In one of the fastest meteoric rises and falls for a TV show, ABC’s Roseanne revival burst onto the scene last spring, breaking ratings records to quickly establish itself as broadcast television’s No. 1 show. Just a couple of months later — and days after ABC had unveiled its fall schedule with Roseanne on it — the revival was abruptly canceled, hours after a racially insensitive tweet by star and executive producer Roseanne Barr.
“It was actually made very swiftly, and what I’m going to have to say is that it was nice that it was so clear to everyone that there wasn’t a lot of debate and discussion about it,” ABC Entertainment president Channing Dungey told Deadline at TCA on Tuesday, regarding making the decision about canceling Roseanne instead of putting Barr on leave and launching an investigation. “We knew what we wanted to do, and we did it. For us, we have had multiple instances with Roseanne, and certainly this tweet crossed the line that cannot be crossed, but it was for us a sense of enough is enough and something had to be done.”
While she feels it was the right decision, “it was disappointing to think about what was going to happen to the cast and crew in the wake of that, and so what I’m so thrilled about is that we were able to bring the whole cast back and most of the crew to work on The Conners, so that feels like a real victory.”
The Conners came together almost as quickly as Roseanne was canceled, Dungey said.
“Literally the next day I was on the phone with (executive producer) Tom Werner, and he was asking whether we would be open to the idea, and about a week later, I was on the phone with Tom and [fellow executive producers] Bruce Helford and Sara Gilbert, talking about the general shape of what they might want to try to do, and we had a real conversation in another week or two after they had time to break it out. But it was one of those ideas that they came in with [a clear intention to make it work]. I was very excited about the idea of keeping people working, and I also thought there were more stories in that universe in Lanford for us to tell.”
As to what stories they will tell on The Conners and whether Roseanne Conner is dead in them, Dungey remained mum, noting that the show employs heavy security, with everything hand-delivered and no email used.
“What I can tell you us that thematically we will be focusing on a lot of the same themes that we were in the first nine episodes — what it’s like today for a family to make ends meet in a world where they might be going into foreclosure, where work is scarce, where there are a lot of different challenges in terms of raising children as a single parent. All these issues are going to still be at the forefront,” she said.
Can there be a Roseanne spinoff without Roseanne Conner?
“Obviously remains to be seen — I have seen three outlines for the new season, and I’m really encouraged by the creative material and what we wanted to do is, we wanted to be able to put a lens on a certain type of working class family in America which we are still able to do,” she said. “I’m excited about it. I think the audience will be too.”
Because the pickup for The Conners came later than all the other fall series, the series was late in getting into production, which was behind the decision to not hold a panel at TCA.
Looking back at the experience, was it worth getting into business with Roseanne Barr in the first place and doing the revival?
Dungey has no regrets.
“We obviously knew that she had a slightly volatile history in the previous incarnation of Roseanne,” she said. “She had come to us very clear that she wanted to make the show a priority, really wanting a second chance at this and we took that at face value. I don’t regret it, I am never going to regret waking up that morning and seeing the ratings from that first season, amazing. It’s been a journey with ups and downs but I’m very excited about what we’re going to have with the Conners in the fall, I think its going to be great.”
On the new show, after a sudden turn of events, the Conners are forced to face the daily struggles of life in Lanford in a way they never have before. This iconic family – Dan, Jackie, Darlene, Becky and D.J. – grapples with parenthood, dating, an unexpected pregnancy, financial pressures, aging and in-laws in working-class America. Through it all, the fights, the coupon cutting, the hand-me-downs, the breakdowns – with love, humor and perseverance, the family prevails.
And while ABC had a rocky experience on Roseanne, Dungey remains open to reboots, with some caveat.
“I don’t necessarily want to dive into rebooting for the sake of rebooting,” she said. “In the case of Roseanne, I felt there was a real story to tell there, and it was focusing on a segment of the population that was not being showcased on TV, and that was important to us. I’m certainly open to a reboot if something comes to me with the right creative or a spin on the creative that makes sense.”