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Weeks after its stunning decision to cancel Roseanne, ABC is officially moving forward with a spinoff of TV’s current No. 1 series — without controversial star Roseanne Barr.
Following aggressive talks with exec producer Tom Werner, the Disney-owned broadcaster has handed out a 10-episode, straight-to-series order for Roseanne spinoff The Conners (working title). The new take, which will also be a multicamera comedy and premiere in the fall, will follow the Conner family who, after a sudden turn of events, are forced to face the daily struggles of life in Lanford in a way they never have before.
ABC stressed in its announcement Thursday that former star Barr will have no financial or creative involvement in the new series. Werner and Barr reached an agreement that will allow Werner Entertainment to produce the spinoff for ABC without Barr’s further creative or financial participation. Sources tell The Hollywood Reporter that Barr will retain all rights to her Roseanne Conner character and any future spinoffs beyond The Conners or any future reboots of the original.
“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,” Barr said in a statement. Added Werner: “We are grateful to have reached this agreement to keep our team working as we continue to explore stories of the Conner family.”
Roseanne stars John Goodman, Laurie Metcalf, Sara Gilbert, Lecy Goranson and Michael Fishman will star in the spinoff. Additional castmembers and a premiere date will be announced at a later date. “We have received a tremendous amount of support from fans of our show, and it’s clear that these characters not only have a place in our hearts, but in the hearts and homes of our audience,” Goodman, Metcalf, Gilbert, Goranson and Fishman said in a joint statement. “We all came back last season because we wanted to tell stories about the challenges facing a working-class family today. We are so happy to have the opportunity to return with the cast and crew to continue to share those stories through love and laughter.”
ABC says the new take will explore issues with parenthood, dating an unexpected pregnancy, financial pressures, aging and in-laws in working-class America. The series will take over Roseanne‘s Tuesdays at 8 p.m. time slot. The Conners hails from the creative team behind what was to be the 11th season of Roseanne, including showrunner Bruce Helford, Gilbert, Dave Caplan, Bruce Rasmussen and Tony Hernandez. The series hails from Werner and Werner Entertainment.
“The Conners’ stories demonstrate that families can always find common ground through conversation, laughter and love. The spinoff will continue to portray contemporary issues that are as relevant today as they were 30 years ago,” ABC said in a statement.
Despite multiple reports that the network was open to a new take on Roseanne, the decision to move forward with a new version of the series should still be seen as a surprise, given the considerable obstacles that had to be overcome in order to move forward.
A major point of contention was to find a way to reinvent Roseanne that would not financially benefit Barr, which was said to be a top demand from ABC Entertainment president Channing Dungey and Werner. The series was created by Matt Williams (the show’s first showrunner, who departed in season one after clashing with the actress) and is based upon a character (yes, singular) created by Barr.
As THR previously reported, Barr had agreed in principle to walk away from the characters she helped create in order to allow the cast and crew to pursue a spinoff. But since Barr would be entitled to substantial fees and backend on a Roseanne spinoff, the actress had to waive those rights before a new take could move forward. The last key hurdle was over what, if any, one-time payment Barr was to receive as “go-away money,” as one source put it.
Talks to continue the series heated up almost immediately following the cancellation after exec producer Werner, whose Carsey-Werner banner produced the original series and the 10th season, became highly engaged in finding a new path forward. (Werner’s longtime partner, Marcy Carsey, recently said that she would not try to revive the comedy following its cancellation.)
The move to breathe new life into the franchise comes as Disney was on the hook to pay stars Gilbert (who plays Darlene), Metcalf (Jackie) and Goodman (Dan) for the since-scrapped 11th season. The trio, along with Barr, negotiated new deals for the 13-episode season at $300,000 per episode (up from $250,000 for season 10). They expected to be paid for at least 10 episodes since their options were exercised. What was less clear was if and how the writing staff, including showrunner Helford, were to be compensated.
Following the cancellation, ABC found itself in a unique position. Roseanne was due to return in the fall and open the network’s Tuesday lineup as ABC was briefly poised to head into the 2018-19 broadcast season without TV’s top show and without a new series from Shonda Rhimes (Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal) for the first time in years. Roseanne was expected to drive at least $60 million in ad revenue for its 11th season, according to Kantar Media. ABC, sources said, may have been on the hook for “tens of millions of dollars” after axing the series.
ABC on May 29 canceled Roseanne after Barr’s racist tweet directed at Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser to former President Barack Obama. The star, who has been an outspoken advocate for President Donald Trump, later apologized and said she “begged” Disney-ABC TV Group president Ben Sherwood not to cancel the series. (ABC declined comment on that at the time, though multiple sources within the network contend that conversation never happened and Barr has since deleted that tweet.)
In a memo to staff following the cancellation, Sherwood apologized to the then-unemployed staff of Roseanne and expressed hope that the network could find a way to work together down the road. The new incarnation of Roseanne saved those jobs as staffing season had already been completed for all the broadcast series and many involved with the production turned down other jobs to stay with the comedy.
Roseanne was slated to return in the fall for an expanded 11th season of 13 episodes as ABC looked to build on the show’s momentum. In a victory lap of sorts, Barr was the centerpiece of ABC’s upfront presentation to Madison Avenue ad buyers in May. (Barr joked in introducing Sherwood onstage that he was the man behind her Twitter feed.) The revival was part of a larger effort by Dungey — broadcast’s lone African-American network topper — to cater to the underserved community who turned out in force to elect Trump. The success of the Roseanne revival has prompted other broadcast networks to pick up a wave of multicamera comedies in a larger push to program for middle America. (To that end, Fox revived Tim Allen comedy Last Man Standing a year after ABC’s cancellation.)
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