For many sitcom writers in Hollywood, it became a huge rite of passage to join — and then get fired from — the writing staff of Roseanne. The job was especially hazardous for showrunners like Bruce Helford, who joined the ABC comedy in its fifth season before getting the heave-ho a year later.
So why did he come back as head writer for the comedy that returns Tuesday on ABC? (Read our review here.)
“It was one of the best years of my life,” says Helford of his time on the comedy from 1992-93. “There was a lot of stress in those days to be the No. 1 show. All kind of factors were involved. But I never took it personally. I was very happy for the opportunity to run a show for the first time. My agent and lawyer both said that everybody got fired. So when it came, there was really no shock because I knew that was a part of the game. “
It was a lot different to work with Roseanne Barr back in the early ’90s, Helford recalls. “She was so busy with everything going on and all the demands on her time, we had to second guess her. You’d see her and you couldn’t get to her.”
The pressure was so intense that he and other writers would end up working until 2 a.m. on scripts. “We had a legacy to uphold,” Helford continues. “We took as long as we could to make every episode special or break new ground. It was a very hard show to write because it was honest and real. Everybody had to really dig in.”
This time around, Helford’s had no problem finding the show’s voice, thanks to Barr being a lot more accessible to the staff. “It’s been much faster to get her input, her take, and her understanding of blue color people,” he says. “Almost everybody here started out in their lives being broken and not having a whole lot, so everybody understands the reality and nobility of working-class people. Having her around really helps the process.”
She even apologized to Helford for canning him back in the day.
“I had seen her years before,” Helford recalls. “She gave me a big hug and said, ‘Oh yeah, I fired you. You are the best writer we ever had. Sorry about that.'”
Roseanne debuts March 27 at 8 p.m. on ABC.