May 21, 2019

Roseanne without Roseanne

“The Conners of Lanford, Illinois, have weathered just about every possible storm, literal and figurative. But on Tuesday night, the clan will face its biggest challenge: returning to television without its longtime matriarch, played by Roseanne Barr. In May, Barr was swiftly fired from ABC’s revived Roseanne when she published a racist tweet about Valerie Jarrett. Months later, the network announced that it was moving forward with a new show called The Conners, featuring most of Roseanne’s original cast—minus Barr herself, who agreed to cede all creative and financial participation in the new show, and plans to skip town when it premieres. Even so, questions loom ahead of The Conners’s October 16 debut: has Barr’s tweet irrevocably tarnished her show, as well as those who used to work with her? How can a sitcom inextricably linked to a single person and her on-screen persona suddenly become an ensemble series, or swap in a new star? Is killing off Roseanne Conner, as the new show plans to do, really the right call?

These are thorny issues, even for those who know Roseanne and Roseanne best: writers who worked on the series during its groundbreaking original run. To some of them, The Conners is already a lost cause—but others believe it’s got potential.

Bob Nickman, who wrote for the first Roseanne for three years, believes that the series was at its best when it focused on real, topical issues, particularly the plight of the American working class. “If they can do that with the new one, that’s, to me, where it’s gonna be very successful,” he said in an interview. “There’s some really good actors on the show, and there’s some really good writers that are there that were on the original one.” Essentially, he thinks the success or failure of The Conners will come down to whether its audience believes the family is strong enough to carry the show on their own—“and that,” he said, “is something I could never predict.” ”

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