In my column this week for Women and Hollywood, I did some thinking about Roseanne, which has, terrifyingly, its twenty-fifth anniversary this fall.
I think there are two important things to consider in thinking about Roseanne and what the television landscape looks like today. First, there’s the question of whether it’s possible to recapture the magic of Roseanne. Too frequently, I think, there’s been a sense that the best or only way to do this is by going back to Barr herself, though Greg Garcia and others have done work in the same space. NBC didn’t pick up a pilot it was developing with her, but is trying to get a 10/90 show, in which ratings over the threshhold for the first ten episodes would trigger the production of 90 more, off the ground. But given that the first effort didn’t land, I’m not sure why NBC is going back to the same well again instead of looking for someone with an appealing new vision.
Then, there’s the question of what that vision might look like. The bulk of the column considers the ways in which life has changed for working-class white American women since 1988, and how that might affect a show that follows that sort of character. Among the big changes? Marriage:
The back-and-forth between Roseanne and her husband Dan was one of the main drivers of action on Roseanne, but if the show was to capture the lives of poor and working-class women today, it might feature a character who wasn’t married, but had children. Marriage rates and the rates of births outside of marriage have changed dramatically since 1990, and the New York Times estimated in a 2012 feature that these shifts “may account for as much as 40 percent of the growth in certain measures of inequality.” The marriage rate has fallen to 31.1 per 1,000 single women in the U.S.
And for white women who hadn’t graduated from college, the rates of birth occurring outside of marriage rose from 18 percent in 1990 to 47 percent in 2009. That spike is almost as dramatic for women who–as was the case for Barr in real life–haven’t completed high school, rising from 38 to 60 percent…
Recent shows about working-or lower-middle-class families, including Raising Hope and The Middle, have focused their lenses on families anchored by married couples. Chuck Lorre’s Mom, which premieres this fall, features Anna Faris as a single mother struggling to balance her job as a waitress, her romantic involvement with her boss, and the level of attention her teenaged children actually require from her. But it would be interesting to see a show examine a long-term relationship between two people who have children together, but who aren’t married and never have been, and who maybe don’t even live together.
Obviously, this isn’t the only way life has changed in the years since Roseanne‘s debut. But it raises an important point. If you want to recapture the magic of a particular show that succeeded because of the way it let people who’d previously been ignored by television recognize themselves on screen, you can’t just remake an old program in precise detail, or rely on the same actors and creators. You have to actually look at, and care about the lives of the audience you want to bring on board, and work from there.