A 'Roseanne' Family Reunion

IV: Winning (and Losing It) Big-Time

After splitting with Arnold in May 1994, Barr treated herself to a face-lift (something Roseanne Conner could never have afforded), and 'Roseanne' slid into surreal territory. Writers routinely broke the fourth wall and acknowledged the Becky recasting (Goranson returned for parts of season 8, but ultimately Chalke finished the series), and stories became soapier. Roseanne Conner bore a fourth child, and Dan had a heart attack. By season 8, viewers were abandoning 'Roseanne.' In a bid to go out with a bang, Barr dreamed up a premise-busting story line for season 9: The typically cash-strapped Conners won a $108 million lottery prize. Critics and fans decried it as a shark-jumping moment. To make matters worse, Goodman agreed to return for only 12 episodes.

Barr: At that point, I felt like I earned the right to do what I wanted to do. I waited until the last season of my show to say what I wanted to say and do exactly what I wanted to do. F--- critics, f--- the network, f--- the viewers, f--- everybody but me and God. It was very personally rewarding. It pissed everybody off, so that was awesome.

Metcalf: Season 9 got gypped a little bit because there wasn't enough time for the writers to actually think it through. It's a brilliant idea — them winning the lottery — but it could have been more specific to their family.

Carsey: By the time the last season was on the air, the show was spinning out of control a bit. We didn't have the [network] support that we used to have.

Gilbert: We probably should have been done at season 8. The lottery and stuff — it got so surreal and started to follow Roseanne's [real-life] path. It wasn't what it started as. For me, I liked the struggle of the family a little more, the financial struggle. But in truth, that is kind of what happened to Roseanne.

Airing on May 20, 1997, the series finale threw yet another wrench at viewers: Barr, in a voice-over, revealed that season 9 was nothing but the fantasy of her depressed blue-collar character. The Conners hadn't won the lottery, and Dan actually died from his heart attack at the end of season 8. Audiences may have thought it was a downer, but for Barr, that last episode represented her total control over the show. Even the rest of the cast weren't privy to the game-changing ending.

Barr: I thought once [viewers] see the end — the last episode — then they'll watch the whole series again because they'll see, like, there's a deeper layer to it. I thought, Well, Christ, this show’s gonna be on forever, so I tried to make it interesting for the fans in the future. There's more to this onion, there's more to peel, more to think about. I always shaped every show, every script, and you know, it continued to go out exactly the way I wanted to go out. That's how it ends. It doesn't end with a happy reunion on ABC every Christmas. You know, it's not gonna go like that.

'Roseanne' moved into syndication and, in September 2003, joined Nick at Nite's nostalgia lineup, drawing a new generation of viewers.

Goodman: It's about real people — people I identified with.

Metcalf: Before [Roseanne], it was just people walking around in expensive sweaters. I don't remember people ever looking as realistic as our cast did.

Barr: It's more relevant now than it was then. I'm very proud of its timelessness, and the fact that it has a political edge that is even more relevant now than it was then. I'm proud of the fact that it's never gone off the air for 20 years.

Originally posted Oct 24, 2008 Published in issue #1018 Oct 31, 2008 Order article reprints
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