'The Conners' EP Gives Fans 3 Reasons to Tune In (Even Without Roseanne)
ABC’s Roseanne revival was one of last season’s bona fide success stories, with 18.4 million people watching the two-episode premiere. But will viewers turn The Conners, the sitcom’s new spinoff without star Roseanne Barr, into a hit? The answer seems to center on how much the franchise’s fans will miss Roseanne, whose mouthy, memorable matriarch was the mainstay of her blue-collar family.
Last June, soon after Barr’s racist tweet brought about Roseanne’s cancellation, the network ordered the retooled series in the hopes of keeping that ratings gold mine going. Curious fans will no doubt tune in to see just how Roseanne is written off. (Spoiler alert: According to Barr and John Goodman, who returns as husband Dan, Roseanne’s death is dealt with in the first episode.)
Still, how likely are they to sign on for the rest of the 10 episodes? Not very, it seems. A whopping 67 percent of respondents to our poll say they won’t watch. "Roseanne was the heart, soul and backbone of that show," writes one voter. "She was what made it funny, and everyone followed her lead."
Now it’s up to the writers to keep viewers interested in Dan, Jackie, Darlene and the rest of the gang. Here’s their three-step approach.
1. Keep Roseanne’s Memory Alive
"Her absence leaves a pretty big void in the lives of all the characters," says executive producer Dave Caplan. "That’s not over within the first episode. There’s a gradual adjustment to the new normal."
Roseanne always successfully blended laughs with drama, and The Conners will need to strike its own balance. "The family feels the loss," adds Caplan. "Emotionally, she was mother, wife and grandmother to these characters, so we deal with it honestly." That will include Dan redefining his relationship with his grandson, Mark (Ames McNamara).
2. Add Some Fresh Faces
New stars, and new romances, enter the mix. D.J.’s (Michael Fishman) Army wife, Geena (Maya Lynne Robinson), returns from service. And Darlene (Sara Gilbert) — reacting to the fact that ex David (Johnny Galecki) is now living with girlfriend Blue (Juliette Lewis) — starts dating again, with some prodding from Jackie (Laurie Metcalf) and Becky (Lecy Goranson).
"Darlene meets Neil [Justin Long], who feels like the kind of guy she’s used to," Caplan previews. And Jackie starts seeing the intellectual Peter (Steve Zahn), "a very interesting addition to her life," the executive producer adds. "He and Jackie have all kinds of great common ground in books, poetry and academic things that drive everybody else crazy!"
3. Find the Right Fit with Fans
Caplan is confident viewers will embrace The Conners just as they did Roseanne. "This is a class comedy about the 40 percent of America that is having trouble paying at least one of their bills," he says. "This show has a bond with the audience and a long history of always being honest, always being interesting and always being funny." The question now is whether that audience will always be faithful.
The Conners, Series Premiere, Tuesday, October 16, 8/7c, ABC
This article also appeared in the Oct. 15 - 28 issue of TV Guide Magazine