The Five-Second Sale
To Sara Gilbert’s surprise, all of her Roseanne costars said yes to a reboot — and so did an eager ABC. Now an exec producer as well as an actress, she’s sold on helping shape the show.
Robert Trachtenberg /ABC
Sara Gilbert is busy.
So busy, in fact, that she accidentally double-booked the time slot for this interview. "I knew I had something, because I set up another call for a meeting at eight," she says, after apologizing for a last-minute rescheduling. "I was like, 'I feel like I already have something then, don't I?'"
This conversation is taking place on a Sunday, which may be part of the problem. "I think I'm pretty comfortable multi-tasking at work. At home, I lose focus and I'm not great at it. But work brings out my stronger side of attention."
Work is currently demanding plenty of Gilbert's attention. Most mothers with a toddler underfoot (Rhodes Emilio, her son with music producer Linda Perry; Gilbert also has two children with ex Allison Adler) might be overwhelmed by the laundry alone, but Gilbert has made room for a dizzying slate of projects.
The vegan and environmentalist is still a cohost on The Talk, the CBS daytime chat show she created and executive-produces. She also has a recurring role as a pesky office worker on the new CBS sitcom Living Biblically, executive-produced by The Big Bang Theory's Johnny Galecki, her longtime friend and former costar on Roseanne.
Gilbert was 13 when she landed her breakout role on that show as Darlene Conner, the daughter with the deadpan delivery. Now Roseanne, which aired on ABC from 1988 to 1997, is getting a nine-episode reboot starting March 27, and this time she has both acting and executive-producing duties.
In fact, the first glimmer that revisiting that classic sitcom was a possibility came when John Goodman, who played dad Dan Conner, was a guest on The Talk. "I had been thinking about it," Gilbert says, "but I just didn't think everyone would do it. When he said he would, I thought, 'Well, maybe people will.'"
Series star Roseanne Barr soon got on board, as did the rest of the cast. "It was like a domino effect, where everybody said yes," she says, still sounding incredulous at her luck. "We sold it in five seconds, and that was it."
For Gilbert, returning as a grownup Darlene (now married to onetime boyfriend David, played by Galecki) was a given — as was producing. "It's great to be producing, because I feel so protective of the project. So for that reason, I'm happy to have a voice in shaping it," she says. Still, "it's a little strange to suddenly be a producer on something that I was just an actor on as a kid."
Her protectiveness extends to the cast ("If anything, I can be a voice for them") and retaining the original series' working-class perspective. Though secrecy surrounds how some tricky plot points from the original will be handled, such as Dan's death in the final season, we do know the Conners are still in the same shabby house. Even the afghan-covered sofa makes a comeback.
"That was really important to me, that we stay lower middle class," Gilbert says. "We're lucky enough to be able to look back at nine seasons and see where our sweet spot was, and try to recapture that."
For Gilbert, Roseanne is an opportunity to use a well-honed skill set. "I've learned over the years, just as a woman, you sometimes have to speak up, stand up for what you believe in and fight for it when it makes sense. As a producer, you also have to know when to stand down and let somebody else's opinion run."
She pauses, thinking. "I feel in some ways I can be a gatekeeper for what something is supposed to be. I am so passionate about being a part of every piece of it."
This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 2, 2018