Putting the bloom back on Roseanne

Times Staff Writer

Not quite six years after her groundbreaking comedy “Roseanne” ended in a blaze of controversy and turbulent emotion, Roseanne Barr has emerged from her suburban hilltop hideaway and thrown herself into the vortex of the storm once again.

The tempest in this case is a throng of journalists surrounding her at a fashionable Hollywood hotel, shoving tape recorders and notebooks in her face after a press conference to promote her two-tiered “comeback” after three years of uncharacteristic calm and soul searching.

First is “The Real Roseanne Show,” an ABC unscripted series premiering tonight, chronicling Barr’s ups and downs in launching “Domestic Goddess,” a cooking/lifestyle show centered on her world view and search for spirituality, served up with helpings of chicken and cheesecake. The second step is the Sept. 20 debut of “Domestic Goddess” on ABC Family.


“I guess I just got bored with being at peace. I had to go out and find more chaos. Then I thought I would underline something, that we’re all fighting the devil and trying to be nice. So that’s what I’ve been doing, trying to become a genuinely nice person. This show is about all the layers I have to go through to get there.”

It’s not an easy journey for her: The still-funny, irreverent public Roseanne is countered by a more troubled private person.

Barr remains a force of nature -- temperamental, generous and insecure, still at war with the darker side of her personality that was on constant display during the “Roseanne” era. In addition to saying she had multiple personalities and was a victim of child abuse, she was angered by the so-called Hollywood system that she said rewarded laziness. Bad marriages and family turmoil took their emotional toll.

Now, Barr also wants to show that she can be just as funny while not being as volcanic. Proving that point is turning out to be more problematic than merging back into TV’s fast lane.

During her press conference at a gathering for national television writers, Barr, noticeably slimmer and more glamorous than she was in her hefty “Roseanne” heyday, seemed relaxed, frequently breaking up the reporters with her jabs.

Asked why she was taking on new ventures when she must have “more money than God,” she snapped, “Yeah, I have more money than God, but not as much as Oprah.” She took a shot at Madonna: “She does everything I do two years later and shows her [breasts].” When told by one reporter that she looked fabulous, she smiled and replied, “Yeah, don’t I?” Asked why she’s reverted to using her maiden name, which she dropped during the run of “Roseanne,” she quipped that people were starting to confuse her with Rosie O’Donnell.


She answered post-conference questions ranging from her new boyfriend to whether she was on medication. The cackle that marked the beginning of each episode of “Roseanne” has not mellowed with age

But Barr, now 49, has to a dramatic extent. She, writer-musician boyfriend Johnny Argent, her 8-year-old son with third husband Ben Thomas and other family members reside in a secluded large home in Palos Verdes. The sound of running water into fish ponds fills the air, while a massive sculpture of two mountain lions fighting each other lends an ironic tone to the tranquillity. The house is filled with luxurious furniture, expensive artwork, pictures of Barr with family and politicians, and framed magazine photos of Barr from the “Roseanne” days.

A few weeks after her presentation to reporters, Barr sat in her dining room. She appeared vulnerable, wounded. Dark inner storm clouds were brewing.

“This is my farewell tour, this is it,” she declared. She was stung by criticism from some reporters, suggesting that a nicer Roseanne was a less funny Roseanne. “Roseanne’s new reality show is too much to stomach,” one headline read.

“Some of the writers were so cold, so mean, and I wasn’t prepared for that,” she said. “They said I’m pathetic, that I have this need to be in front of the camera. It’s like a personal attack, that I have a new job. I’m too old to take this again. Not all of them were bad, but the bad ones were like a sock in the gut.”

Minutes later, the storm clouds lifted. Barr cracked herself up, celebrating her continuing spiritual journey and recalling the good times in the making of “The Real Roseanne Show” -- her discussions laced with a humorous, eloquent stream of expletives.

Still, the storm clouds would occasionally reappear in the next days when she would read more skepticism about the series.

Playing around in the fertile unscripted field previously plowed by other celebrities such as Ozzy Osbourne and Anna Nicole Smith, “The Real Roseanne Show” is grounded in comedy, much of it at its star’s expense. She is alternately acerbic, nurturing and nervous as she and her new “army” -- her boyfriend, Argent, her grown children, her first husband, Bill Pentland, her agent and numerous other associates -- grapple with producing a cooking show.

But more than a comedy, “The Real Roseanne Show” revolves around Barr’s daily, continuing battle against her inner demons. She is more than aware of her reputation, the harsh temper that made writers tremble, her infamous screeching of the national anthem in 1990 before a San Diego Padres game, and her caustic reputation during the “Roseanne” era that earned her “persona non grata” status in Hollywood after “Roseanne” and the cancellation of her talk show three years ago. No one wanted to work with her.

“I really want to do something good,” she said in explaining her return. “I want to put something on TV that hasn’t been on TV before. I want to talk about my spiritual journey, fighting the angel and the devil in me. A lot of people are going through the same thing. I’m basically trying to be a nice person in a crazy, [messed-up] world, and seeing if that will work. Before I was a [messed-up] person in a [messed-up] world, and it worked for a while. But now it seems it’s not working so good, being nice.”

She was particularly sensitive because she felt she had erased much of the negativity from her life, that it had been tied mostly to her marriage in the 1990s to actor Tom Arnold. The outrageous couple were rarely out of the tabloids and the media as they mooned TV cameras at a baseball game, mud-wrestled on the cover of Vanity Fair, and waged war on TV critics. There were charges of affairs and abuse. Finally, divorce came in 1994. “I thought now that there’s not that someone inside my house, it will be different this time around,” Barr said. “But the taint of what happened to me at that time is overriding. I don’t know if it will ever go away. It affects everything. It’s just a weird, warped thing.”

Arnold declined comment.

Barr is also returning to the network where she often waged war on executives. But those days are long past, those executives have moved on, and the network has high hopes for Barr and the series, said Andrea Wong, the ABC executive who oversees alternative programming, like “The Real Roseanne Show.”

In a karmic coincidence, the network is scheduling the new show in the star’s former time slot of Wednesdays at 9 p.m., when half-hour episodes will run back to back.

“Roseanne has a huge, large legacy at ABC, and she is loved by our viewers,” Wong said. “We think she will be great in the comedy-reality arena. Her struggle with her demons and her attempts to become a better person really make for an exciting series.”

R.J. Cutler, executive producer of “The Real Roseanne Show,” said he was grateful to have access to “one of the most provocative characters in American popular culture, who is also one of the greatest comediennes of all time.” He called Barr “a surprise a minute, larger than life” who could also be “a pain in the butt” when her demons won the daily struggle.

Although it’s called a reality series, the show has fairly little to do with Barr’s “real” reality. Before taking on “The Real Roseanne Show,” she had paid little attention to other so-called celebrity-based reality shows.

“The whole reality thing is unreal because this is not what I do,” she said. “I don’t get dressed up to go to a meeting. I just sat in bed eating cake and watching Court TV and the History Channel and anything about Hitler and murder. And I just thought, ‘Man, you have to get a life. You better get a show and meet people. I decided I wanted to be in the world.”

If the series doesn’t work, she vows it is the end of the show business line. “This is the last thing I’ll ever do. I’ll never go on TV again. I’ll never do another sitcom. I’ll never do nothing. I’ll probably move to France. I’m too old. I’ve learned I don’t have to do it.”

But she speculated she might be needed in another way -- to save the country from “Arnold and Arnold.”

She feared ex-husband Tom Arnold might follow through on a promise he made to her years ago that he would run for governor of Iowa. Speculating that Arnold’s friend Arnold Schwarzenegger would run for governor of California (although he’s expected to announce to Jay Leno tonight that he’s not going to run), “the Constitution will hang by a thread, and then it will be up to me to come back and wrestle the Constitution from those two and rescue America. The call will come, and they’ll say, ‘Only you can save us. And the only way you can save us is to sing.’ And I’ll have to do it, because I love America.”

She laughed so hard her eyes watered.


‘The Real Roseanne Show’

Where: ABC

When: 9 tonight, followed by a second episode at 9:30

Production credits: Executive producers, Roseanne Barr, R.J. Cutler

Rating: The network has rated the show TV-PGDL (may be unsuitable for young children, with advisories for suggestive dialogue and coarse language)