Three weeks after ABC abruptly canceled its top-rated series, Roseanne, the network has finally found a replacement show: a spinoff of the sitcom starring everyone but Roseanne Barr, whose racist tweet caused the show to be shelved in the first place.
ABC announced today that it is picking up The Conners straight-to-series with a 10-episode order, and the spinoff will air on Tuesdays at 8 p.m., in the slot originally earmarked this fall for Roseanne prior to that show’s cancellation. A premiere date and additional cast will be announced later.
The new series, The Conners, will focus on the other members of Roseanne’s TV family: Dan (John Goodman), Jackie (Laurie Metcalf), Darlene (Sara Gilbert, who was an executive producer on last season’s revival and will also executive produce the spinoff), Becky (Lecy Goranson) and D.J. (Michael Fishman).
Those cast members said in a joint statement: “We have received a tremendous amount of support from fans of our show, and it’s clear that these characters not only have a place in our hearts, but in the hearts and homes of our audience. We all came back last season because we wanted to tell stories about the challenges facing a working-class family today. We are so happy to have the opportunity to return with the cast and crew to continue to share those stories through love and laughter.”
The network said that Barr “will have no financial or creative involvement in the new series,” and that executive producer Tom Werner and Barr have reached an agreement that will allow Werner Entertainment to produce the spinoff without Barr’s further creative or financial participation.
“I regret the circumstances that have caused me to be removed from Roseanne. I agreed to the settlement in order that 200 jobs of beloved cast and crew could be saved, and I wish the best for everyone involved,” Barr said in a statement.
ABC added in a statement: “The Conners’ stories demonstrate that families can always find common ground through conversation, laughter and love. The spinoff will continue to portray contemporary issues that are as relevant today as they were 30 years ago.”
Last month, Barr and her series were the toast of ABC’s upfront presentation, with network execs joking onstage about Barr’s controversial Twitter feed. But in a stunning turn of events, the network canceled the show two weeks later, following Barr’s racist tweet about President Obama’s White House adviser Valerie Jarrett.
In a statement at the time, ABC Entertainment president Channing Dungey said, “Roseanne’s Twitter statement is abhorrent, repugnant and inconsistent with our values, and we have decided to cancel her show.”
The decision to cut ties with the network’s No. 1 show, and TV’s most-watched comedy last season in the 18-49 demo, came after Barr attacked Jarrett on Twitter, comparing her to the movie Planet of the Apes and the Islamist organization Muslim Brotherhood.
But shortly after it canceled Roseanne, ABC began mulling a Barr-free iteration of the sitcom. It met with Roseanne executive producers Sara Gilbert (who also plays TV daughter Darlene), Tom Werner and showrunner Bruce Helford to discuss options to bring back some version of the series.
The network and Carsey-Werner, which produces the series, would have already been on the hook for several of the actors’ salaries for next season (including Gilbert, Goodman and Metcalf).
In an email to ABC staffers on May 20, Disney-ABC Television Group president Ben Sherwood, who had joked about Barr’s Twitter feed two weeks earlier while onstage at ABC’s upfront, talked about “the many men and women who poured their hearts and lives into the show and were just getting started on next season. We’re so sorry they were swept up in all of these, and we give thanks for their remarkable talents, wish them well and hope to find another way to work together down the road.”
Roseanne’s cancellation dealt a blow to ABC’s upfront negotiations, which are currently underway. One buyer told Adweek that with no Roseanne and no Scandal (which ended its run in April) in this upfront, it will be tough for ABC to increase its upfront haul this year. Another buyer noted the network will be challenged to deliver what it’s selling now in the upfront, and Roseanne would have boosted the ratings (and therefore the CPMs of) the other Tuesday night shows like new sitcom The Kids Are Alright, which had been scheduled to air after Roseanne at 8:30 p.m., followed by returning comedies Black-ish and Splitting Up Together.
But this Roseanne spinoff wasn’t finalized in time to boost ABC’s upfront haul.
The writers room for Roseanne’s next season had assembled three weeks ago, less than an hour before ABC announced it was canceling the show. In last month’s Adweek cover story on Roseanne, Helford said he and the writers had big plans in store: “Like a good Avengers movie, we’ve planted a lot of seeds in the show about things to come.” That included Roseanne Conner’s son D.J. welcoming his wife back from fighting in Afghanistan, Conner daughters Darlene and Becky—both currently single—moving forward romantically and a Halloween episode.
It’s too early to determine whether any of those storylines will find their way into The Conners.
While Disney-ABC no longer wanted to be in business with Roseanne, it was eager to continue making a show that helped validate the company’s soul-searching that began among Sherwood and his top execs the morning after Donald Trump’s surprise victory in the 2016 presidential election.
If Trump’s win showed that Hollywood was out of touch with “mainstream America,” Sherwood told Adweek last month, “as ABC—America’s Broadcasting Company—what is our responsibility to reflect what’s just happened on our airwaves?”
Those discussions led to several research projects, through which ABC “began to develop some ideas about how perhaps inclusion doesn’t just mean Fresh Off the Boat and Black-ish. Maybe inclusion also means reflecting the working poor in America, and the middle of America where there is daily struggle,” said Sherwood.
The Conners isn’t the first sitcom to carry on without its original star and namesake. The ’80s family sitcom Valerie continued on for four seasons after star Valerie Harper was fired due to a salary dispute: first as Valerie’s Family and then as The Hogan Family.
And several other series over the years have continued on in spinoffs after the departure of one or more of its original stars, like All in the Family (Archie Bunker’s Place), The Golden Girls (The Golden Palace), M*A*S*H (AfterMASH), The Closer (Major Crimes) and The Practice (Boston Legal).