The star vs. the creator

When Roseanne went into production, it wasn’t called Roseanne — the pilot script was called Life and Stuff, and Matt Williams, the guy who wrote it, intended for the show to be an “ensemble piece” over which he could have some control, as opposed to a vehicle for Barr, even though her comedic voice strongly influenced the series. The latter is exactly what Barr wanted (and got), thus launching a bitter power struggle between her and Williams, the show’s head writer and co-executive producer.

In December 1988 —in the middle of Roseanne‘s first season — Barr threatened to quit the show after 13 of the 22 ordered episodes had been completed … unless Williams got the boot. Williams got the boot, but people who worked on the show told the Los Angeles Times that producers almost did let Barr walk because she would allegedly launch into angry tirades on the set, lock herself in her dressing room, or leave the studio at a moment’s notice. Producers and writers figured that if and when Roseanne did leave Roseanne, they’d just reconfigure it to be a showcase for John Goodman.

The star vs. the writers

Why was Roseanne such a great show? It had great writing, and that might have been because Roseanne Barr (and later, her husband and creative partner, Tom Arnold) put a ton of pressure on the writers. After the show’s staff would finish a script and the cast would do its initial read-through, Barr would reportedly re-write the script herself. That injected a lot of fear, resentment, and other negative emotions into the writers’ room, which Barr later attributed (via Entertainment Weekly) to writers having “a lot of emotional problems.”

After observing that her writers would “only laugh at the jokes they wrote” at the read-throughs, Barr reportedly assigned numbers to each member of the staff and would only refer to them by their designated number. Roseanne writer Amy Sherman-Palladino, who would go on to create acclaimed shows such as Gilmore Girls and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, said her nickname was “2.”

“The writers did not think it was funny,” Sherman-Palladino told Entertainment Weekly. “Anytime you tell someone, ‘I’m not going to learn your name, here’s your number,’ you’re diminishing their worth.” Roseanne writer and future Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator Joss Whedon called the set “a brutal environment.”