Bruce Helford hopes audiences can separate the actress from her on-screen persona.
While many online and in the media have been trumpeting Roseanne Barr's controversial political views and sketchy behavior in the past -- like dressing as Hitler for an unearthed photo shoot -- as reason not to tune in for ABC's megahit revival of her classic sitcom, co-showrunner Bruce Helford wants to remind everyone that Roseanne Conner is not Roseanne Barr.
"Everybody's got the right to say what they're gonna say and that's not what ['Roseanne'] is," Helford told The Hollywood Reporter. "The show is not representing her personal politics. The Conners were Bill Clinton voters back in the day. Those people have very heavily shifted toward Trump. We did our due diligence on what all that would be about." He said he believes the Conners are realistic representations of the Midwest viewpoint.
As for those controversial pictures, which showed Barr, who is of Jewish heritage, as Hitler baking gingerbread men, Helford admitted he didn't really know the story behind them. "I know that Roseanne is a very staunch supporter of Israel and she has said as much," he said. "I imagine there's probably some amount of parody involved and all that."
The 2009 photo shoot was for a Jewish satire magazine, Heeb, which said of their intentions, "Our editors couldn't help but wonder whether something new was happening in the culture -- whether the taboo against joking about the Holocaust and the Nazis exerted as much power as it used to. Certainly Jews have been joking about the Holocaust since the Holocaust."
The images raised a bit of an uproar then, as everything Barr does seems to do, and again as the premiere of the revived show loomed. In fact, her personal politics often overshadowed discussion of the show itself in recent months, and became even more prominently discussed when it was revealed that Roseanne Conner voted Trump just as Barr did.
"We never set out to be a show about politics," Helford said. "We set out to be a show about the Conners and how the current political climate affects the family. ... There is no agenda here, in any direction. The idea is to present all sides of the dialogue."
Helford said that if the show has any sort of agenda, it's certainly not a political one, instead it's to explore how the vitriolic political landscape is trickling down to the middle class, and encourage a more civil discourse, no matter your personal political views.
"Everybody, including Roseanne, wanted the show to be balanced," he said. "When we talk about wanting to open a dialogue in America, that's something that the show does. We're not trying to perform brain surgery or cure cancer. We all hoped that this would open a dialogue where people would start laughing at themselves a little bit, get a little less polarized and realize that this is a universal conversation."
Helford teased some other upcoming storylines on the series, which has already covered the political divide, gender identity and modern parenting. But he promised, "It's not going to be 'issue of the week,' but we definitely cover a lot of topics that people in America are dealing with everyday."
- "This season, we'll also deal with opioids. You can see some of the beginnings of that storyline in this episode with the chair. We'll be dealing with that and the healthcare issues that surround that."
- "You're going to meet DJ's wife in an episode coming up this season via Skype from Afghanistan."
- "We hope to bring her into the fold and bring her home, if not permanently, at least for a break to visit the family and see the interaction of DJ's wife and daughter and Roseanne as well as DJ's family with his wife's family."
- Heflord said to "just keep watching" when asked about the racism of many working-class white families. "We do deal with aspects of how the Conners perceive people who are different than they are."
As for the future, "Roseanne" has already been picked up for another season, but none of the stars had signed beyond this one. So while Helford is hopeful for a spot on the fall schedule, he's realistic that it might not happen.