There’s a restaurant on the ABC/Disney studio lot in Burbank called The Rotunda that looks and feels like a bookless library suffering from depression. Conversation over meals among mostly black-suited executives and their Cali-casual ”creative” clients is hushed and intense; the air is so cold you half expect a frozen Walt Disney to shimmer in and announce he’ll be your waiter.
It’s exhilarating, therefore, when Roseanne enters the room wearing a big smile and Mickey Mouse ears – one of those cheesy felt hats you get at a Disney amusement park. ”Look!” she yells excitedly, as grave faces swivel like bobblehead dolls. ”I just came from a meeting with these guys and they gave me a Mickey Mouse hat with my name stitched on the back! I love it!”
A waitress appears at her side as soon as she sits down. ”Did you see my name? Isn’t that cool?” Roseanne asks. The waitress agrees, adding, ”My mom loves your show.” Roseanne says, ”That’s nice, thank you,” and orders a Cobb salad, no bacon. After the young woman leaves, Roseanne says in a low voice, ”See? This is why I gotta make a comeback. She’s still talkin’ about my old show, and her mother watches it, not her.” She sighs.
People certainly won’t be thinking about her working-class-mom sitcom character once they get the double dose of ”The Real Roseanne Show,” a seven-week reality series, premiering Aug. 6 on ABC, that documents the creation of the foodie talk show ”Domestic Goddess,” which will premiere on cable’s ABC Family in late September. ”The Real Roseanne,” overseen by documentarian R.J. Cutler (”The War Room”), who had up to five camera crews filming constantly, shows its subject taking meetings, pitching her show to the network, and squabbling both amiably and viciously with her production staff, which consists primarily of her 25-year-old son, Jake, and her 27-year-old son-in-law, Jeff. Viewers will also be taken to Roseanne’s California home, where she employs her first husband, Bill Pentland, as a handyman, and Pentland’s wife, Becky, as her personal assistant. Says Roseanne gleefully, ”That’s how I introduce her: ‘This is my first husband’s second wife.”’
A day earlier, Roseanne had been in the thick of this family bouillabaisse – simmering during a photo shoot for the ABC Family show. Posing for pics with a peasant-bloused, blue-jeaned, frying-pan-wielding Roseanne were Jake; Jeff; his wife, Jennifer (Roseanne’s 27-year-old daughter); Jeff and Jenny’s 2-year-old, Ethan (yes, the 50-year-old Roseanne is a grandma); another daughter, 28-year-old Jessica; as well as the Pentlands and various hangers-on (hairdresser, personal trainer) who’ll be part of the reality show. Ethan was bawling, and only Roseanne’s barroom bellow could be heard over him: ”My bra just snapped!” she hollered at one point, and wardrobe people scurried over. Later, when she had to make a quick on-set change, I observed the human curtain of people surrounding her, as jeans were dropped and a dress was lowered over the 5-foot-2-inch goddess. She caught my eye and yelled, ”Don’t look at my ass!” (For the record: surprisingly small, parchment-white, seemingly quite firm.)
Roseanne will tell you that the original goal of the show was ”all about not being on a diet. I’m cookin’ with fat and sugar and butter – butter rules! – and all that kinda comfort stuff. I think everybody’s kind of sick of that dieting stuff. I wanna make a George Foreman grill that adds fat.” Has she ever watched, oh, say, Martha Stewart’s show? ”No. I don’t like when someone takes a radish and carves it into a f—in’ swan.”
”The Real Roseanne Show” is more deep-dish. ”The whole subtext of this show is that I’m fighting a spiritual war inside me where I’m always wanting to be mean and yell at people and fire ‘em,” she says. ”But then I [and here she inhales deeply] take a meditation breath and try to do the right thing, because I don’t wanna go to hell, y’know?” Asked after the photo shoot whether this strikes them as true, her kids – well out of earshot of Roseanne – agree…more or less. Jessica: ”There were times when you wanted to call her a bitch, but I’m not gonna do it in front of a camera if I can help it.” Says Jake of the ”Real Roseanne” cameras: ”They wanna chase the dirt, y’know, to make it interesting.” And it sounds like it did get interesting: ”I was almost fired from the cooking show,” says Jake. ”I said something [critical] in a meeting, and I guess I embarrassed Mom. She didn’t talk to me for a week after the pilot.”
None of the brood have much production experience, and Roseanne freely admits, ”I gotta do this for them. I owe them, to get them started.” Because they’ve had tough childhoods, I ask? Because of your public and private life – the raucous marriage to Tom Arnold, the accusations of abuse you made about your own parents, the way you burned through staff on your great sitcom, Roseanne, before it imploded in self-parody in 1997?
”Yeah,” says Roseanne. ”All of that.”