Roseanne in Ruins
No one cares, least of all the comedian herself
By P.J. Bednarski, Editor -- Broadcasting & Cable, 8/10/2003 8:00:00 PM
I promised not to write about reality television anymore, and changed my mind only after I saw The Real Roseanne Show on ABC last week. I was one of few. The premiere "attracted" a 7% share in 18-49s—an abysmal performance—but it taught me several lessons about reality these days:
It's not fun. It's grim. It's nasty. And it's not escapist. Dramas end when they catch the bad guy. Sitcoms end with a laugh. Reality ends, in weekly episodes, with plots against friends and neighbors, phony alliances and evil intent.
Roseanne takes all of those traits to new narcissistic levels. You cannot watch The Real Roseanne Show and not be appalled by her, or by her crowd of hangers-on, or really, by the contrivance of the entire program. Or grimly, by the fact that watching one hour of her show is like reliving your worst day at work.
I do believe Roseanne is, as she is presented here, a slobby, unfunny, unmotivated has-been, who for the sake of a "reality" television show walks around for an hour seeming to be doing something. Real Roseanne is a low point in the loaded-with-low-points history of reality television.
So maybe when I sat down to watch I was just in a bad mood? Quite the opposite. I was in just about the same mood zone as any other working stiff, who wants to come home, turn on the television … and escape.
But a requirement of the escapist formula is that the medium fill the room with likeable people and a hero to root for.
Roseanne made that impossible because in one of the most inadvertently real parts of the program, we recognized how all those tabloid stories about her must be at least partially true. She seemed monstrously unfunny, surrounded by men and women who play the part of people devoted to her, including one guy who is a "face reader" and counsels her against hiring people based on his opinion of their mugs. Now, there's a guy to like.
Real Roseanne is a reality show about Roseanne's preparation to pitch and then produce a cooking show (which in fact will be produced for ABC Family). Her ambitions are as fatuous as she is: "talk, eat, meet famous people and make fun of them." Reality television is giving everybody their 15 minutes but I never thought it was going to give that to people who have already exceeded their allotment. Put Roseanne next to Anna Nicole Smith's show and you could revive radio.
A few weeks ago, I wrote a column that in short pointed out that HBO's self-congratulatory posturing disguised the fact that some HBO shows are just merely good, not, as they like to say, "groundbreaking." Of course, shortly after that column HBO got 109 Emmy nominations, which made me have to re-examine Shinola bottles.
Anyway, in that column, I suggested that plans by Warner Bros. to syndicate Sex and the City were going to be a tough sell because without the sex and language, there wasn't much of a show. To be sure, almost immediately, Dick Robertson, the president of Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution, dispatched two top lieutenants, Bill Marcus and John Buckholtz, to New York to show me edited-for-broadcast versions of Sex to prove to me just how wrong I was.
The edited versions are basically Sex and the City Without Samantha. She still shows up in most of the scenes with the other women, but is never seen having sex, and hardly ever talking about having sex. By and large, and pretty artfully, editors have de-sexed the show for syndication.
They had a little room because on commercial-free HBO, Sex runs longer than it will on commercial TV. So by cutting out three or four minutes of sex stuff, the show is ready for prime time. Actually, I think the show plays a little smarter without the "shock" of the frank talk and nudity.
So in the interest of fairness, I take back my earlier doubts. Also, I perform this skinback because for the first time in over 20 years of writing about television, I've never had three sales executives ever do a hard sell on how unsexy their product was. (In that regard, the good old days really were better.)
Bednarski may be reached at email@example.com
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