The set decorators who worked on the successful revival of ABC’s “Roseanne” were able to reproduce the original show’s iconic couch — with a little ingenuity, legwork and elbow grease.
The focal point of the series, now as it was then, is its brown plaid living room couch, on and around which many of the show’s scenes take place. But when “Roseanne” went off the air in 1997, the original sofa went back to a prop house, and was eventually purchased by collector John Comisar. ABC approached Comisar about using the famous couch for the “Roseanne” revival — but his demands were laughingly incompatible with actual television production, says production designer John Shaffner.
“The show said, ‘We can’t have a full-time security guard for a sofa and store it in a temperature-controlled environment,’ ” Shaffner says.
So Shaffner collaborated with set decorator Anne Ahrens to find the next best thing. Working from the general aesthetic that “Roseanne and Dan are still the same but slightly more worn out” — and that their house should reflect that — Ahrens bought two couches in LA on Craigslist for a total of $400. Shaffner and his team then cut one sofa in half, rebuilt the frame and turned it into an easy chair — using the other couch to replace the original.
Then the search began to try to match the original plaid design. Forget the groovy stores in LA. “We weren’t having success,” says Shaffner.
Ahrens struck gold when she contacted an RV manager in the Midwest who had bolts of brown plaid. “I call it ‘Middlebrow Brown.’ It’s the definition of 1970s brown,” says Shaffner, who notes that the color has largely fallen out of fashion in home decor.
Once the couch and chair were reupholstered, a red stripe was hand-painted on the couch to make it look “rustier.” Then Shaffner began “the aging process. I brought in a guy with a sander to wear down the edges to make them look softer” for that “hard-used, 15- to 18-year-old sofa.”
The transformation was such a success that five copies of the sofa, with plaid left over at the Warner Bros. upholstery department, were made for marketing purposes. Viewers who caught series stars Roseanne Barr and John Goodman’s March 23 guest appearance on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” saw one of those duplicate couches.
As for the multicolored quilt draped over the back of the sofa, “it appeared one day,” Shaffner says. “One of the executive producers had a copy of it. At one point ABC had a number of them created, so the network could give them as gifts. The one we have is not the original but it’s very, very close.”
Shaffner has designed sets for long-running shows such as “Two and a Half Men” and “Friends,” and appreciates the impact a piece of TV furniture can have when seen over an extended period. “The joy of it is seeing how the sofa from ‘Roseanne’ becomes an iconic object,” he says. “It brings a sense of comfort and humor to a large audience.”
And, he says, the original cast, all back for the revival, were astonished when they arrived on the “Roseanne” set to read through the script for the first time.
“They walked in and their jaws dropped,” Shaffner says. “Twenty years were erased and they were back in that space. They started touching things.
“Everybody choked up.”
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