s not racist.’ And they said, ‘Here’s some cookies.’ ’’

Barr chokes up again.

It could be a cheery ending, the comic reconnecting with her fans. Except this is Roseanne Barr — and as soon as she returns to Los Angeles, she’s in the news again. Her Twitter remains off-limits. Daughters Jenny, 42, and Jessica Pentland, 44, each have part of the password so Barr can’t bully one of them into turning it over.

So, Barr finds other outlets.

In a self-made YouTube video posted Feb. 16, Barr calls Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) a “Farrakhan-loving . . . bug-eyed bitch.” On a podcast hosted by Fox News commentator Candace Owens in early March, she calls the creators of the #MeToo movement “hos” and attacks Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh accuser Christine Blasey Ford.

On a Saturday night, just after the Owens podcast makes headlines, Barr is asked if there’s a part of her that ever considers quieting down, just for a few months, like everybody keeps telling her to. Wouldn’t that help? Wouldn’t that make things easier?

“I can’t,” she says in a text message. “Do I look like the kind of woman who obeys?”

On the Jerusalem trip, Barr, left, considers her next steps. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

Without Roseanne, ‘The Conners’ Go On

Alicia Goranson and Sara Gilbert play Becky and Darlene on ABC’s The Conners. Eric McCandless/ABC hide caption

toggle caption Eric McCandless/ABC

Alicia Goranson and Sara Gilbert play Becky and Darlene on ABC’s The Conners.

Eric McCandless/ABC

Two groups of people don’t care at all about how the first episode of The Conners — Roseanne without Roseanne — was. The first group doesn’t care because they found Roseanne Barr the real person so personally and/or politically noxious that avoiding this project, made as it is by a network and a team willing to work with her until relatively recently, is a matter of principle. The second group doesn’t care because they are so offended by her firing — technically, by the cancellation of the show she was on and the recreation of a show she emphatically is not on — that avoiding this project, made as it is by the network and team going on without her, is a matter of principle.

But there are those whose interest will depend on how the show itself is working as of the premiere, and to them, I say that the answer is: hit and miss. (And I also say: here there be “spoilers,” by which I mean descriptions of what happened on the episode I’m reviewing.)

Surprisingly, the misses are largely in the department of comedy. There are some very clumsy jokes in this first half-hour as the writers try to balance the (not really that surprising) news that Roseanne Conner has died with the need to get at least some laughs out of it. Dark comedy around death was actually a strength of the old Roseanne. (Please behold the greatness of Laurie Metcalf screaming “DAD’S DEAD!”) But here, there’s an early struggle for footing — with the comedy MVP being Alicia Goranson, whose take on the self-involved adult Becky remains strong.

The character of Geena, DJ’s wife (now played by Maya Lynne Robinson, who replaces Xosha Roquemore, seen once last season via Skype), was introduced without much context. We didn’t see her with DJ very much, so what we know of her remains more told than shown. She quickly was tasked with making jokes about how Darlene needs to find Jesus, a scene that didn’t work at all. Obviously, the idea is that the family knows her — although it appears that they’ve spent little time with her because she’s in the military — but the audience doesn’t. And fleshing out her character by having her lecture Darlene about religion, with jokes that were pretty watery, wasn’t the best way to serve the actress or the story.

But Roseanne was always more than just funny; it dealt with family and conflict and relationships. And there, the first episode of The Conners excels. The news that Roseanne did not die of a heart attack as the family had believed, but instead died of an opioid overdose (the result of the addiction to painkillers the series began to explore last season), hits everyone hard. No one harder than Dan (John Goodman), who believed he had successfully cleaned the pills out of the house and is heartbroken to learn Roseanne was still getting them — and hiding them from him.

There’s also a delicate scene between Darlene (Sara Gilbert) and Jackie (Metcalf) that suggests that while they’re grieving, they’re also trying to forge a bond with each other. And maybe, they’re hoping that bond will be healthier than the one either of them sometimes had with Roseanne herself. There are hints of great stuff to explore here about Darlene’s dueling desires to turn into the best parts of her mother and to avoid turning into the worst parts of her mother. And Jackie has, indeed, always seemed overly dependent on Roseanne’s family to give her a personal life, and her determination to rearrange the kitchen is just the right way to visualize it, although the moments where they wanted that development to be funny were, again, not really successful.

It’s hard to say what the future holds for this family from a narrative perspective; it’s hard to know how much of this season the writers intend to devote to grief. There’s certainly enough story with these characters to make a terrific show. But it needs to be funnier, or it won’t survive as a comedy.

Well, there it is: on Tuesday night, The Conners killed off Roseanne Conner, and by extension cut ties with Roseanne Barr. The series premiere, a continuation of Roseanne in all but its name, opened on a grieving family drowning in casserole dishes, courtesy of well-meaning neighbors and friends. At first, they believe the Conner matriarch died of a heart attack—the same malady that killed her husband, Dan, during Roseanne’s first run (until it didn’t). But later, we learn her cause of death was more insidious: Roseanne Conner died of an opioid overdose.

The premiere takes place three weeks after Roseanne Conner’s funeral—before her autopsy results are complete. Once those results come back, the family must face an awful truth: even after Roseanne got surgery on her bum knee, she kept taking pills. In fact, as the family gradually discovers, Roseanne was hiding prescription bottles all over the house. Dan focuses his rage on the woman who gave Roseanne her final, fatal batch of pills, Marcy Bellinger—placing a sign on his truck saying that she killed his wife. But when Marcy—played with tragic aplomb by Mary Steenburgen—shows up on Dan’s doorstep to make amends, his rage softens into betrayed heartbreak. As it turns out, Roseanne was not alone; a lot of people in their neighborhood have been trading prescription pills to manage their illnesses and pain, plagued with inadequate insurance coverage.

As the Conners discuss how betrayed they feel by their now-departed matriarch, it’s hard not to interpret their feelings as a deliberate parallel to the real situation that gave birth to The Conners. But even if the show never would have taken this dramatic step, if Barr had not been fired after tweeting a racist comment about Valerie Jarrett, Roseanne-the-character’s death is actually a natural, if dark, culmination of her arc on the revived Roseanne. Her opioid addiction—which was spurred by a bad knee and insufficient insurance—was one of the season’s high points. And though the revival writers almost certainly intended to end that arc differently, it at least opened the door for Roseanne’s death to feel less abrupt.

Going into this season, fans knew that Roseanne Conner would die; in an interview ahead of the new show’s premiere, John Goodman let that detail slip. Barr herself claimed that her character would die of an opioid overdose. Now that the cat’s officially out of the bag, we’ll have to wait and see how long this gigantic loss hangs over the Conners themselves—and how interested Roseanne’s old audience is in hanging around Lanford despite that loss.

It remains to be seen whether The Conners can really pull off Roseanne without Roseanne; even the original series’s writers are unsure about the new show’s potential. But there is some hope: the two episodes of The Conners that ABC screened for critics last week felt, in many ways, like a truer continuation of the original Roseanne than the first revival season ever was. Laurie Metcalf was in peak neurotic form as Jackie, reorganizing the kitchen and clinging to her experience as a “life coach”; Goodman made Dan’s sorrow both compelling and wry. Perhaps most satisfyingly for old fans, it appears the series has finally found a purpose for Becky (Lecy Goranson) again, giving her a clearly defined role within the family and showcasing Goranson’s crack comic timing. Ultimately, though, it will be up to fans to decide whether the Conners get to stick around.

John Goodman as Dan, Sara Gilbert as Darlene, Lecy Goranson as Becky, Laurie Metcalf as Jackie. Photo: ABC

On May 29, ABC canceled its spectacularly successful revival of Roseanne, mere hours after its titular creator and star sent out her now-infamous racist tweet. But in TV-land what is dead may never die: Roseanne is back Tuesday night, reincarnated as The Conners, a “new” sitcom featuring all of the same writers and stars of the old show — with the very notable exception of you-know-who. It would be easy to dismiss Roseanne minus Roseanne as the sort of ridiculous-sounding idea upon which decades of jokes about network TV cynicism have sprung, and indeed, it’s easy to imagine a scenario in which audiences will reject this reboot of a revival. But just because the odds of success are long doesn’t mean ABC was wrong to roll the dice on The Conners.

For one thing, despite its title, Roseanne long ago ceased being a show primarily about Roseanne Conner. Sure, her domestic goddess stand-up routine was the DNA on which the original show was built, and her talent as an actor and producer are why the series became a breakout hit when it first premiered exactly 30 years ago this week. “Roseanne was obviously extremely important to the show,” says executive producer Tom Werner, whose company produced both Roseanne and The Conners. “But John Goodman was always equally important. And the children provided a lot of storylines.” Whatever its title implied, Werner adds, “I’ve always thought the show was about the Conner family.” That was particularly true of last season’s revival, which put Darlene (Sara Gilbert) and her struggles as a single mom front and center in many episodes. It takes nothing away from Barr’s accomplishments as a writer and actress (whatever one thinks of her bigoted pronouncements) to acknowledge that the show evolved into something bigger than one woman’s comic persona.

There’s also a case to be made that while Barr has a large and vocal fan base — which in recent years has grown to include very conservative voters and supporters of President Donald Trump — several of her fellow former cast members are actually bigger stars in 2018. Goodman, through his collaborations with the Coen brothers and other roles, has built an impressive feature film career (with the Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild award nominations to prove it) and is one of Saturday Night Live’s most popular recurring guest hosts. Laurie Metcalf has been nominated for a Tony Award in each of the past three years, winning in 2017 and 2018; spent 2016 and 2017 basking in kudos for her turn in Lady Bird; and in 2016 earned Emmy nominations for three different shows. And Gilbert has been a regular presence on TV the past decade, with roles in scripted shows and as a host and executive producer of the long-running CBS daytime show she created, The Talk. For ABC and Werner, the decision to green-light The Conners is better understood not as a choice about whether to continue without Barr and more about finding a way to make a show with Metcalf, Goodman, and Gilbert. “I mean, who wouldn’t want to put a show like that on the air?” says Andy Kubitz, ABC’s executive vice president for programming strategy and scheduling.

And while Kubitz’s colleagues at most of the other broadcast outlets would indeed jump at a show with the combined star wattage of The Conners, ABC — currently in last place among the Big Four networks — has programming needs that made this show a particularly well-placed bet. Its comedy brand is all about family sitcoms, from The Goldbergs, Fresh Off the Boat and Black-ish to its top-rated (and longest-running) half-hour, Modern Family. Unfortunately for the Alphabet net, it’s not at all unrealistic to imagine a scenario in which all four of those shows wrap their respective runs within the next year or two, joining the recently-departed The Middle. Even if they don’t all depart, ABC is still very much in need of a new anchor comedy, given the declining Nielsen numbers for those veteran shows. The strong ratings for the Roseanne revival gave the network exactly that, of course, so it’s not hard to figure out why it wants to at least see if The Conners has the ability to pull a similarly big crowd. “If we can capture even half of Roseanne’s audience from last year, we’ll be the number one new show for the season,” Kubitz says. Another possible benefit: At least on paper, The Conners should be the perfect platform off of which to launch ABC’s most promising new fall comedy, the 1970s-set The Kids Are Alright, which also revolves around a noisy blue-collar family.

Despite so many strong incentives to make The Conners happen, it took about a month for ABC and producer Werner to figure out the spin-off. According to Kubitz, his boss, ABC Entertainment president Channing Dungey, wanted to “let the dust settle” after the sudden cancellation, in order to see “what pieces and what parts were left to be picked up and put back together.” In addition to figuring out whether or not continuing the show was financially feasible, “We had to know the cast still wanted to do it,” Kubitz adds. “And then we had to figure out if we could actually have enough time to put it all back together.”

While reports of a potential spinoff surfaced very soon after the Roseanne cancellation, Werner says continuing on was hardly a slam-dunk. “The fact is, nobody needed to do the reboot originally, and certainly nobody needed to do The Conners,” he says, adding that ABC’s programming needs took a back seat to the desires of his remaining cast and writers, as well as the desire to keep the show’s hundreds of crew members employed. “I was less concerned about ABC saying, ‘Could you come in and pitch the show?’ than I was to answer the question in our own minds, in the same way that we did a year earlier: Is this a show worth doing? We wanted to make sure internally that we could continue to do episodes that we were proud of — then we could talk to ABC.”

Once the creative concerns were settled, Werner says everything else fell into place. While Gilbert, Goodman and Metcalf all had other jobs, “I think the cast feels — I wouldn’t say obligation, but respect for the legacy of the show,” he says. “They were keen on seeing whether or not there could be another chapter in the show’s life.” Somewhat surprisingly, money didn’t seem to be much of an issue in going forward with the spin-off. “Everybody was happy with the financial arrangement that the show had last year,” Werner says, explaining that because last season’s Roseanne revival did far better than anyone expected, ABC didn’t try to get a better financial deal for the Barr-free The Conners. “It was relatively straightforward, the negotiation,” Werner says. Kubitz concurs, saying the new deal is not a “dramatic change” from the one ABC made to resurrect Roseanne. “We’re paying, I think, a modest percent increase, nothing major, from the Roseanne license fee to this license fee,” he says. ABC and Werner have also made it clear that Barr will have no financial interest nor be paid for The Conners, and her name does not appear in the new show’s credits.

As for how audiences will react to The Conners, Kubitz and Werner both decline to offer any guesses on the show’s Nielsen performance. Kubitz fully expects that some of the viewers who watched Roseanne last season will have zero interest in a new show without her, either because of their love for the character she played or because they believe ABC was wrong to fire her. “There’s gonna be people who straight up will not even give it a shot,” he concedes. “Does it worry us? I don’t think so, because I think it’s a great TV show that has a great message, and talks to a certain part of our audience. I’m hoping people give it a chance.”

Kubitz also correctly notes that The Conners is premiering as part of what’s shaping up to be a pretty rough fall for nearly all TV shows, particularly returning series. Big hits such as The Walking Dead and The Big Bang Theory have seen their audiences shrink by as much as half since last year, while even a heavily hyped reboot such as CBS’s Murphy Brown generated a relatively small sampling from viewers compared to last season’s revivals. Even Roseanne lost about 40 percent of its audience between its first outing in March and what turned out to be its series finale two months later. The fact is, even if Barr had never fired off her racist tweet and Roseanne was returning this fall, ABC would almost surely be looking at much smaller Nielsen numbers for the show this season.

But as noted earlier by Kubitz, The Conners doesn’t need to do Roseanne-sized ratings to be a success for the network. ABC’s biggest comedy, Modern Family, opened its season last month with barely five million same-day viewers, while NBC’s The Good Place has survived into its third season even though its same-day audience regularly comes in at under three million. ABC obviously is hoping to do better than both of those shows, but if The Conners can pull in around six to seven million viewers each week and continue to do reasonably well with younger audiences, it would very much qualify as a success for the network. And if audiences decide they’re simply not interested in a show without Barr? In that case, ABC and Werner can at least take comfort in knowing they were able to write the Conner clan’s final chapter on their own terms. “There was a great sense of joy when we came together last year,” Werner says. “Everybody did not want the last note of the show to be that it was canceled a discordant note.”