The stakes couldn’t be higher for tomorrow night’s premiere of The Conners, the Roseanne spinoff series starring John Goodman, Laurie Metcalf and Sara Gilbert. Conceived under extraordinary circumstances in the fallout of Roseanne‘s abrupt cancellation following star Roseanne Barr’s controversial Valerie Jarrett tweet, The Conners has the difficult task to live up to the legacy of the mothership series while building a complete and satisfying new show without Barr whose character had been at the heart of the original.
ABC has kept the fate of Roseanne Conner under wraps though Goodman had let slip in an interview that the character has been killed off, and Barr herself suggested in an interview that the cause of death was opioid overdose. Regardless of the circumstances, which will be revealed in The Conners premiere, the series will feature the rest of the Conners clan picking up the pieces as they carry on with their blue-collar lives in Lanford, Illinois.
In a brief interview with Deadline, Bruce Helford discusses the challenges of mounting the new series in a very quick turnaround and addresses the high expectations. He explains how the producers settled on what The Conners should be about and how to write Barr off and teases what viewers would be surprised by. Helford did a brief stint as a writer-producer on the original Roseanne series and has been shepherding both the Roseanne revival as executive producer/co-showrunner and The Conners as exec producer/showrunner.
DEADLINE: How did you balance trying to appeal to both fans of Roseanne and its former star and those who oppose her views and don’t want the new series to be associated with her?
HELFORD: We avoided the divisiveness by just making sure the fans of the show would find all the elements of the show they love intact: the struggle of a working class family, the honesty of the emotions a situation like this would evoke, and the humor that has carried the Conners through all their trials and tribulations.
DEADLINE: What was the hardest part about making The Conners?
HELFORD: The hardest part of making the show was finding the perspective without the matriarch. Ultimately, each member of the family fills the gap by stepping up in their own individual ways. This is a true ensemble with some of the finest actors who have ever graced a TV show. Honestly, almost all of them could be the leads in their own series.
DEADLINE: Did you consider alternative setups for the followup series — moving the characters to a new location, leaving Roseanne alive, etc?
HELFORD: We wrestled with many alternatives, but finally decided the Conners should remain in Lanford and deal with the absence in a way that was honest and respectful to the mother they loved so much.
DEADLINE: What would viewers be most surprised about The Conners?
HELFORD: It’s not really a surprise, but I think most viewers will be satisfied with the Conners’ ability to move forward with their lives, often in unexpected ways. A lot will happen in 10 episodes.
The Conners debuts Oct. 16 at 8 PM.