“My first thought was ‘Why?,” recalls creator and executive producer Bruce Helford about that fateful day in May 2018 when ABC’s successful “Roseanne” reboot was unceremoniously dumped by the network after a racially insensitive tweet by the show’s star Roseanne Barr. “My next immediate thought was that I had 300 people out of work, I’m about to lose my directors and most of my writers,” he recalls. “We have a great show, we have four other cast members that could potentially be the leads of their own shows, is there not something in who this family is?” Watch our exclusive video interview with Helford above.
It was a day that Helford won’t forget anytime soon. “I wake up and I’ve got 200 texts, maybe 50 emails, and I’m like what happened, what did I miss,” he reveals. “I went down to the writers room with all these new writers that we just assembled for this new gig and I said ‘guys, I don’t know what’s going to happen, I think we’re going to take a little breather for a couple of days and see,’ and as I’m talking, someone leans over my shoulder and whispers, and I go ‘OK we’re all going home, we’re cancelled.'”
Despite the fallout, and against all odds, Helford and his team fought on, and eventually landed on their feet as ABC eventually commissioned “The Conners,” a new spinoff series focusing on how the beloved sitcom family would cope with the sudden death of its matriarch. It was a good call by the network, as “The Conners” is ABC’s highest rated comedy series and one of the best performers on network television this season, emulating the success of the original “Roseanne,” which ran from 1988 to 1997, and its abruptly cancelled 2018 revival.
“The Conners” focuses on the core members of America’s favorite blue collar family – Dan Conner (John Goodman), Aunt Jackie (Laurie Metcalf), siblings Becky (Lecy Goranson), Darlene (Sara Gilbert) and DJ (Michael Fishman) and their extended families living in working class Lanford, Illinois. Although the writers toyed with what to do with the iconic Roseanne character, the central titular figure on the original show, it was ultimately decided to kill her off to set the show apart from its predecessor. “These characters needed to be allowed to move on and grow, and they couldn’t have her waiting in the wings to come back,” Helford explained. “It required us to have a really honest look at what would happen if the mother of that family died unexpectedly.”
Helford acknowledges that as the show continues, it will still reference Roseanne from time to time. “We never forget her involvement, we never forget what she started,” Helford admits respectfully. “We will probably mention her. Again, what family stops talking about the mother,” he says. But as the writing team prepare for season two, Helford hopes that the show can be appreciated on its own merits. “I think what we may be really passed is the division people felt about her not continuing or continuing, which I think is more accepted now, so people can just watch the show and judge it on its own merits,” he declares.
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