Note: This report originally was posted on February 10. As the New Hampshire primary plays out tonight, ABC will be airing a live episode of blue-collar comedy The Conners in its regular 8 PM time slot. It is part of the network’s push into live and event programming.
“Our strategy going forward is to present one live or big tentpole event every month,” ABC Entertainment President Karey Burke said at last month at TCA where the live Conners telecast was announced.
ABC was at the forefront of live scripted programming in the early 2000s with an annual live edition of The Drew Carey Show, co-created and executive produced by Bruce Helford. NBC then took the mantle with a live episode of 30 Rock, annual live musicals and a whole season of live Undateable.
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ABC has reclaimed the crown over the past year with two editions of Live In Front of a Studio Audience and The Little Mermaid Live, all of which did well, paving the way for The Conners‘ live episode. Dubbed Live from Lanford, it will stage two live performances for the East Coast at 8 PM ET and for the West Coast at 8 PM PT. They will incorporate live ABC News coverage of the primary results.
Having done at least three live episodes of The Drew Carey Show — one year performing four times live for each of the four U.S. time zones — Helford was itching to do it with The Conners too to take advantage of “this amazing cast,” he told Deadline last month. Despite some resistance from actors who were terrified by the idea of going live, he was able to convince them that “it is really going to be fun.”
“We thought, it’s an election year and The Conners — whether we want to be or not, we are immersed in some politics; the politics that affect every working class family, that they are going through and affected by,” Helford said.
The live episode will find Mark (Ames McNamara) watching the results of the primary for a school report with Harris (Emma Kenney), who is disillusioned by the electoral process and believes money’s influence in politics means real change is impossible.
“While that’s going on, family would be coming into Mark’s room and comment on what would be going on in real time,” Helford said.
All of this happens against the backdrop of romance when Louise (guest star Katey Sagal) gets an opportunity that might send her away from Lanford, prompting the family to interfere in Dan’s (John Goodman) complicated relationship with her by throwing Louise a surprise going-away party, creating major new tensions between Dan and his daughters.
“It’s a very difficult live affair, he has had a tough time committing because of his love for his (late) wife,” Helford said. “There is a Vvry dramatic step in that relationship that will happen during the show life.”
Additionally, “we go into a story about the relationship between Mark and Harris, in which we find out that there are deep-seated problems going on there,” Helford added.
While The Conners does not have the improv element that added an element of unpredictability to The Drew Carey Show’s live episodes, “anything could happen, it’s a live show,” Helford said of the live Conners telecasts
He recalled an unforeseen moment during a bachelorette party scene featured in a live Drew Carey Show episode where an actor playing a male stripper pulled down his pants and underwear to reveal a “hi mom” message written on his butt cheeks.
“We had no idea that was coming at all, ABC was not crazy at all about that,” Helford recalled with a smile.
The risk of potential incidents has not dampen Helford’s enthusiasm for live sitcom performances, especially on The Conners. “I love the idea that the family gets together, watches at home. It will be a relevant show, we’ll get some real-time interaction, which makes it worthwhile when you do it live,” he said. “It’s a great, surprising thing to watch.”
The Conners stars Goodman as Dan Conner, Laurie Metcalf as Jackie Harris, Sara Gilbert as Darlene Conner, Lecy Goranson as Becky Conner-Healy, Michael Fishman as D.J. Conner, Emma Kenney as Harris Conner-Healy, Ames McNamara as Mark Conner-Healy and Jayden Rey as Mary Conner. The cast did a live promo for the live episode during ABC’s live Oscar telecast Sunday.
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