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Roseanne Unchained

September 13, 1998|GREG BRAXTON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It's not even noon yet, but inside her new office at CBS' Television City in Los Angeles, Roseanne is already shaking.

No, it's not her temper, as some who witnessed her meteoric and stormy rise as a television power broker with her groundbreaking "Roseanne" series might assume.

And it's also not trepidation, even though the actress-comedian is stepping into the heavily competitive and treacherous field of daytime talk shows. Among the recent performers who have gone before her into the arena, only to fall on their faces, were Marilu Henner, George Hamilton, Suzanne Somers and Gabrielle Cateris.

No, the shaking has to do with the nonstop flow of ideas about what she wants to accomplish with her new venture, "The Roseanne Show," which premieres Monday.

"I'm on fire," declares the slimmed-down entertainer. "This is so cool. I never sleep. I go around shaking all the time--I feel all this intense energy. I'm in a free creative space, trying to get to real freedom."

And she is determined not to let the cliched traditions and restrictions of the daytime talk show genre stand in her way. She says she wants to reinvent standard talk shows, where celebrities come on mainly to plug their latest projects, then leave.

"I don't need to get people who have been on eight other talk shows," Roseanne says as she brushes back her new hairdo. "I don't want those people unless they have something positive to say, unless they can contribute hope, unless they can offer something. I'm sick of everything being torn down."

Don't get her wrong. "The Roseanne Show" will feature celebrities, as well as comedy bits and recurring characters. Despite her serious tone, Roseanne is still a comic at heart.

But she is more focused on providing an informational--and even spiritual--forum for the exchange of ideas. With the uncertainty of a new millennium around the corner, she wants her show to serve as a hopeful vehicle that will help people of different cultures and religions understand one another better.

"Just having the free exchange of ideas is exciting," Roseanne says. "I want to have on contributing members of society . . . and mothers. We want to explore children's issues. I never thought I would ever feel this ignited at this level. Information can change lives."

One example of what Roseanne is trying to accomplish took place during a recent taping in which basketball "bad boy" Dennis Rodman appeared. Roseanne teasingly asked Rodman to remove his large hat and sunglasses, but Rodman repeatedly refused. Roseanne just snatched the hat off at one point, which surprised but did not anger Rodman as he rubbed his luminously dyed hair.

Moments later, Roseanne surprised Rodman, who in June had paid for the burial of James Byrd Jr., an African American man who was murdered when three white men allegedly dragged him and dismembered him in a racially motivated attack. Two of Byrd's sisters came on the show to thank Rodman and to give him a special certificate. Even behind his sunglasses, he was noticeably touched.

"What happened with that whole segment was real television, and that's what we're trying to do," says Jeff Wald, Roseanne's manager and one of the syndicated series' executive producers. "She has this warmth and kindness. She'll allow guests to have a forum to get through their ideas, but she also wants to see what makes them laugh and makes them think."

"The Roseanne Show" is being produced and distributed by King World, which also produces and distributes "The Oprah Winfrey Show," the elite of the talk field. Under terms of King World's contract with stations, "The Roseanne Show" can never air against Winfrey or Rosie O'Donnell's program.

"We're not in competition with them," says Michael King, vice chairman and chief executive officer of King World Productions Inc. "This show is very different from 'Oprah' or any other talk show. Roseanne has been one of the most sought-after guests on these shows. Moreover, she's a tremendous listener and good audience for other performers. Roseanne has been in so many fields, and she's bringing the same kind of commitment to this format that she has in all the others. She has more to lose doing this than King World, and she's giving it more than 100%."

Roseanne says she is more comfortable with herself these days as a person, an entertainer and a parent, and she is anxious to share that with her audience. "At last I can say who I really am," she said. "I don't have to worry about what people think about me any more. It was always there. I don't have the need to camouflage. I've always believed in God, and now I have this great hope, without all of the cynical self-destructive crap I hid under."

Despite her popularity and past success, Roseanne says she is still amazed that the new show will allow her not only to be on TV all over the country but also in 32 other countries. She is also particularly pleased and proud that three of her grown daughters are on the show's staff.

And among one of her dream shows would be a reunion of the "Roseanne" cast. She has seen little of them since the ABC comedy ended last year.

"I really miss them," she says. "I'll always love them."

"The Roseanne Show" airs weekdays at 10 a.m. on KNBC-TV Channel 4.

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