The show will incorporate, in real-time, the Democratic primary in New Hampshire.
“We were talking about what would have happened if we had done it during Iowa,” executive producer and showrunner Bruce Helford told The Associated Press, referring to the state’s caucus voting a week ago that fell on a Monday, not on the regular air date for “The Conners,” and has yet to be settled.
The live episode of ‘The Conners’ is set to air Feb. 11.
(Robert Trachtenberg/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images)
He continued: “It would have been, ‘So what’s going on in Iowa? Uh, nothing.’ Very, very awkward.”
The plot of the episode, which will be performed live twice for different time zones, will involve Darlene’s children, son Mark (Ames McNamara), “watching the results of the primary for a school report” while his older sister Harris (Emma Kenney) is “apathetic to the electoral process” and “believes money’s influence in politics means real change is impossible.”
Other family members circulate through the room and spout off. The episode also focuses on the relationship between John Goodman’s Dan Conner and Louise (guest star Katey Sagal).
Injecting real-world events into a live scripted show gives it an immediacy that can draw viewers in and, something, Helford said with satisfaction, is rare if not unprecedented. The aim is both to entertain and to motivate, albeit in the blunt, disaffected manner of the sitcom’s blue-collar household.
“It’s the Conners version, which is basically, ‘We’re not looking for anybody we love to vote for. We’re just looking for the one that’s gonna screw us the least. So if it’s that cynical, we’ve been beat up a long time. We’re just looking for some relief,’” explained Helford, summarizing the perspective.
Sara Gilbert, who plays Darlene and is also an executive producer on the “Roseanne” spinoff, adds that the show has never been “extremely political” but doesn’t avoid reality.
“The issues that naturally come up are for a working-class family. So if we can’t pay our health care bills or we can’t make the rent, there’s something inherently political about these things,” she told The Associated Press. “Some people may say that we don’t get political enough … and some people may say we get too political. I’m sure there is no perfect line that we can walk. But I think what we’re trying to do is stay true to our show.”
The live episode, instead of being a TV stunt, offers a chance to “remind people they have a voice” and reinforce the importance of voting, she said.
Asked if Roseanne Barr has weighed in the show, Gilbert replied, “No.” “The Conners” had been spun off from the 2018 “Roseanne” reboot. ABC had canceled “Roseanne” after its star, Roseanne Barr, made a racially charged tweet aimed at former Obama administration senior adviser Valerie Jarrett.
Unfolding events will demand some spontaneity from the cast and especially McNamara, who Helford called the point man for the story and, at only 12, a “brilliant” youngster able to handle the job. Rehearsals included charting possible directions the story could go and how the actors might respond, he said.
There will be an equal-opportunity approach to the candidates, Helford promised: “Everybody’s going to catch a little fire.”
The episode also has what he called a “message of hope” to counter what he sees as the youthful pessimism represented by Harris.
“It’s not that it’s apathy anymore, it’s simply disbelief that the system can work,” Helford said, in contrast to the activism of his Vietnam War-inspired generation. “I see so much anxiety among young people about what’s going on in the world. They’re kind of feeling helpless about it. And this is a reminder that there is something you can do. You have to seize the moment.”
Messages aside, he said, “This is a comedy. This is all in good fun. We’ve got such tense times, people want to laugh.”
Fox News’ Joseph A. Wulfsohn and The Associated Press contributed to this report