When prime time's annual Emmy Awards are handed out Sunday, Roseanne Barr will be snubbed once again. Although she is the star of last season's highest-rated TV series, "Roseanne," and is the principal reason for its success, she was not even nominated for best actress in a comedy show. Barr and the Hollywood Establishment don't seem to be on the best of terms.
The brash, outspoken comedian, who has clearly helped inspire a trend of blue-collar sitcoms--portraying a tart-tongued working mother--has not been nominated for an Emmy in either of her show's two seasons on ABC. But if the Hollywood power structure has not warmed up to her, millions of TV viewers surely have--and revel each week as she subtly demolishes the image of traditional family sitcoms.
Now, however, the loyalty of that considerable audience is about to be tested.
For as "Roseanne" launches its third season Tuesday, Barr and ABC are about to find out whether her audience will still be loyal after a year of controversial headline-making by the star--capped by the furor that erupted this summer at a baseball double-header over her screeching rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner," after which she spat on the ground and grabbed her crotch.
In a grand irony, the competition for "Roseanne" when it returns Tuesday will not only be a special two-hour broadcast of NBC's potent "In the Heat of the Night"--but also the CBS showing of the motion picture "Field of Dreams," which glorifies baseball and can't help but remind some viewers of Barr's gaffe at that July 25 double-header in San Diego. Somebody at CBS may well have a sense of humor.
While ABC and Carsey-Werner, the company that produces "Roseanne," maintain that the star-spangled summer incident--and indeed the entire past year of raucous controversy--now are history, there are some indications of damage-control steps to counter the bad publicity and assure the show's future.
Given the series' extraordinary success thus far, there are hundreds of millions of dollars at stake for ABC--and for Barr and Carsey-Werner if they churn out enough episodes for the lucrative eventual payoff of reruns.
ABC's "20/20," for instance, is planning a major segment about Barr for October. But "20/20" spokeswoman Maurie Perl maintains that it has nothing to do with the fact that Barr is ABC's leading star.
"The story originated through the normal '20/20' editorial process," says Perl. "When all the things started to happen with Roseanne this summer--the singing of the national anthem and so forth--the idea to do a personality profile of her came up. We'll do a fair, balanced and accurate report. If she was on NBC, we'd do her. She's a major star who's also a controversial figure."
Following the national anthem fiasco, Barr also went on the syndicated Sally Jessy Raphael talk show as well as Rick Dees' late-night show, another ABC program. Barr claimed all along that she simply had trouble singing the anthem and was only mimicking the actions of baseball players when she spat and grabbed her crotch.
One could draw the conclusion that the damage control has been well-choreographed and cleverly manipulated. Officials of ABC and Carsey-Werner casually refer to the tabloid press as instigators of Barr's problems, as if that explained away just about everything.
But in fact she also gave a rather explicit interview about her personal life to People magazine, which reprinted parts of her equally blunt autobiography. And her devil-may-care attitude--in many ways admirable for its disdain of Hollywood caution--has resulted in numerous stories in the media at large.
David Brokaw, spokesman for Carsey-Werner, says that Barr may have several other interviews in the works. Just weeks ago, The Times was approached to do an interview with Barr about what's in store for her series this season. When this reporter was assigned to the story, the offer was withdrawn because the Barr camp felt we had "taken some shots" at her. It was suggested that another Times reporter might be acceptable. The offer was rejected.
ABC Entertainment President Bob Iger is among those who plays down any possible cumulative impact that Barr's colorful personal life of the past year might have on the ratings of "Roseanne" this season.
Asked about reports that efforts have been made to impress upon her the vast financial sums that are at stake--for her and others--Iger says: "I'm sure there have been conversations in which the value of the show and syndication has been defined to her, and how it pertains to her." Iger says, however, that he hasn't taken part in any such conversations.
Marcy Carsey, a partner in the Carsey-Werner firm, also says that she hasn't had any such talks, but adds: "I'm sure those conversations have gone on between somebody and somebody. If I were at the network, I might call somebody and say, 'Hey, what do you think is going on?' "
Iger and Carsey say that they know of no advertisers who are refusing to buy time in "Roseanne." But one of Madison Avenue's top advertising agency executives says, "Yeah, there has been some advertiser fallout." The executive, who asked not to be identified, added: "There is a national sponsor who has made known to us that he doesn't want to be associated with this program.
"There's always been a bit of a blurring between Barr's on-screen and off-screen personality, and I think any advertiser who has concern about the potential impact on the advertising message has probably dealt with that already. On the other hand, you could argue that memories are very short. Is a viewer going to remember what Roseanne said and say, 'I'm going to watch something else'? Only time will tell as you watch the ratings, and then it could be a self-fulfilling prophecy as advertisers respond."
Despite past unhappiness behind the scenes of "Roseanne"--the show's creator, Matt Williams, left after a dispute with Barr, the first of several departures--Iger feels the series is "in the best shape since it started. Roseanne is settling down personally. I really take the San Diego episode as a distraction--I don't mean it's minor, given the attention it got--but I think what happened was misunderstood. No malevolence was intended."
Iger says that Barr has been "tired from the whirlwind nature of the last two years--an overnight success, the No. 1 show on TV, she got divorced, she got married, she wrote a book and went on tour, and she was in a movie ("She Devil"). And the advice I gave her as we approached summer was to take it easy and conserve her energy so when she came back this season, the spark would be there. And it is."
While "Roseanne" finished No. 1 in last season's official ratings competition that ended in April, it was bypassed during the summer by "Cheers" in year-round figures. Even earlier this year, there was a report that ABC had undertaken research to see if Barr's popularity had been affected by negative publicity. Iger declined to discuss what his ongoing "qualitative research" has shown--he said he would not disclose information of that nature about any ABC program. But he added:
"I'm not anticipating a slippage. I think 'Roseanne's' going to come back very strong. But the competition has changed. NBC is the same ("In the Heat of the Night"), but CBS is far more aggressive this year with its movie package. Check the first two weeks." (CBS' "Field of Dreams" on Tuesday is followed on Sept. 25 by the film "Good Night, Sweet Wife: A Murder in Boston," about the explosive Charles and Carol Stuart case of last year.) "So," says Iger, "it's not fair to compare the first two weeks to last season."
No? Why not? Tough competition may well provide a real clue to "Roseanne's" strength after the off-screen uproar.
ABC is downplaying the summer ratings, saying they are erratic. But they are erratic for everyone. And ever since the flap over the national anthem, "Roseanne," except for one week, has dipped in its share of audience compared to its overall average in the month before the incident. It could be a tip-off. But if "Roseanne," which is still a powerhouse, returns with a real wallop, it could make Barr a formidable Hollywood player for years to come.
"By and large, I think Roseanne has been considered by the so-called masses as their hero," Iger says hopefully.
"I can't believe audiences wouldn't watch because of a performer's personal life," adds Carsey. "Roseanne's life is not a study of playing safe and that's how she's become what she is now--brilliant."
And rich enough to take singing lessons.