‘The Conners’: ABC Chief Channing Dungey Hasn’t Seen a Script Yet

TCA 2018: But she’s gotten three outlines for fall “Roseanne” spinoff, executive tells TheWrap

The Conners - ABC

The Conner family is down a man — err, woman — and “playing catch-up” with the rest of broadcast TV’s fall slate right now, according to ABC Entertainment Group President, Channing Dungey.

The network chief told TheWrap during the Television Critics Association press tour Tuesday that she has seen three outlines for the “Roseanne” spinoff, “The Conners,” sans lead Roseanne Barr — but no script yet. And Dungey says the fact they are “behind compared to everybody else” in production is the reason the (kinda) new show didn’t present a panel during the press tour today.

“We had that sort of stutter step in terms of getting up and running,” Dungey told TheWrap, two months after the network canceled “Roseanne,” following an offensive “Planet of the Apes” remark Barr made about ex-Obama advisor Valerie Jarrett, and then ordered “The Conners.”

“I’ve seen three outlines,” Dungey said. “I think my team may have seen the first script yet but it hasn’t come to me. We don’t start production yet ’til the end of August, and so the feeling was we didn’t have enough yet to panel and they’re kind of playing catch-up to get back to the point where they’re on the same schedule on everyone else.”

Though the titular Roseanne isn’t coming back — obviously — family members Dan (John Goodman), Jackie (Laurie Metcalf), Darlene (Sarah Gilbert), Becky (Lecy Goranson) and D.J. (Michael Fishman) will all return. So are these outlines what they would have done on “Roseanne” Season 2 and just removed Roseanne from the story?

“I think some of those things are,” Dungey said. “I mean, obviously, the prism and the lens of which those stories are told is going to shift, but certain stories we wanted to tell — for example about Dan and his work, we can still tell those stories. Some stories about Darlene as a single parent — we can still tell those stories. So, there are some elements that remain the same moving forward and then there are other parts that are new and are different.”

When asked what the realistic ratings expectations are for the “Roseanne”-less series, Dungey said ABC is “hopeful.”

“When you talk with the audience about what they loved about the nine episodes that we did, they recognize themselves in a lot of the characters, they felt that it was an honest and unflinching — at some times — portrayal of working class Americans,” Dungey said for Season 1 of the “Roseanne” revival. “I’m hopeful that those chords will still resonate, and so for that reason I’m hopeful that we’re still telling a really compelling family story that people will tune in for.”

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.

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 (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.

Earlier in the day, Dungey bowed out of an executive session during the network’s TCA presentation, citing Disney’s earnings call as the reason.

It was announced by Disney|ABC corporate communications executive Jori Arancio at the top of ABC’s presentation that Dungey would not field questions from reporters on stage as the company “thought it best to not have an executive session [that would] compete” with Disney CEO Bob Iger’s earnings call with investors happening simultaneously.

Dungey likely would’ve been asked to discuss the network’s decision to cancel “Roseanne” after the star’s racist tweets earlier this year.

“The Conners” will premiere Tuesday, Oct. 16 at 8/7c on ABC.