How 'Roseanne' invented the Halloween episode

Kimberly Potts
Writer, Yahoo Entertainment
John Goodman and Roseanne Barr in the “BOO!” episode of Roseanne (Photo: ABC)

Pretty much every sitcom on the air today does a Halloween episode, complete with characters decked out in ridiculously elaborate costumes. It’s a tradition that owes a lot to ABC’s classic sitcom Roseanne — though during the show’s first season back in 1988, the network balked at the Conner family’s celebration of all things kooky, spooky, and ooky.

“For a while, they refused to let us have a Halloween episode, because they said the Bible Belt doesn’t like Halloween, that they think it’s satanic, so they didn’t want it on ABC,” Roseanne Barr tells Yahoo Entertainment. “And we’re like, ‘Are you crazy? People trick-or-treat, you know. It’s a big holiday. They were very kind of fundamentalist about it, but you know, that was the first dragon we slayed on the Roseanne show.”

Roseanne Barr in the “BOO!” episode of Roseanne (Photo: ABC)

The first Halloween episode, “BOO!, debuted 28 years ago. “I always liked playing a witch,” explains Barr. “And my birthday is right after Halloween, on November 3, so I always would carry over Halloween to my birthday. My birthday cake always had a witch on it, just because it was leftover sh*t from Halloween, but I liked it.”

And her love of the holiday carried over to the Conners, who went all out with decorations, elaborate costumes, trick-or-treat goodies, and, most memorably, annual competitions to see who could play the best tricks or scare each other the most. “John Goodman made it up. John said the reason the Conners were poor is because they spent all their money on Halloween,” Barr says with a laugh.

John Goodman in the “BOO!” episode of Roseanne (Photo: ABC)

“BOO!” set the standard for future Roseanne Halloween installments, with the Conners using everything from their kitchen table to their washing machine to turn their Lanford home into a haunted house for trick-or-treaters. And it featured the first of Dan and Roseanne’s annual battles of holiday trickery, from Roseanne’s “Fair Maiden of Fright” gag, involving Dan’s potential business client, to Dan, “The Master,” using a hockey mask and chainsaw to surprise Roseanne in the garage. “Darlene dropping dead. That wasn’t in there [originally],” says director John Pasquin. “That was something that we came up with in rehearsal, and she just, like a shot, dropped over. And the reveal of Laurie Metcalf in the tray underneath the kitchen table was great. … The whole cast just invested so much into the episode.”

Laurie Metcalf in the “BOO!” episode of Roseanne (Photo: ABC)

“My favorite is the one-upsmanship between Roseanne and Dan,” continues Pasquin, who has since directed Halloween episodes of Home Improvement, George Lopez, Freddie, Soul Man, Last Man Standing, and Cristela. “I’ve been married for 35 years [to actress JoBeth Williams]. This is the kind of thing that actually does go on in your household when you have a couple who is playful, just trying to get the better of your mate. That was such a nice through-line, apart from all of the dressing up, and the makeup and the hair and all that stuff… a couple really just having fun and trumping each other.”

Sandra Bernhard, John Goodman, and Roseanne Barr in the “Halloween IV” episode of Roseanne (Photo: ABC)

Barr says her favorite costume from the Halloween episodes — which the show did every subsequent year through its nine-season run — was the wig, facial stubble, and purple suit she donned to play Prince in Season 7’s “Skeleton in the Closet.” “I think I was a good Prince,” she says. “I have that costume still. I kept all the costumes from the Halloween shows.”

Today, the actress and comedian continues to indulge her love of Halloween. She throws an annual Halloween bash for the public at the Kamuela Museum she owns in Hawaii, and makes sure the kids who knock on the door of her studio offices in El Segundo, Calif., get the good candy in their trick-or-treat bags. “I like to go to Costco and spend like $800 on the good stuff,” says Barr. “Nice chocolate and suckers.”

The Roseanne revival will debut in 2018 on ABC.

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