Whose idea was it to make Roseanne Conner a Trump supporter? Was there always a plan to have her grandson dress in non-traditional attire? In light of Tuesday’s debut of Roseanne, we asked co-executive producer Bruce Rasmussen (who previously wrote for the show during its run from 1988 to 1997) to explain how he and the other writers went about crafting the episode for the comedy’s much-anticipated return to primetime.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: The episode started with a joke about Roseanne thinking Dan was dead. Did you feel like you immediately need to address the fact that John Goodman’s character was killed off at the end of season 9?
BRUCE RASMUSSEN: Yeah. We wanted to get it out of the way and it was impossible to do it halfway, so we just wanted to make a joke of it, since it was such a big deal after the original 9. Roseanne was on board doing that as well. It’s like, okay, we are explaining how he’s back and we’re going to move past that pretty quick.
Did you always know that would reference Roseanne’s book?
We wanted to give a nod to some of what happened in season 9, the stuff that didn’t really go off the rails, in our opinion. She’s always been a writer in the series, so we at least wanted to give another nod to how she did write the book. We thought it would be fun to have him give her crap for killing him off.
How did it develop that Roseanne was a Trump supporter?
When one of my agents called me to bring up me going back on the show, the way he pitched it was “Roseanne in the time of Trump.” Originally I thought, like everybody else, that she would not be a supporter of Trump. But the moment we got in the writers’ room with Roseanne, she really wanted to be a supporter of Trump, not because she is one herself, but there are a lot of people in the Midwest who voted for him. We had debates and discussions. [Writer] Dave Kaplan and I were two of the people who had least understood that there are people who voted for him who aren’t misogynists or racists and who felt betrayed by other administrations. They really believed Trump was going to do something for them. It made sense when we really talked about it.
Are you saying a majority of the other writers didn’t agree?
Most writers, including me, are more liberal than we are conservative for sure. I’m no fan of Trump at all. Some people were new to the show. We had to keep reminding people that this is not how we feel. It’s how the Conners as real people would react to what they perceive as somebody who might help them out. We are all pretty liberal people so you have to step back and say, let’s not be mouthpieces for what we believe. Let’s deal with who these characters are as people, whether we agree with who she voted for or not.
Once you made that decision, did you find it pretty easy to come up with the Trump jokes? Like the one about the Russian dressing?
It was a balancing act. We didn’t want to overwhelm the episode with a lot of politics, and so the jokes about Trump were easier to get from the room than the jokes against Hillary. But we found them. We had to dig deep.
Why did you have Jackie choke and vote for Jill Stein?
We just thought it would be funny. The most obvious thing would have been she voted for Hillary. What appealed to me was that while the basis of the argument was political, the real meat of it was Roseanne and Jackie’s relationship, where Jackie is constantly feeling bullied by Roseanne. We thought it would be interesting if Roseanne got so in her head, that Jackie really did second-guess her own way to vote and that’s why she is so mad. She didn’t even vote for the person she wanted. Roseanne has such a hold on Jackie that she panicked.
Let’s talk about the character of Mark, Roseanne’s grandson. Whose idea was it for him to dress in non-traditional attire?
It was originally Sara Gilbert’s idea because she knows kids who do that. We did a lot of research. It’s very tricky. We talked to GLAAD people to make it very specific to one kid, not try to make it about everybody. The hardest part about it, weirdly, was the terminology. We’re not saying the kid is trans. He’s not even at that point. My son had a friend who was 5 years old and he dressed like a girl. Ultimately he turned out to be gay, but he wasn’t trans. We didn’t want to put all that weight on the kid. He really is a kid who is non-traditional and right now he wants to dress like a girl. We’re saying, who knows what will ultimately happen?
Was there a lot of discussion about how Roseanne and Dan would respond to him?
It’s a great moment when Roseanne sits down and says to the kid, “This is going to be tough.” That point of view was very much pitched by her. It was really great.
Roseanne airs Mondays at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.