'Roseanne' Star Recalls Fight to Air Controversial Same-Sex Kiss Episode

Roseanne ignited serious controversy in 1994 with an episode that depicted a same-sex kiss, and actress Mariel Hemingway still hasn't gotten over the stir the scene caused.

Hemingway, who played a lesbian named Sharon, shocked fans when she passionately kissed Roseanne Conner (Roseanne Barr) in a gay bar during the episode titled, "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

In the show's 220 episodes and counting, it remains one of the most shocking — and controversial — moments.

"I was the girl who wasn't shy about doing something like that," the Oscar-nominated actress told The Hollywood Reporter of creating the sitcom episode. "I knew it would be super fun, and I thought it was a great show. I didn't even think about it, I just knew, this is going to be awesome."

"Don't Ask, Don't Tell" was not the first time a kiss between two women was shown on network television — it had previously been done on a 1991 episode of L.A. Law — but it was the first comedy series to film a same-sex smooch.

THR reports that ABC threatened not to air the episode at the time, noting that the network stood to lose a reported $1 million in ad revenue.

"The religious right was very upset and there were other upset people," Hemingway said. "When you're doing something, you're in it and you don't realize the impact that it will have. But then, it was several weeks later, and they were about to air it, and it was so controversial."

The actress said that Barr demanded to ABC that it would air "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

"Being on that set, you realized that Roseanne was extremely powerful in the television world," the actress revealed. "She got to do what she wanted, and she was used to getting what she wanted. She probably threw some hard punches. I am not sure what those were, but I am sure that she did, and I am sure they took notice."

Hemingway recalled that a few smaller markets refused to show it, but an unedited "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" aired March 1, 1994, to nearly 20 million viewers.

"Once you saw it, it was ridiculously funny because it wasn't a make-out session, it was just a little kiss that Roseanne made a massive reaction to," Hemingway recalled.

"It was funny. The build up is always more than the reality of it. I love the fact that I was a part of that, a moment telling people of different sexual orientations that it's OK to be who they are," she added.

Hemingway speculates that while ABC and Barr probably received hate mail about the episode, her experience was one of praise and positivity.

"A lot of people stopped me in person and were like, 'Thank you so much. I know it was silly, but it meant a lot to me. It made me feel like I wasn't alone and it was OK,'" she said. "And some of those were actors and others in the entertainment industry who never felt like they could be themselves, so that was pretty profound."

Looking back, the actress said that the wild reaction to the on-screen kiss was hypocritical, citing the prominence of violence on television in comparison.

"I was raising two little girls and I thought, 'Who cares if you see somebody's breasts or someone kisses another woman and meanwhile they can kill anyone and there is so much blood on television,'" she said.

More than two decades later, Hemingway said the reaction to a similar plotline on television today would garner an opposite reaction.

"You can get away with anything now," she said. "I don't like violence, but I believe in the ability to say 'OK, this is who were are and you can choose not to watch that.' But I think we need to be given that choice. I don't like our rights being taken away in any form."

0comments

When asked if she would return to the series as Sharon in ABC's reboot, she said with confidence, "I would love that. I think it would be very funny to see what happened to Sharon."

Roseanne airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.