The controversial kiss between Roseanne Arnold and Mariel Hemingway came off Tuesday night, apparently without much of a kiss-off from viewers, advertisers or ABC stations.
ABC officials said Wednesday morning that they had received about 100 calls at their New York headquarters regarding the “Roseanne” episode, broadcast the night before, in which Roseanne Conner (Arnold) was kissed in a gay bar by a lesbian stripper played by Hemingway. About 75% of the calls expressed a favorable reaction, the network said.
Although “Roseanne” executive producer Tom Arnold said that some advertisers had dropped out of the episode, ABC said the commercial time was fully sold. And only two of the network’s 225 affiliated stations declined to carry the episode, ABC said. The network refused to identify them except to say they were not in the 150 largest markets.
“Most of the calls we got from viewers found the show funny and wondered what all the fuss was about,” said Stephen Battaglio, director of media relations for ABC. “The reaction showed that ‘Roseanne’ has a loyal audience that has accepted the fact that the show will take on controversial subjects.”
According to ratings from the A.C. Nielsen Co., the show was seen in about 19.9 million homes and attracted 30% of the available audience. That was slightly higher than what “Roseanne” has been averaging for the season, and easily beat the other networks. CBS’ three-hour Grammy Awards telecast averaged about 15.2 million households, garnering its second-lowest rating ever (ahead of only 1989).
Tuesday’s “Roseanne” episode had been the target of a heated struggle for weeks between network executives and the show’s executive producers, Roseanne and Tom Arnold. The Arnolds had complained that ABC initially refused to show the kiss because executives felt it was inappropriate for a prime-time situation comedy that would be seen by children.
ABC had declined official comment about whether the kiss would be shown, but wound up airing the episode with a disclaimer advising parental discretion.
On Monday afternoon, Tom Arnold said the network had just informed him that the show would air unedited. “The folks at ABC really went to bat for us with the corporate people who didn’t want to air the episode, and I will never forget them for that,” he said.
Arnold appeared Tuesday night at a West Hollywood benefit for the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation/L.A., which had lobbied the network to show the kiss unedited. The overflow crowd at the Love Lounge watched the episode and whooped loudly at the physical encounter.
Jim Berg and Stan Zimmerman, who wrote the episode and helped put together the benefit, said they were pleased with the way the furor ended and with the crowd’s response. “We’re surprised it caused as much ruckus as it did, but we’re glad it’s over,” Berg said.
“I’m really glad it aired,” said Lee Werbel, executive director of the local GLAAD chapter. “I just don’t see what the big deal was about. It was never a show about the kiss. It was a show about Roseanne’s reaction.”
In the episode, Roseanne was caught off guard when she realized that Sharon, the lover of her other gay friend, Nancy (Sandra Bernhard), had taken a real liking to her. As the two sat alone at a table, Sharon told her that they ought to hang out more often together, then kissed her tenderly for about five seconds.
Terry Rakolta, head of Americans for Responsible TV, which has criticized programs dealing with sexual matters, said Wednesday that the kiss was meant to “spike ratings and was really gratuitous,” but added that she had no specific objection to it. “I just think it was on too early, and it was not something that children should see.”
Suzanne Westenhoeser, a lesbian comic, also took issue with the episode--but for a different reason.
“It makes us look predatory,” she said. “There’s a bar full of lesbian women, but yet Mariel Hemingway goes for the only straight woman in the place. I don’t get it.”