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Go Quietly? No Way!

Fear not. Although 'Roseanne's' finale airs later this month, its creative force vows to make waves with some new venture. But first, a broomstick awaits.

May 04, 1997|Greg Braxton | Greg Braxton is a Times staff writer

One of television's loudest, brashest and most socially conscious comedies came to an uncharacteristically calm conclusion last month on a Studio City sound stage. As endings go, it was strangely and quietly anticlimactic.

Shortly before 11 p.m. on April 4, a voice rang out, "That's a wrap," applause revved up from the studio audience, and "Roseanne," the popular and landmark blue-collar comedy that turned former "domestic goddess" Roseanne into a power broker and millionaire, concluded the taping of its final episode, which will be broadcast May 20 on ABC.

For almost a decade, "Roseanne" helped define an era with its depiction of a working-class family struggling to stay afloat in a sea of harsh economic developments. The series--among the three most popular on TV from 1989 to 1993--was graced with a biting wit, warmth and insight often pitched at high volume and laced with equal doses of outrageousness and honesty.

That it centered on a decidedly unglamorous wife and mother who was also dealing with the daily crises of family life was hailed by millions of viewers whose own lives were never as neat and affluent as those seen on most sitcoms. And steering the show was a human force of nature armed with a fearless feminist sensibility, a determined vision and an unpredictable, impulsive personality that made network executives sweat, producers and writers quiver, critics debate and tabloid editors salivate.

As Roseanne, John Goodman, Laurie Metcalf, Sara Gilbert, Sarah Chalke, Michael Fishman and other cast members took their final bows and accepted bouquets of flowers, an army of television crews swarmed onto the stage to record the historic moment. But as the champagne flowed, the celebration was unexpectedly low-key.

At the center of the quiet storm stood Roseanne, speaking matter-of-factly to her interviewers on feeling tired but proud of what she had accomplished with the series. But there were no tears, no grand announcements or sweeping gestures, no detectable signs of nostalgia.

This was a moment for which Roseanne had long prepared and steeled herself. A few days later, as she sat in the West Los Angeles office of her manager, Jeff Wald, she still seemed somewhat detached when expressing her feelings during those final moments.

"I had already made peace with the fact last summer that it was ending, and I had enjoyed every minute of this year," Roseanne said. "I just realized all along that it was going to be over. I had been expecting this for a long time, so, no, I didn't feel sad or overwhelmed or anything."

But nearly a week after the finale, Roseanne indicated in another interview that there were more feelings under the surface than she had wanted to acknowledge.

As it turned out, it had been too hard for her to say goodbye.

The finality of it all didn't hit Roseanne until she did a guest shot on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" and was caught off-guard by a series of taped farewell messages from her co-stars.

"The frozen part of me is now starting to thaw," she said after the Winfrey show, which aired last week. "I was trying not to feel emotional. I'm not comfortable with expressing that. It's been a struggle not to feel emotional for a couple of years. I miss them already. I'm just so grateful that I shared such an important part of my life with these people."

She paused, then added, "Now I gotta go out and live a little. Now all that's gone."

Yes, there will be a vacation with her third husband, Ben Thomas, plus more time to spend with her five children, including toddler Buck, who was born in August 1995.

And there will be time for reflection. Known for exhibiting a fiery temperament at times, Roseanne, 44, now seems to be largely at peace with herself, secure about her life and her television legacy, which began when she performed her stand-up routine on "The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson" in August 1985.

"I did more things than anybody had ever done on TV," she said. "I broke through so many barriers that probably only I know what they are. And that is great. I moved the center to the left. I forced the networks to read demographics in ways that were women-friendly, which they had never done before."

She said she is also proud of her own personal growth: "I got put in a blender for a while and was shook up. But it all came out better in the end than it was in the beginning. Internally, I figured out a lot of things about myself, and I grew a lot. I was able to give a lot to my kids. It was incredible."

But those who thought--or hoped--that Roseanne might go gentle into that good night have not been paying attention to her. Although the curtain has fallen on "Roseanne," it is just beginning to rise again on Roseanne. And the star is flying high--literally and figuratively.

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