Marcy Carsey Talks ‘Roseanne’: ‘I Am Very Proud of the Show We Did Originally’

Marcy CarseyHammer Museum's Gala in the Garden, Arrivals, Los Angeles, USA - 14 Oct 2017
Matt Baron/REX/Shutterstock

Marcy Carsey, who produced the original “Roseanne” series, as well as “The Cosby Show,” took time to address controversies surrounding the stars at the ATX Television Festival Friday.

“I am very proud of the show we did originally,” Carsey said. “I didn’t work on this one because I’m not working in television, but I thought the reboot was great work, great job. …A couple hundred people doing really wonderful work — crew, writers — so it’s a shame. …To have that work so well and be so creatively interesting and have it just disappear like that — when everybody thought they had a gig — it’s a shame.”

Carsey said she understands why ABC made the decision to cancel “Roseanne” and is “comfortable with it.” She also acknowledged that ABC is doing a “great job” at diversifying internally, in its executive pool. “I think it’s just not what the network wanted to…represent,” she said. She also pointed out that while the desire is often that work can stand apart from the worker, “as a person, it’s tough” for her to separate the two.

Carsey noted that she’s just an observer now, having retired in 2005. She admitted she would have a “difficult time” trying to reboot the show without Roseanne Barr at the center and ultimately “would not.”

“I think I would just say, ‘OK we had a good run,'” she said. “I would just move on.”

Carsey was at the festival to receive the ATX award in television excellence, which is given to individuals in the industry who have worked on groundbreaking television. In addition to “Roseanne,” Carsey’s notable credits include “A Different World,” “3rd Rock From the Sun,” That ’70s Show,” and “The Cosby Show,” the latter two which also saw scandals around stars with sexual assault allegations against Danny Masterson and Bill Cosby, respectively.

“All I can say is we were so proud [of ‘Roseanne’] and I am still so proud of [‘The Cosby Show’], too,” she said. “It was a life-changer for so many people who have grown up in the decades since.”

Carsey said the impact of “The Cosby Show” for its audience “still stands” but that “life gives you these surprises” with the people involved from time to time.

“The Roseanne political stance? What a surprise. Bill Cosby…all I can say is the guy we worked with, the guy we knew or thought him to be was a…collaborator, very kindhearted. Whenever anyone was sick or had a loss, he was right there. What a shocker. All these decades later to have these revelations, it’s awful. But it happens,” she said.

Carsey did not address allegations against Masterson.

Carsey added that she wanted to “show people something else that’s never been shown before” with both series, but she was never afraid to shut down the show if she came across bad behavior on her sets.

“It’s about the mindset,” she said. “You do your job differently if you walk in with that attitude in your own head — ‘I’m going to do the best job I can possibly do…and if I get fired for that, OK, I’ll find another job.'”

Carsey produced “Roseanne” and “The Cosby Show” through her Carsey-Werner production company with Tom Werner. Before she went independent with Werner, she worked as a comedy executive at ABC developing sitcoms such as “Soap.”

“I wanted a job at ABC because CBS and NBC were not hiring women, really,” she said.

“Michael Eisner hired me. …He was to be my boss’ boss, and he had the final interview. And I had to tell him I was pregnant,” she said. “He said, ‘You know, Jane and I are having a baby around the same time. I’m coming back to work, are you coming back to work?’ I said yes. ‘So why are we talking about this?’ It was 1974.”

Carsey says the key is having a great boss because “you’re going uphill if you don’t have somebody who understands what you need to do, what the core of your job is.”

Her job at the time was to get “one or two comedy hits every year,” according to Eisner. Carsey said Eisner told her to “swing for the trees, shoot for the stars, and do noble failures.”

But Carsey noted that “any hit show can also be a miss.”

One of her first hits was “Soap,” which premiered in 1977, and which she knew was a risk. There was silence in the room after she first screened it, but that risk led to great rewards just a few minutes later when the other execs in the room said “We’ve got to put this on.” It ran until 1981.

Carsey says she left ABC in 1980 because “the management had changed and all the good guys had left.” During her tenure, those good guys had hired mostly women to “run almost everything,” but then the tide turned.

When she left ABC she asked Werner, who she had hired at ABC, to come with her. He stayed for almost a year before she recalled him saying “Get me out of here.” Despite Carsey being offered a blind commitment for a show, it took Carsey-Werner three years before they launched their first big hit (“The Cosby Show” in 1984) because she thought it was more important to be independent and own the rights to their own shows.

When they tried to sell “3rd Rock From the Sun” in the mid-1990s, they set the show up at their old home ABC, but executives there said it was their fifth favorite comedy in a year they only had four slots. So Carsey asked them to release the three-month hold on the show so they could try to sell it elsewhere.

“For the sake of the relationship,” Carsey said she asked. “Because if they didn’t then I’d sell my next show at CBS.”

ABC obliged, but they released the show the day after NBC announced its new fall lineup, assuming NBC was the only place the show could go and now they missed the window. Instead, though, NBC picked it up for midseason.

“The best thing I think I have going for me is my tolerance for risk, and I think that applies to anything you’re doing in your life,” Carsey says. “Nobody’s on their deathbed saying they regret the risks, most people say they should have taken more.”