But in today’s challenging environment for broadcast television, the Disney-owned network decided the long shot of launching a spinoff is worth a gamble. The network announced Thursday it has ordered 10 episodes of a new show, tentatively called “The Conners,” that will continue the story of the “Roseanne” family. It will feature “Roseanne” co-stars Sara Gilbert, John Goodman and Laurie Metcalf after a life-changing event that removes Roseanne Conner from the picture.
“They looked at their options for replacing ‘Roseanne’ and this is the best one they have,” said Preston Beckman, a media consultant and former network executive. “There is going to be a huge curiosity in the first couple of weeks.”
Or as an executive who works for one of ABC’s competitors put it: “Even half of ‘Roseanne’ is better than their other comedies.”
“Roseanne,” a revival of one of ABC’s biggest hit sitcoms of the 1990s, was the third most-watched program of the 2017-18 season, according to Nielsen, drawing an average of about 18 million viewers during its run.
“Roseanne” was not expected to be a big profit center for ABC in the upcoming 2018-19 TV season due to its high cost. But it was certain to provide a potent audience lead-in to the network’s most promising new comedy this fall, the family comedy “The Kids Are Alright.” The new show can now at least benefit from the high interest in first episode of “The Conners” and how it deals with Roseanne’s exit.
The production company Carsey-Werner and ABC were also on the hook to pay the actors on “Roseanne” for at least some of the episodes for next season whether a spinoff happened or not.
One hurdle in making the deal for the spinoff was a requirement by ABC Entertainment President Channing Dungey that Barr not be involved creatively or financially in the new program.
Details of Barr’s agreement to give up her participation were not revealed by Carsey-Werner or ABC. But a former ABC executive who spoke on the condition of anonymity said it’s likely Barr received a payment in return for agreeing not to make any type of legal claim against the production company.
Barr is a profit participant in “Roseanne,” which is based on her standup comedy act. But she did not have a creator credit recognized by the Writers Guild of America. The union was not involved in her exit agreement, according to a person familiar with the matter who was not authorized to discuss it publicly.
Disney likely wanted a deal to avoid any legal action by Barr that could have brought the ugly circumstances surrounding the May 29 cancellation back into the national conversation. Barr’s demise followed a tweet that compared former President Obama aide Valerie Jarrett to an ape.