Writers who worked on the original Roseanne series say they’re struggling to reconcile the brash and bold character they spent years writing for with the new conservative, Trump-loving iteration.
“A lot of people involved in the show were surprised when she turned right-wing and supported Trump, because that was just not the person or her character that we had known,” said TV writer Stan Zimmerman, who worked on Roseanne for two seasons.
Across nine seasons between 1988 and 1997, these writers worked to put words in the mouth of actor Roseanne Barr, supplying her with both zingers and warmth through their deep understanding of the titular character.
But four writers who spoke to BuzzFeed News said the 2018 version of the character Roseanne Conner — an avowed Trump supporter who fought with her pussyhat-wearing sister and is prejudiced against her Muslim neighbors — is unrecognizable to them.
“I don’t recognize that character,” said one writer, who asked to remain anonymous because they still work in the industry and feared professional repercussions. “I believe the original character would’ve said, ‘Who cares [about having Muslim neighbors]?’ And now she’s saying she does care.”
“I don’t think that Roseanne Conner would’ve voted for Donald Trump,” said Miriam Trogdon, who worked on the show for two seasons. “I don’t think that she would’ve, but apparently she did.”
"I don’t think that Roseanne Conner would’ve voted for Donald Trump."
Having worked on the original series and become attuned to characters like Dan (John Goodman), Jackie (Laurie Metcalf), Darlene (Sara Gilbert), Becky (Alicia Goranson), D.J. (Michael Fishman), and, of course, Roseanne, the writers said some details in the Roseanne revival don’t make a lot of sense to them. (At least four other writers on the original series did return to work on the revival.)
“The pilot was overtly political and the old show was not that way,” said Trogdon, who worked on the show for two seasons.
Trogdon said the main character’s justification for voting for Trump because he “talked about jobs” did seem like something Conner might have been drawn to. “But the original Roseanne, I think, would have been more upset at his attitude toward women and his misogyny,” Trogdon said. “I think that the original Roseanne would’ve questioned how a super-rich guy like this would have any sense of what a lower-middle-class family like the Conners were going through. She would at least question it, but they don’t dwell on that. They picked an aspect of what Trump was saying that would fit into the original Roseanne character.”
"I think that the original Roseanne would’ve questioned how a super-rich guy like this would have any sense of what a lower-middle-class family like the Conners were going through."
Zimmerman, too, said he believed the character’s new politics have been brushed over.
“I read an article in the New York Times talking to Roseanne,” said Zimmerman, “and when they brought up, ‘Oh, but Roseanne Conner would be so union and Trump is very non-union,’ she was like, ‘I don’t wanna talk about it.’ So things like that are worrisome because I want her character to stand up for the underdog, but for some reason she has bought into this Trumpian way of looking at things.”
A spokesperson for ABC, which airs the show, declined to comment for this story. Representatives for Barr did not respond to requests for comment.
Zimmerman specifically pointed to two plot points in the original series that he said showed the character's softer, liberal leanings: In “The Driver's Seat” (Season 6, Episode 11), the show addresses how Roseanne was abused by her father growing up and how she feels guilty about spanking D.J. because she wants to break the cycle of abuse. But in the revival, Roseanne condones spanking as a form of punishment.
Additionally, in “Don't Ask, Don't Tell” (Season 6, Episode 18) Roseanne visits a gay bar and is kissed by another woman, a rarity for 1990s network TV. “Roseanne was supposedly so liberal, socially anyway. And this really challenged her thoughts,” said Zimmerman.
A lot has changed about Barr since her show first aired. Most notably, the star has taken a sharp turn to the right. Not only has she been unapologetically outspoken about her support for President Trump and his policies, she has also been known to tweet radical conspiracy theories that Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is a reptile and criminal, or that Hillary Clinton and other Democrat officials secretly operated a worldwide sex-trafficking and pedophilia ring. As recently as March 27, the same day the Roseanne revival premiered, Barr accused Parkland shooting survivor David Hogg of performing a Nazi salute in a since-deleted tweet.
Lois Bromfield, who worked on the show for four seasons, told BuzzFeed News she thought it was a hoax when she first heard about Barr’s recent politics. “It bothers me. There are times when I go, ‘What the fuck?’”
“I don’t know her that way. I know her as a really open, liberal person,” said Bromfield. “I don’t know what the deal is with [her current politics]. I don’t quite get it. I guess something changed in her life or maybe I just didn’t know her that well.”
“Roseanne is a really big supporter of women and human rights and animal rights,” Bromfield said. “Roseanne is not a bigot, she’s not a backward person at all, so her liking Trump is just so odd. It comes out of left field.”
The anonymous writer said Barr was “allowed to like Trump” but described her as “a conspiracy theorist in the Alex Jones tradition.”
The writer blasted ABC for giving the controversial Barr a show but refusing to air an episode of Black-ish that explored the topic of NFL players who kneel during the national anthem.
“That was too political for them and then they’ve got Roseanne spewing her love of Donald Trump on the show, and the real Roseanne spewing conspiracy theories about Hillary Clinton and Pizzagate,” the writer said. “I don’t know why they’re giving this woman a platform.”
The former Roseanne writers said they worry Barr’s personal politics have now overshadowed those of her character’s, particularly as she became famous for playing a character named and modeled after her.
“It is sometimes hard to divorce Roseanne Barr from Roseanne Conner,” Zimmerman said.
Trogdon said she believes audiences should never be privy to an actor’s personal politics. “A character should be who the character is and not who the actor is in real life,” she said.
She said Barr is responsible for the politicization of her character.
“Who she is as a human being, I don’t think it should become an issue, but [Barr] makes it an issue by tweeting and standing out like that. That’s a choice on her part.”
“I would have difficulty if I were on the show,” Trogdon said. “I would wish that she wouldn’t tweet so that didn’t become something that was played into the show.”
In the lead-up to the revival’s premiere, the show’s marketing was Trump-heavy as media stories and reviews zeroed in on the “ambivalent Trump-era politics.”
This made the former Roseanne writers nervous about what had become of their beloved characters.
“I came in holding my breath, thinking, What am I in store for?” Zimmerman said. “I was pleasantly surprised watching. The first episodes were so smart and witty.”
Trogdon also praised the new writers for capturing the tone and humor of the old seasons, but added she believes the show was better once it got politics “out of the way.”
"It reminds me of when you first get on Facebook and you think, I wonder whatever happened to so and so, and you look ’em up and find out they had two kids."
“It reminds me of when you first get on Facebook and you think, I wonder whatever happened to so and so, and you look ’em up and find out they had two kids,” she said. “It’s like catching up with people you were really good friends with at one time, and that’s how this sort of feels to me.”
Bromfield said she, too, was hesitant to watch the revival because of Barr’s politics, but she also ended up enjoying the first few episodes of the sitcom.
“I really didn’t want to love it. I wanted to be pissed off because I know she supports Trump,” Bromfield said. “But I have to tell you, I just got suckered right in. It’s really good.”
But, Bromfield added, “I’m just watching it from an artistic point of view, and when something comes up on the show that’s really volatile and turns me off, then I guess I’ll get turned off.”
The series has also been a huge hit with viewers, achieving monster ratings. Its March 27 premiere drew an astonishing 18.2 million viewers and the following episode, which aired consecutively, grew to 18.6 million. These were the highest ratings for any comedy on any network since September 2014. Only three days after Season 10 premiered, ABC renewed Roseanne for an 11th season.
“Look at her ratings! Look at her ratings!” President Trump told a rally in Ohio two days later. “They were unbelievable. Over 18 million people — and it was about us.”
Trump, who is known to obsess over ratings, personally called Barr to congratulate her. “It was about the most exciting thing ever, and it was just very sweet of him to congratulate us,” Barr told Good Morning America.
"I think in probably every household in America, this is probably what’s going on."
Bromfield said the changing Conner family is perhaps simply reflective of a changing country, which is what might explain the show being such a hit.
“I think in probably every household in America, this is probably what’s going on,” Bromfield said of the political tensions in the Conner family. “There’s such conflict between Trump supporters and people who are not supporting him. I think it fits beautifully into the show.”
Zimmerman credited the show with having a “knack of touching a nerve with America.”
“There’s raw honesty in those characters and families and how they fight,” he said. “But at the end of the day, you knew they still loved each other.”
This story was updated to reflect that at least four other writers from the original series have worked on the revival.