Move Over Oprah And Rosie - Here Comes Roseanne

Come fall, the queen of blue-collar comedy aims to take talk-show TV a step further

Roseanne's book club? The newest talk-show host to enter the afternoon fray doesn't rule it out, but copying formats from one of those other well-known TV women isn't in the plan. Elevating the medium is.

"A lot of television shows have shown us how low we can go," Roseanne announced last week to a gathering of the Television Critics Association (TCA) in Pasadena, Calif. "I'd like to go the opposite way," she continued, "and see how high we can go."

The stand-up comedienne who performed TV alchemy with blue-collar family life by mining serious social issues of the day, lifted herself and her eponymous sitcom into the annals of television history. Now, she intends to step out from behind the shadow of her TV character, Roseanne Conner, and tackle those same topics through direct interaction with her guests and audience.

Show producer Eddie October says Roseanne is the next wave in the sea change for daytime TV that began with Oprah Winfrey's show.

"Oprah sensed a change in what audiences wanted," muses Mr. October. She saw that there was a demand for a level of content higher than the tabloid format shows such as Jerry Springer and Geraldo Rivera, he explains, and successfully exploited it, most notably through her own book club.

Following Oprah's lead, says October, Rosie O'Donnell revived the notion of feel-good TV talk shows. "Roseanne will continue that trend and take it a step further," adds her producer.

While the image of Roseanne joining a "women's reformation movement" of daytime TV may raise more than a few eyebrows, industry observers say it may be a stroke of programming genius.

Irv Letofsky of The Hollywood Reporter comments that while the former sitcom star may have some initial image problems, she could not have gotten where she is without being an astute observer of human nature.

"She may have to overcome resistance to the public perception of who she is," he adds.

Roseanne made television history once, agrees Jim Kearney, a member of the communication-arts faculty at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles who also anchors "Air Talk," a weekly public-radio show about television. The queen of blue-collar comedy can certainly do it again, he notes.

"She was a breath of fresh air in the '80s," he says. At a time when most Los Angeles-based writers were churning out fantasies about high-salaried law firms and fabulously fit female lifeguards, Roseanne interjected an authentic voice about a struggling segment of society, one that hadn't been heard from with such honesty and humor.

She's an important figure in television history with a wonderful "voice," points out Mr. Kearney.

Her challenge will be to establish the same sort of connection with her audience without the protection of a fictional character while avoiding the sort of sensational personal gaffes that plagued the private Roseanne during much of her reign as queen of prime-time TV. Kearney says the comic has a chance to have a significant impact on the tone of daytime TV.

The syndicated show is scheduled to debut Sept. 14. Few details about its line-up have been released, but host Roseanne says she intends to find ways to bring issues such as parenting and children's concerns to the table.

While the host herself worries over the specifics, syndicator Michael King of King World sees her show as a potential powerhouse, not just for his own pocketbook, but for the culture at large.

"She took sitcoms in a new direction," he notes, adding that this is the expectation for her new talk show.

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