‘The Conners’ return to television, minus Roseanne

John Goodman, Sara Gilbert and others continue their characters on ABC

The “Roseanne” spinoff “The Conners” premieres Tuesday, Oct. 16, on ABC.

Even if “The Conners” is new, most people already know what the show is: “Roseanne” without Roseanne.

After the sudden cancellation of last season’s enormously successful revival, prompted by a controversial tweet sent by title star Barr, ABC decided to continue the series in a sense with the other cast regulars and the behind-the-scenes staff. The resulting offshoot premieres Tuesday, Oct. 16, focusing on the relationships of such family members as Dan, Darlene and Jackie (still played by John Goodman, executive producer Sara Gilbert and the recently Emmy-nominated Laurie Metcalf).

“The discussion of how many people would be out of work was among the first conversations after the cancellation, and that discussion evolved eventually into the idea of doing a spinoff,” confirms executive producer Bruce Helford, who was on the staff of the original “Roseanne” for its fifth season. He returned for the revival, and he maintains that carrying it forward with “The Conners” also was an easy creative decision.

“My first thought,” Helford reflects, “was that the characters on the show were all so well-developed that viewers would continue to want to follow their lives. John, Laurie, Sara, Lecy (Goranson, alias ‘Becky’) … they could all be the leads of their own shows. (Also,) I felt that everyone recognized the importance of keeping the 200+ employees working – many of them had turned down other jobs – and that carried a responsibility to continue. Plus, the characters would be explored even deeper, and the show had so many more stories to tell.”

Barr has intimated that she knows how the Roseanne character’s absence is explained, but one definitive thing about “The Conners” is the addition of a regular player. Stage veteran Maya Lynne Robinson will be seen as Geena, the wife of D.J. (Michael Fishman) and mother of Mary (Jayden Rey), and a military veteran who’s just back from Afghanistan. (Geena first appeared as D.J.’s classmate and school play co-star in a 1994 “Roseanne” episode.)

Helford says starting production of “The Conners” was “surreal. (It was) deja vu to the first day on Season 10 of ‘Roseanne,’ and (with) a sense of accomplishment that despite the odds, we were about to start on a new adventure in this family’s history.” Indeed, Helford allows that “Roseanne Conner’s absence absolutely affects the other characters. Roseanne is larger than life, and her not being there creates a tempest of changes in the immediate family. There’s a void that everyone steps in to fill.”

For any and all differences, though, Helford is determined for “The Conners” to be a logical “Roseanne” successor. “The audience has always expected the show to be honest and authentic,” he concludes. “We try to continue that fiercely.”

Jay Bobbin

Jay Bobbin

Jay Bobbin has decades of experience covering the television and movie businesses, winning Tribune Media Services’ Crown Jewel Award in 2008 for his performance in the company. Over those many years of interviewing and writing, he has spoken with everyone from Robert De Niro and John Travolta to Paul McCartney and Tony Bennett … from Meryl Streep and Julie Andrews to Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood.

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