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The Mean Season

Sitcom queen Roseanne has a hissy fit. So what else is new?

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Roseanne may have a new baby, a new hubby, and a new nose, but don’t worry: She’s still the same old diva. On Oct. 17, TV’s reigning tantrum queen threw a doozy: a two-hour screamfest that torpedoed staff morale and drove costar John Goodman to boycott the show for a day.

”Roseanne got up in front of everyone and was screaming and ranting, but mostly crying,” says a source close to the show. Wags another insider: ”It was sort of a Norma Desmond speech [from Sunset Boulevard].” Among Roseanne’s gripes: She could trust no one; someone was hiding positive fan mail from her; and executive producer Eric Gilliland had inked a deal with Twentieth Century Fox behind her back. (Even though Gilliland was scheduled only to finish out this, the show’s final year, Roseanne still wanted him fired. As of now, he’s back on staff.) In the end, Roseanne threatened to quit her eight-year-old blue-collar sitcom.

Neither the actors nor the network would comment on the episode, but it’s far from a secret. Someone had left a soundstage camera on, and it was feeding the tirade onto dozens of closed-circuit monitors on a CBS lot where Roseanne and other shows are shot. ”I’m sure a tape is available,” says one source. ”It will be a real hot bootleg item.”

With this latest hurricane, Roseanne proved she’s prime time’s champion weight thrower, but she’s hardly alone. Many TV stars are following her cue and taking a stand on the hiring line:

Cybill Shepherd clashed with Chuck Lorre, the creator of CBS’ Cybill. He quit last month. Although rumors flew that Shepherd was peeved about costar Christine Baranski, who plays the booze-swilling best friend, scoring all the good punchlines, a spokesman for the show blamed the spat on ”creative differences.”

Brett Butler’s top-rated Grace Under Fire (ABC) is on its third executive producer in as many years.

On Ellen, the three-year-old ABC sitcom, the entire cast of the first season has vanished, save its floppy-limbed star, Ellen DeGeneres.

Even Bonnie Hunt, star of the low-rated CBS sitcom named for her, had some of those classic ”creative differences” with her producer-writer Rob Burnett. He left the show earlier this season.

It’s not just female leads who clash with their staffs. Witness last season’s departure of producer Fred Barron from Harry Anderson’s Dave’s World. But this season, off-camera turmoil seems to plague mostly shows that star women. Industry watchers blame showbiz and media sexism. Women have to shout to get heard. And when they do, it makes headlines.

”Women don’t get the same respect as male comics,” says Jamie Masada, owner of the Laugh Factory, an L.A. comedy club. ”There are male stars who blow up. But if a woman blows up,” he adds, ”people make a bigger deal out of it.”

Every sitcom, after all, has built-in tension. ”Comedians across the board have traditionally had an adversarial role with writers,” says producer Don Reo, formerly of The John Larroquette Show. ”They resent having to have writers at all.” And as TV embraces the star system — note all the shows named after celebs — the power has shifted away from producers. What do you do if Roseanne is making waves on the set of Roseanne? Replace her with Rosanne Cash?

Which brings us back to our original diva. She has said this will be her last season, and according to sources, that’s just dandy with ABC, which has seen Roseanne‘s ratings slide. It finished last season in 8th place; this week it placed 15th. Things are so strained that one wonders whether ABC will pick up the American version of Britain’s politically incorrect Absolutely Fabulous, which Roseanne is producing.

Whatever happens, Roseanne will leave behind a Godzilla-size legacy bound to inspire future sitcom stars. As Reo, who’s developing a sitcom for Cheers alum Rhea Perlman, jokes: “I hope it’s a big hit…and I hope she won’t fire me.”

(With reporting by Louis Chunovic, Sue Karlin, and Jennifer Pendleton)

All in the timing

Is it possible that Roseanne’s antics may be about getting attention? Especially at the right time, like during the industry’s sweeps months (February, May, July, and November), when shows’ audiences are measured to determine future ad rates. More attention, more dollars—get it? Herewith, a few auspicious moments.

–Casey Davidson

July 1995: In a 19-page article in The New Yorker, Roseanne defines her own form of feminism while dissing popular actresses such as Meryl Streep and Jodie Foster, calling them “talented and f—in’ deluded.”

February 1995: Shortly after her much-publicized parting from second husband Tom Arnold (which resulted in separation anxiety, a restraining order, and divorce with a gag order), Roseanne marries lucky number three, 28-year-old driver/bodyguard Ben Thomas.

February 1994: Ballantine publishes My Lives, the book that introduces Roseanne’s 21 separate personalities. A blitz of TV appearances follows.

April 1993: Leading into the May sweeps, Roseanne and Tom announce on The Tonight Show that they’ll bolt from ABC if the network doesn’t renew Tom’s painfully unfunny The Jackie Thomas Show.

July 1990: Proving she isn’t a diva, Roseanne sings the national anthem like a real baseball aficionado, with crotch grabbing and spitting. She is publicly reprimanded by President Bush but she doesn’t apologize.