When Roseanne hit the airwaves twenty years ago, it was unlike any other sitcom on the air. Unlike most other TV shows, this one centered around characters that worried about making ends meet every month. Viewers responded and the series became an instant hit, attracting an average of over 21.5 million viewers in its first season.
Roseanne follows the blue collar Conner family from Lanford, Illinois. Dan (John Goodman) and Roseanne (Roseanne Barr) are the heads of the family and try to manage/raise their three children as best they can; temperamental Becky (Lecy Goranson, later Sarah Chalke), sarcastic Darlene (Sara Gilbert), and often-ignored DJ (Michael Fishman). Their extended family includes Roseanne’s insecure sister Jackie (Laurie Metcalf), overbearing grandmother Beverly (Estelle Parsons), Darlene’s geeky boyfriend and eventual husband David (Johnny Galecki), and Becky’s dim-witted mate, Mark (Glenn Quinn).
Though the backstage battles on the Roseanne set became legendary, the viewers didn’t seem to care very much. The sitcom remained on the list of the top 10 most-watched TV shows for its first seven seasons. In season eight, Roseanne fell in the ratings to number 17. The eighth year was planned to be the show’s last, with Dan having a heart attack in the finale.
When the show was picked up for the ninth season, the producers chose to take the series in a surreal direction. The Conners win a $108 million state lottery. The season’s episodes are peppered with strange fantasy sequences and outrageous cameos. Roseanne and Dan continued to have marital problems and, because Goodman was busy with other projects, Dan appeared in only 12 episodes.
In the show’s finale, we learn that the entire series has actually been the writings and imagination of Roseanne Conner. The characters are based on the real people in her life but have been changed for dramatic license. The bizarre parts of the final season are explained as being her way of dealing with the death of her husband. Barr kept the final twist a secret from the cast until the very end. Some viewers liked the surprise ending while others felt that it was the final “shark-jumping” moment in a bizarre season.
In a recent EW interview, Barr reflected on the ending and said, “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.”
Here are the groundbreaking sitcom’s final moments. What do you think? Would you have ended it differently?
Ever wonder what became of the actors from Roseanne? Check out our recent two-part feature that catches up with the Conners and their friends. Stay tuned!