Thursday, May 31, 2018

My feud with Roseanne -- a look back

Since a number of you referenced this, and at the time it actually made all the papers, I thought I would re-post my celebrated blog fight with Roseanne.  This was from May 2011.  Links are provided to previous articles.  Thanks to reader Kris for finding Roseanne's rebuttal.  Also read some of the comments her readers posted.   

To get you up to speed if you're not familiar with the story, she wrote (or someone ghost wrote) an article for NEW YORK magazine in which she claimed her life story was "stolen" from her, she was mistreated on the set because she's a woman, the show's creator didn't deserve credit -- in short she was a tragic victim.   Many readers asked me to comment, which I did.  You can link to my original article.  Roseanne then countered with a barrage of personal insults.  What follows is my response.  

This is what ABC was buying and they knew it going in.  But the potential upside was huge.   I suspect their hope was they could get in a couple of years before the inevitable implosion.   But unchecked craziness doesn't get better over time; it gets worse.  So let's go back to simpler days when I was called an "Asshat" and she was crazy but not harmful. 

Wow! Roseanne reads my blog! Cool! In her blog she posted a rebuttal to a piece I wrote last week about her article in New York magazine. Here’s what I wrote. And on Sunday she offered her rebuttal.  You can find that here.

It’s silly to even get into a debate. I’d say the madness and paranoia of her rant speaks for itself. My reaction to it was sadness. She’s battling enormous demons. For all of her gifts and talent, that’s a steep price to pay.

I hope someday she finds some happiness in her life.

One loose end.  In her blog post she wrote this:

I took responsiblity for bad behavior, but explained that the bad behavior was during a nervous breakdown brought on by having to work in a hostile work environment, and I am pretty sure that women who have worked for you in the past (if indeed there were ANY) worked in a hostile work environment. Let me know, women writers out there--how were you treated on Ken Levine's staff?

Two women writers who worked with me and for me responded -- Robin Schiff, who was the co-creator and co-showrunner of ALMOST PERFECT with David Isaacs and I, and Linda Teverbaugh who was a producer on that show.    Also, I received a note from Laurie Gelman.  Not to stir the pot but she was the first woman producer of ROSEANNE season one.  Her account of that first year is markedly different from Roseanne's.  You decide.    My thanks to Robin, Linda, and Laurie. 

And again, Roseanne, you asked.  Let me just conclude by saying if you're reading this in Hawaii, I wish you aloha, trade winds, and anything to bring you some peace.  

From Robin Schiff:
I am a women writer who has worked with Ken Levine on three different occasions. Although he begged me to say nice things about him, I have to be honest and talk about my true experience.

Several (okay, many) years ago, I brought Ken and his partner David Isaacs an idea for a TV series. At the time, I didn’t have the experience (or cachet) to make it happen on my own. Ken and David loved the idea, which was about a strong, successful, likable, complex, opinionated woman trying to juggle a happening career with a satisfying lovelife. Not only did Ken and David get behind the fictional version of the woman, they instantly embraced the “real version” (me) as an equal and true partner. They were also my mentors, making sure I learned every aspect of producing. What they taught me was life-changing, giving me the tools to go on and have a career as one of a handful of female show runners. There are many sexist guys in the business, but Ken Levine is not one of them. The most sexist thing he ever did was blather on about baseball with the other men in the room despite the fact that I was visibly bored. Hardly grounds for a lynching.

One final thought. I totally agree with Roseanne that there is rampant sexism in the industry. A couple of weeks ago, the WGAw released its executive summary finding that (in addition to dismal stats for ethnically diverse or older writers), women comprise only 28% of working writers. We still make less money than men. All you have to do is look at the writers onstage accepting Emmys for late night talk shows and sitcoms to see that women comedy writers are on the endangered list.

That being said, it undermines the validity of a very real issue for all women anytime a woman explains away what might simply be fallout from her own actions by charging it up to sexism. Maybe Matt Williams should have given Roseanne a co-created-by credit for Roseanne. I can’t comment on that. But to say that this was because she was a woman doesn’t hold water since Matt Williams also took a sole created by credit on Home Improvement – which was based on Tim Allen’s stand-up act. I empathize with how unfairly Roseanne feels she was treated. But sexist? I would love to know how many female executive producers Roseanne employed on her own show. Did she foster talented women writers and empower them to become showrunners like Ken Levine and David Isaacs did with me? Just wondering…

From Linda Teverbaugh:

I hate to say it, being a great admirer of "Roseanne," the series (much of it, anyway), but Roseanne, the person, is talking out of her own asshat. She's right about one thing: She did hire standup friends as writers on the series. Tom Arnold's buddies, too. I know this because I'm a female writer from a blue-collar family who got screwed out of a job as a result. Thank you, Sister Woman. It was, however, my great good fortune to work for Ken shortly thereafter. Ken doesn't share Roseanne's fixation on "getting credit," so he'd never bring this up. But too bad, Ken, I'm going to: While Roseanne was literally farting on table drafts, throwing out scripts left and right, and as a consequence, holding all the writers' lives hostage, Ken busted his ass to keep the "Almost Perfect" room running efficiently, which meant keeping peace with the stage, the studio, the network, and all the other havoc makers who make sitcom hours exhausting or impossible. As far as I know he did not do this by threatening anyone with scissors. Instead, he made it possible for this working mother to leave work when the Paramount day-care center closed for the day, take my toddler son home and give him dinner. It meant the world to me, and, of all the female sitcom writers I know with kids, I'm one of the rare ones who ever got support like that. Sorry Roseanne, but that's fucking feminism.

And by the way, if Roseanne wanted "created by" credit, she needed to sit down with Matt Williams and help break and write the story for the pilot. That's what Drew Carey did with Bruce Helford.

And finally, from Laurie Gelman:

It didn’t take long for me to get a taste of the staggering sexism and class bigotry that would make the first season of Roseanne god-awful.

This makes me laugh every time I read it. I don’t know how she defines sexism, but she is one of the biggest perpetrators I have ever met. I was the first female writer producer on Roseanne and she absolutely refused to acknowledge me -- on stage or in the room. No eye contact. Nothing. She’s one of these women ( and I’m sure lots of your female writer friends can relate to this type) who likes to be the only woman in the room and play up to all the men. I was actually astounded by this because I expected her to be just the opposite. Now if you were below the line and kissing her tuchas to keep your job, you may have gotten another one of her many personalities, but this is a woman who is definitely threatened by smart, funny women and has to alpha dog all competitors. By the way, if the first season was so god-awful, how did we make it to number 1?

It was at the premiere party when I learned that my stories and ideas—and the
ideas of my sister and my first husband, Bill—had been stolen.

Really???? People actually broke into their minds and took them???? I was on the show from the rewriting of the pilot in New York all the way through the first season. There was never any point where Matt Williams did not include Roseanne in the creative process and actually want her input. In fact, I have never worked with an EP more inclusive or fair ( or nicer) than Matt Williams. He bent over backwards to please her. We made it a point to bring her into the room and get her take on every idea before we laid out the stories. Obviously, we also accommodated her notes on all the drafts. Additionally, Matt permitted her husband Bill Pentland to sit in on all the rewrite tables, thus giving her additional insurance that the Roseanne take on things was being adequately addressed.

The pilot was screened, and I saw the opening credits for the first time, which included this: CREATED BY MATT WILLIAMS. I was devastated and felt so betrayed that I stood up and left the party.

Great. More food for us.


Kris said...

Anyone interested in reading Rosanne's original 'reply' to Ken, can find it in the Internet Archive:

E. Yarber said...

The writing workplace can not function as group therapy. An insane asylum, perhaps, but not group therapy.

I like working with women. They generally don't get into the cowboy mindset I find with guys trying to impress me with their attitude more than their writing. Unfortunately, I've gotten stuck with some females who wanted to impress me with their suffering more than their writing.

You know you're in trouble when someone feels it's necessary that you know about their childhood abuse ten minutes after you've met them. While I can be very sympathetic to someone's pain, this is not about sharing. They don't care an atom about my own backstory. What it's about is defining a work relationship in terms of having to make up for completely unrelated events from their past. When I asked one such case for a rewrite, she screamed at me that no one had ever said such cruel things to her before.

My social skills are somewhere between a scale of zero and negative ten, but I don't think the greatest psychologist on earth (Bob Hartley?) could break through a tantrum of that sort. Nor was I intended to. This was simply cheap manipulation used to control the creative process because these complainers simply weren't very good writers. At the risk of sounding like a soulless fiend, I had to learn to simply disregard their personal tragedy because they had turned it into something toxic, selfishly wanting to make everyone feel as miserable as themselves. Suffice to say that these collaborations always crashed and burned because these chronic victims weren't bringing anything to the work, only draining me emotionally.

If you've had a hard time, I'll listen. Might even pay for a cup of coffee. But it's hard enough trying to sell a script without getting a cup full of bile thrown in my face to boot.

Annie C. said...

I missed Roseanne's rise. At the time her show premiered, I was dealing with a new baby with colic. I think I got the better of the deal.

While I am a conservative and disagree with much of your politics, Ken, I admire your passion, your writing, and your humor. I also respect your integrity.

I can't seem to find any integrity in the rise and fall (and rise and fall) of Roseanne. She is all over the map politically, emotionally and professionally and seems more unhinged day by day. Personally, I thought she was done when she grabbed her crotch while singing the National Anthem.

Watching her implode over and over again by her own hand is sad, It's sad for any human being whether I agree with them or not.

I don't begrudge your piling on. She put you in her crosshairs and deserved everything she got. Still, she seems like one of those people that desperately needs help and just as desperately refuses it.

I've met plenty of snake-spitting mean people in my 60 years. I always end up feeling sorry for them. Although it's very uncharitable of me, I sometimes hope the pity hurts worse than spitting back.

blinky said...

What exactly is an ass hat?
Whatever it is Rosanne is likely to wear one. What a maroon!

Shane Lind said...

Okay, I'm skipping this post and will check back tomorrow. Nothing personal, Ken. Just that to be perfectly honest, I'm so over Roseanne right now I don't care if I never read another word about her.

Dr Loser said...

I knew you were going to review this history, Ken.

And good on yer, because it was fun and it was apposite and you hit the nail right on the head back then and unfortunately the ABC execs didn't listen to you.

And it is still fun and it is still apposite and you are still hitting the nail right on the head. Thank you, both times.

Lisa said...

That rebuttal link is not opening.

Mike Bloodworth said...

In my past writing classes and collaborations I have known several, excellent, female writers. Many of whom I would have loved to have worked with on a writing staff. Most of the "sexist" complaints weren't about how they were treated, more as to the situations. That is, "Why are we always the 'girlfriend' or 'secretary' or the 'daughter?'" Etc. When they stated their concerns, we the males, made a sincere effort to change how we wrote. I admit that at least at that time comedy writing was still kind of a boys club. However, most of the women already knew that going in. The best of them were able to adapt and we respected them for it. As to the Roseanne situation, when I was in radio, I had a problem with one of my female superiors. She, of course, said it was because I was sexist. And I maintain that it was because of the way she did her job. I suppose it could have been a little bit of both. We eventually worked out our differences. So, it is possible that Roseanne may not have gotten the adoration she deserved. But, at the same time she did very little to build the trust and respect to create a non-hostile work environment. I don't know if men and women will ever see eye to eye on everything. But, at least we can make an effort.

Kosmo13 said...

I think an ass hat is something worn on the re-butt-al

Unknown said...

Love it.

Andrew said...

Dr. Loser, I'm glad to see you're back in good health. You were starting to write in all caps when you commented on the last post. I was worried you were using Ambien.

Dr Loser said...

@Mike B
You might not have noticed this, but apparently this unpleasant little farrago is nothing to do with "men and women ever seeing eye to eye on everything."

Apparently, at least three women who worked with Roseanne didn't see "eye to eye" with her. Of course, I might be misrepresenting the evidence very clearly and extensively presented by Ken on this point. I'm probably just smoking hallucinogenic mushrooms.

But, candidly -- I think you're entirely missing the point here.

Edward said...

There are online rumblings about bringing back "Roseanne" without Roseanne Barr.

What do you think about that Ken?

Would the name of the new show without the primary lead be called "After R*O*S*E*A*N*N*E"?

Please hold your laughter.

Thank you in advance.

Steve Lanzi (formerly known as qdpsteve) said...

Ken, thought you and your readers would find this interesting. Apparently Roseanne did NOT run her writers' room on the current series, like she did in the 1980s/90s (thank God). This person in particular sounds sorry the show is going away, even though he also understands what the star of his show did is unacceptable. (And PS, apologies if this has already been posted in one of the Roseanne comment sections here.)

Janet Ybarra said...

One wonders how all the apparently bice, decent people (ie John Goodman, et Al) put up with her for so long.

The upside to the cancellation is that at least Laurie Metcalf could be more available again to play Sheldon's mom on THE BIG BANG THEORY.

D McEwan said...

So I reread the original column linked to, and the comments, and within my one of my own comments I found this paragraph, dated 5/24/2011:

"If Donald Trump changes his mind, and decides to run for president after all, Roseanne could re-enter show business by replacing him on The Apprentice, since "You're Fired!" was her catch phrase first.."

How scarily prescient was I? He did and she came back. I just got the show wrong. Sometimes I hate being right.

VP81955 said...

Well, May 24, 2011 was a few weeks after the White House Correspondents' Dinner, where Obama cracked some jokes about Trump, probably thinking Donald would go along with the jokes a la a roast. Little did he -- or we -- know how intensely the Trumpster holds a grudge.

Tim G said...

I relished Ken's schadenfreude and in between the cancellation of her show and the appearance of his column, I couldn't wait to read what he would have to say.

Every time I read Ken, I feel like something has been righted, which is no small feat in our day and age.

I've never liked Roseanne's public image, lazy except for a relentless energy to argue and bray, and what always sounded to me like deliberate mispronunciation to win over people who think that education is too fancy.

Glad her show is gone but this is going to fuel even more conspiracy BS in her weird mind.

On a positive note, thanks for your daily observations, Ken.

Dr Loser said...

@Steve Lanzi:
Not sure what point you're trying to make with your cite:

It's basically an apologia pro cock-up mea by a Writer's Assistant called Ryan Kemp. That's it. That's the whole fifteen paragraphs..

It screams out "I'm loyal, I carry the water, I hear what you're saying, please re-employ me." But it doesn't really address the problem at any point whatsoever -- say, mentioning comments about monkeys.

Choice quote:
"The more I think about it, the more I think [the ‘Roseanne’ cancellation] is actually in line with what the show promised."

If I were Ryan, I would stop thinking and go back to shuffling data entry cards, which was basically what his job entailed.

mike said...

D. McEwan, May 23, 2011--'Sorry, I got lost in bliss contemplating a dead T.' Heh.

Anonymous said...

Tim G, Me too! I checked "by Ken Levine" a gazillion times after the announcement. Julie, Burlington, Iowa

Mike Barer said...

Roseanne is just one of the less pleasant things about our culture.

I I Will Do Viral Spotify Promotion said...

B. D. Cent said...

Dr Loser
Your contempt for a young man (Ryan Kemp) in a Writer’s Assistant position is disgusting. I assume you are a renowned writer dripping with success who simply cannot abide some lowly staff member having an opinion—even though the most successful writers start out in beginning positions. I pity any staff member who ever worked for you.

Steve Lanzi, thank you for the article. It is always enlightening to hear what all levels of staff and crew think of shows they have worked on.

This is not to say that Roseanne didn’t get exactly what she deserved.

Mark said...

I don’t like Trump either, but I don’t wish him dead. And that comment is from someone who goes around calling people “monsters” if they don’t support stem cell research or support Republican candidates. Talk about mentally ill.