With its deal Thursday for a “Roseanne” spinoff, ABC made lemonade from Roseanne Barr’s racist lemons. But producers are now under pressure to restart a show-making process that was derailed three weeks ago. ABC announced that it plans to premiere “The Conners” this fall — a tall order, given that pre-production on most fall series is already well underway, but not an impossible one.
The same day that ABC canceled “Roseanne” in May following Barr’s racist tweet about former Obama White House adviser Valerie Jarrett, writers were scheduled to assemble to begin work on the premiere of the show’s new season. Sources tell Variety that the writers’ room for “The Conners” will be nearly identical to that assembled for what would have been the second season of the revived “Roseanne.” The biggest change will be the departure of Wanda Sykes, who served as a consulting producer last season and had been scheduled to return, but publicly split from the show within hours of Barr’s tweet.
Sykes is not on board for the spinoff. But the writers’ room for “The Conners” is expected to finally open next week under showrunner Bruce Helford — who, with fellow executive producers Tom Werner and Sara Gilbert, led discussions with ABC about a possible spinoff. The three met with ABC entertainment president Channing Dungey just days after the cancellation to pitch a spinoff that would feature the show’s core cast sans Barr. Creatively, ABC was enthusiastic about the pitch. But the network insisted that Barr not have any creative input in nor receive any financial gain from the new show. Werner acted as the point of communication with Barr, imploring her to walk away uncompensated in order to save the jobs of crew members who may otherwise have difficulty finding work, given that all other broadcast shows for next season were already staffed.
That plea appears to have worked. In her statement on Thursday, Barr said, “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.” Sources say that the last hurdle that the spinoff had to clear before getting a go-ahead sign was Barr, who finally this week indicated her willingness to walk away.
With a crew in place, “The Conners” will, in many respects, hit the ground running. But ABC’s decision to premiere the show this fall — in the 8 p.m. Tuesday time period “Roseanne” had been slated for — is an ambitious one. Sources say that the earliest the show could reasonably be expected to be ready to premiere is late September, with an October debut more likely. Filming on the first episode is not likely to take place before early August. Had “Roseanne” gone ahead, it likely would have begun production next month.
The decision to give “The Conners” a 10-episode order instead of the 13 episodes picked up for the new season of “Roseanne” was largely a result of scheduling and the narrowed talent availability windows created by the cancellation and subsequent spinoff negotiation.
Talent deals for stars Gilbert, John Goodman, and Laurie Metcalf came together quickly, as they did for cast members Lecy Goranson and Michael Fishman. Child actors Emma Kenney, Ames McNamara, and Jayden Rey, all new additions to “Roseanne” last season, have not yet signed on. But their deals are expected to be finished in a matter of days.