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Roseanne, Seriously : Love-Hate Relationship With TV Viewers Fuels ABC's Top Comedian


Roseanne Barr, serious and businesslike, settles into a couch in her suite in an elegant Westside hotel. It's temporary quarters while she and her husband, comedy writer Tom Arnold, wait to move into their new house nearby.

It has been a good day. The national television ratings have come in, and Barr's ABC series, "Roseanne," ranks No. 3 among all shows for last week. More than 30 million people tuned in.

Barr and Arnold, meanwhile, have just returned to the suite after buying a motorcycle. "We got one so I can drive her around," says Arnold. "We rode it around the block." Then he departs for most of the next hour, leaving Barr to speak for herself.

In two explosive years on ABC, Barr has become an extraordinarily controversial show business phenomenon--the most popular woman performer on TV and, at the same time, a public figure with a remarkable knack for getting into hot water. The image has worried ABC and her producers because of the high financial stakes involved in "Roseanne."

Barr acknowledges the image problem and seems intent on doing something about it.

In a wide-ranging interview with The Times, she gave her views on the backstage furor surrounding her show, the firings she demanded, Hollywood's snub of her at the Emmy Awards, her sometimes risque public behavior and the controversy provoked by her screeching rendition of the "Star-Spangled Banner" at a San Diego Padres baseball double-header.

She also admitted to her now-legendary outbursts of temper when she felt things were going wrong during the production of her half-hour series:

"I have a really long fuse. But once it's gone, everybody's outta there. And I have to learn to not do that."

Barr says it is only since the arrival of ABC Entertainment President Bob Iger that she is back on working terms with the Carsey-Werner company, which produces "Roseanne." Tension had set in when the series' creator, Matt Williams, was fired because he and Barr could not agree on the direction of the show. Williams now is executive producer of Carol Burnett's NBC series, "Carol & Company."

Iger, says Barr, "really was for me, and he understood what I was doing. He helped me a lot. He was the first person that really listened to me and heard what I was saying and felt I was right--about everything on the show. I am really grateful to him.

"I feel that things are cleared up as well as they're gonna be. I have a working relationship now with my producers, Carsey-Werner, which I didn't have since Matt was fired."

Above all, Barr is proud of "Roseanne," a blue-collar comedy in which she plays a married, working mother. It gives her a weekly forum to continue her stand-up comedy thrust of looking at the world through a woman's eyes.

"I think people get it--what I'm saying and doing in the show. I don't think the press gets it," says Barr. "The people get that it's really anti-glamour. It's really anti-everything that the media tries to shove down our throats. It's not about all the traditional things that TV or entertainment is supposed to be about.

"I wanted to fly in the face of all traditional expectations about television, women, gender, class. More than anything, I wanted it to be about the class system, class distinctions. And I wanted to explode the traditional media image of a woman. And family. And work. Everything that the show is hasn't been on TV before.

"TV is kind of like a mirror that they hold up to our civilization, but it reflects the opposite of the truth. If it was close to the truth, we'd be able to swear and go around in our underwear, which I really think would be perfect TV."

Barr, who offers a comedy concert tonight at the Universal Amphitheatre, knows that both she and "Roseanne"--which is clearly an extension of herself--divide people into pro and con camps. Why does she think she has that effect?

"Well, because I think the show is two opposite things at once. Somebody called it savage and loving. I like that description. That's what human beings are. That's what I am. I wanted to show a three-dimensional woman on television, and three-dimensional people are at once savage and loving, and at once very intellectual and very base. So that's what's in my head.

"Some people just see crude, and some people see the intelligence, and some people are really cool and see both of them."

Barr's detractors might regard as crude her public baring of her now-famous tattoo, but she says of her impulsive act: "Who cares?"

Why, she wants to know, is the showing of the tattoo "such a big deal"? But she does have misgivings about some of the intimate quotes about her personal life that have wound up in print:

"Sometimes I just get carried away if I sit with somebody for too long. I'm a real open person anyway. But I've learned not to do four-hour interviews because that's what happens. You become friendly. Then you forget you're talking to everyone in the world and you think you're just talking to this one person."

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