Roseanne film says something about TV and its audience

October 14, 1994|By MIKE LITTWIN

I was planning to write about the Roseanne movie they had on the Fox network the other night.

Except I couldn't quite bring myself to watch it.

According to my informal poll, nobody watched it.

In fact, nine people out of 10 said they'd rather watch Oliver North massage Chuck Robb than watch a movie about Roseanne.

This doesn't surprise me.

Even in this day of confessional -- when we admit to virtually everything, whether or not it actually happened -- no self-respecting person would freely admit to having watched a movie about the un-self-respecting Roseanne. You'd sooner admit having had a long-standing affair with a chicken. Or even with Newt Gingrich.

Somebody watched, though.

You know who you are, too. So do the Nielsen folks. Even at Fox, they're not dumb enough to make a TV movie that nobody would watch. Of course, they did give us "The Chevy Chase Show," so maybe I'm giving them too much credit.

What excuse could you possibly give for watching the movie? Your remote broke and your TV was surrounded by piranha. Or you thought it was really the FDR biography, and what surprised you most of all was that the people you thought were Franklin and Eleanor got tattoos. (If you did watch "FDR," you know they didn't get tattoos, although -- and this did shock me -- early in their marriage Eleanor once gave Franklin a hickey.)

The thing is, you know that if you admit to watching the Roseanne movie, you're giving away much too much about your misspent, empty, miserable life. Who'd sponsor this show -- Dr. Kevorkian?

Maybe there's a self-help group for you, or a spot on "Ricki Lake," if you could confess your weakness.

There are certain things many of us are loath to admit, like buying the National Enquirer, or calling a 976 number or ever having purchased a Neil Diamond album.

Then there's TV itself. In a recent poll, people admit to watching ++ TV 17 hours a week. Yet, we know that in many houses people watch just the Home Shopping Network more than 17 hours a week.

I'm still trying to picture the household in which "Roseanne" is being watched. You're sitting around in your living room, and you call the family together. "Hey, kids, let's see who really weighs more -- Tom or Roseanne."

The dumbing-down of America is one thing (Forrest Gump, our national hero, has an IQ of 75). But this goes too far. You can see why Allan Bloom goes screaming into the night, quoting Shakespeare.

Here's how dumb we've gotten. Even PBS, home to "Masterpiece Theatre" and other shows with British accents, now has a quiz show. Really. I'm trying to picture that one, too. I'm seeing a "Family Feud" motif: Say the MacNeils on one side, the Lehrers on he other. Question: How many House seats will the Democrats lose in the mid-term elections. Survey says . . .

They'll put anything on TV. I think we know that.

There's no other way to explain the Weather Channel -- who besides Norm Lewis could watch 24 hours of Bermuda highs -- or "Major Dad"?

We had four TV movies about Amy Fisher. We had TV movies about Nancy Kerrigan. There will be, before we're done, at least a dozen O. J. movies.

But Roseanne? Who thought this would be a good idea?

Guess what. The boys at Fox weren't the only ones. So did the boys at NBC, which has a Roseanne movie scheduled for later this season. It's another movie nobody will admit watching.

Fortunately, I was able to get the Cliff's Notes version of the movie. See if you can keep up with the plot line.

Roseanne (then Roseanne Barr, later Roseanne Arnold, now just Roseanne) is molested by her father and turns tricks in the back seat of a car until deciding to become a comedian instead. Coincidentally, Letterman got his start in exactly the same way.

Roseanne is a success. She gets her own show. Meets Tom. Drops her pants at a baseball game. Gets married. Sings National Anthem off key at a baseball game. Gets a tattoo. She and Tom get married to a woman. They all get divorced. Baseball goes on strike. George Will weeps.

OK, so maybe it's not "Casablanca." But there was, I'm told, this piece of dialogue where, near the end, Tom looks deeply into Roseanne's eyes and says: "We'll always have the back seat of your Chevy Nova."

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