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Will the Real Barr Hurt 'Roseanne'? : Television: 'Roseanne' launches its third season Tuesday. After a controversial year, the loyalty of its audience will be tested.

September 15, 1990|RICK DU BROW

When prime time's annual Emmy Awards are handed out Sunday, Roseanne Barr will be snubbed once again. Although she is the star of last season's highest-rated TV series, "Roseanne," and is the principal reason for its success, she was not even nominated for best actress in a comedy show. Barr and the Hollywood Establishment don't seem to be on the best of terms.

The brash, outspoken comedian, who has clearly helped inspire a trend of blue-collar sitcoms--portraying a tart-tongued working mother--has not been nominated for an Emmy in either of her show's two seasons on ABC. But if the Hollywood power structure has not warmed up to her, millions of TV viewers surely have--and revel each week as she subtly demolishes the image of traditional family sitcoms.

Now, however, the loyalty of that considerable audience is about to be tested.

For as "Roseanne" launches its third season Tuesday, Barr and ABC are about to find out whether her audience will still be loyal after a year of controversial headline-making by the star--capped by the furor that erupted this summer at a baseball double-header over her screeching rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner," after which she spat on the ground and grabbed her crotch.

In a grand irony, the competition for "Roseanne" when it returns Tuesday will not only be a special two-hour broadcast of NBC's potent "In the Heat of the Night"--but also the CBS showing of the motion picture "Field of Dreams," which glorifies baseball and can't help but remind some viewers of Barr's gaffe at that July 25 double-header in San Diego. Somebody at CBS may well have a sense of humor.

While ABC and Carsey-Werner, the company that produces "Roseanne," maintain that the star-spangled summer incident--and indeed the entire past year of raucous controversy--now are history, there are some indications of damage-control steps to counter the bad publicity and assure the show's future.

Given the series' extraordinary success thus far, there are hundreds of millions of dollars at stake for ABC--and for Barr and Carsey-Werner if they churn out enough episodes for the lucrative eventual payoff of reruns.

ABC's "20/20," for instance, is planning a major segment about Barr for October. But "20/20" spokeswoman Maurie Perl maintains that it has nothing to do with the fact that Barr is ABC's leading star.

"The story originated through the normal '20/20' editorial process," says Perl. "When all the things started to happen with Roseanne this summer--the singing of the national anthem and so forth--the idea to do a personality profile of her came up. We'll do a fair, balanced and accurate report. If she was on NBC, we'd do her. She's a major star who's also a controversial figure."

Following the national anthem fiasco, Barr also went on the syndicated Sally Jessy Raphael talk show as well as Rick Dees' late-night show, another ABC program. Barr claimed all along that she simply had trouble singing the anthem and was only mimicking the actions of baseball players when she spat and grabbed her crotch.

One could draw the conclusion that the damage control has been well-choreographed and cleverly manipulated. Officials of ABC and Carsey-Werner casually refer to the tabloid press as instigators of Barr's problems, as if that explained away just about everything.

But in fact she also gave a rather explicit interview about her personal life to People magazine, which reprinted parts of her equally blunt autobiography. And her devil-may-care attitude--in many ways admirable for its disdain of Hollywood caution--has resulted in numerous stories in the media at large.

David Brokaw, spokesman for Carsey-Werner, says that Barr may have several other interviews in the works. Just weeks ago, The Times was approached to do an interview with Barr about what's in store for her series this season. When this reporter was assigned to the story, the offer was withdrawn because the Barr camp felt we had "taken some shots" at her. It was suggested that another Times reporter might be acceptable. The offer was rejected.

ABC Entertainment President Bob Iger is among those who plays down any possible cumulative impact that Barr's colorful personal life of the past year might have on the ratings of "Roseanne" this season.

Asked about reports that efforts have been made to impress upon her the vast financial sums that are at stake--for her and others--Iger says: "I'm sure there have been conversations in which the value of the show and syndication has been defined to her, and how it pertains to her." Iger says, however, that he hasn't taken part in any such conversations.

Marcy Carsey, a partner in the Carsey-Werner firm, also says that she hasn't had any such talks, but adds: "I'm sure those conversations have gone on between somebody and somebody. If I were at the network, I might call somebody and say, 'Hey, what do you think is going on?' "

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