#ThrowbackThursday: Roseanne Turns 25

by Elissa Blattman, Project Assistant

Roseanne premiered on television on October 18, 1988 – 25 years ago tomorrow.  During its first season, it was second in the ratings behind only The Cosby Show.  By its second season, it was number one.  It spent six of its nine seasons in the top five.  Not bad for a show that told the proverbial sitcom family to shove off.

Roseanne was a groundbreaking sitcom on many levels.  It dealt with issues such as domestic violence, child abuse, birth control, teen pregnancy, drugs, racial prejudice, body image, mental illness, and family dysfunction.  It did so, sometimes for the first time in primetime, in a way that felt real and honest to many viewers.  It had two homosexual regular characters, and was the first show to promote LGBT rights, the first to feature a lesbian kiss (1994) and the first to feature a gay marriage (1995).

What Roseanne is best remembered for, though, is its portrayal of the working-class, like no other TV family had since All in the Family.  Unlike All in the Family’s Archie Bunker, however, Roseanne’s main character was matriarch Roseanne Conner, a strong, feminist, working-class, hard working, second shift tackling, “pink collar” mother of three who refused to play a losing hand with the cards life dealt her family.

The Conner family, Roseanne, husband Dan, and kids Becky, Darlene, and DJ, go through and work through their hard times, which are often, together.  Roseanne and Dan struggle to pay their bills, work many unsteady and unglamorous jobs, sometimes work two or more jobs at a time, and know what it is like to have to stand in the unemployment line.  In the middle of the series, they learn what it is like to go into business for yourself and fail when the motorcycle shop Dan opens goes under.  They also later learn what it is like to go into business for yourself and do okay and just get by when Roseanne and her sister Jackie start their own restaurant.  They live their lives, going to work everyday without having the luxury of knowing that one day it will be over and they can spend their older years in blissful retirement.  They do it for their children, hoping that one day they can have a better life than theirs.  They are also able to see their daughter Darlene turn down a job that pays more than both Roseanne and Dan could ever dream of making.

The Conner’s family unit completely clashes with previous sitcom families and the show thrives on that.  In one episode of Roseanne, Roseanne Barr, playing herself, meets other TV moms Barbara Billingsley (Leave it to Beaver), Isabelle Sanford (The Jeffersons), Alley Mills (The Wonder Years), Pat Crowley (Please Don’t Eat the Daisies), and June Lockhart (Lassie), and they all are shocked to find out about Roseanne and her family.

Join in on the conversation!  Post comments below, on Facebook, or Tweet us @womenshistory using the hashtags #ThrowbackThursday and #TBT.

Sources:

The Baltimore Sun

Bettie, Julie. “Class Dismissed? Roseanne and the Changing Face of Working-Class Iconography.” Social Text. Duke University Press, 1995.

New York Magazine

New York Times

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