‘Roseanne’ Spinoff: Can ABC’s ‘The Conners’ Carry the Torch at 8 PM?

Sitcom has to maintain the buzz after viewers find out how Barr is written out, experts say

Last Updated: June 22, 2018 @ 2:46 PM

The Conners are coming back — just, you know, minus one. But can “The Conners” carry “Roseanne’s” torch without Roseanne?

Well, it had better, because the “Roseanne” spinoff sitcom, which ABC ordered 10 episodes of sight-unseen after weeks of negotiations following its decision to fire Barr, has some big shoes to fill. The Disney broadcast network has scheduled “The Conners” in its vacated “Roseanne” time slot, Tuesdays from 8 p.m.-8:30 p.m. That spot kicks off the entire evening’s lineup, and ABC saw huge Nielsen numbers — a 5.3 rating/23 share among adults 18-49 and 18.652 million total viewers, on average — there this past season.

Those figures, which include a week’s worth of delayed viewing, are hard to come by in the modern television ecosystem, and will be difficult to replicate. But Samba TV CEO Ashwin Navin believes Dan (John Goodman), Jackie (Laurie Metcalf), Darlene (Sarah Gilbert), Becky (Lecy Goranson) and D.J. (Michael Fishman) may be up to the task.

“There aren’t many scripted shows that cater to this audience,” Navin told TheWrap, referring to Trump supporters. That’s a group who wants to relate to its TV characters — much like its politicians, clearly.

But with Roseanne Conner — the Trump-supporter and Republican of the bunch — out of the picture (and the credits), will the loyal “Roseanne” audience revolt? Not if the “Conners” writers are smart businesspeople, Navin said.

“As long as they don’t dramatically shift the narrative [from ‘Roseanne’],” the “opportunity is there to preserve the numbers” — and perhaps even to grow them, he explained.

So how will ABC handle its post-Roseanne version of the show? Below is ABC’s official description for “The Conners.”

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 (Goodman), Jackie (Metcalf), Darlene (Gilbert), Becky (Goranson) and D.J. (Fishman) – 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.

That “sudden turn of events” almost surely refers to Roseanne Conner’s (Roseanne Barr) sudden exit.

Tom Werner will executive produce “The Conners,” along with Gilbert, Bruce Helford, Dave Caplan, Bruce Rasmussen and Tony Hernandez. Helford, Caplan and Rasmussen are also writers on the spinoff. The series is from Tom Werner and Werner Entertainment.

At least one ad buyer believes that “The Conners” could surpass “Roseanne.” “Some of the characters they’re keeping are more fun than Roseanne,” Barry Lowenthal, president of ad agency The Media Kitchen, told TheWrap. “That actually might wind up being a much better show.” He added that for ABC, bringing the show back without Barr could go a long way towards placating fans who were upset by ABC’s employment of her to begin with.

“It’s kind of a nice statement for ABC to say: ‘We believe in the cast and crew. We believe what the show stands for without someone like Roseanne,'” he continued. “Bringing it back without her is almost a political statement within itself.”

But Navin argues ABC shouldn’t all-of-a-sudden let the show swing towards the other side of the political aisle. After all, there isn’t much on TV that skews Republican beyond crime shows, sports, and Fox News, per Samba’s research. “There was something working about this show,” Navin continued, emphasizing that it would be a bad idea to alienate conservatives in a “reactionary” attempt to continue distancing the remaining group from Barr.

Navin thinks the rush job for this fall is a good idea — “the sooner the better,” as he put it. Otherwise, some other platform is going to try to fill that vacuum. (And they probably still are, he said.)

The situation is reminiscent of the one NBC faced in 1987, when Valerie Harper left after the first two seasons of her eponymous sitcom, “Valerie,” over a salary dispute. As ABC just did, NBC continued the show without its title character, renaming it twice: First “Valerie’s Family” and then “The Hogan Family.”

ABC could take a page out of CBS’ playbook in handling the promotion for “The Conners.” In 2011, CBS fired Charlie Sheen off its very successful sitcom, “Two and a Half Men,” and replaced him with Ashton Kutcher. The whole saga intrigued viewers who tuned in to find out just how CBS would write out Sheen’s sudden departure.

CBS was able to convert the intrigue — even incorporating that into its marketing — into record ratings. The Sept. 19, 2011 premiere, which opened on a funeral for Sheen’s character, scored a gigantic 28.7 million viewers and a colossal 10.7 rating in the advertiser-preferred demo — and that was just the “live” numbers.

But that didn’t last very long.

By the end of the season, the show drew fewer than 12 million “live” viewers for its season finale, according to Nielsen data. The following three seasons all averaged fewer viewers than when Charlie Sheen was still on the show — though it went through even more changes during those seasons, as Angus T. Jones left the show, only returning for the series finale.

But getting viewers into the store is hard enough, and Lowenthal argues that intrigue over Barr’s ouster already puts “The Conners” ahead of a lot of other new shows that premiere this fall. “Attracting an audience is a really difficult thing these days. Any show that has buzz from the get go is probably a good place to start.”