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'The Conners' plans live episode to watch N.H. presidential primary

By
Fred Toppel
Laurie Metcalf stars as Jackie Harris on The Conners. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI
Laurie Metcalf stars as Jackie Harris on "The Conners." File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

LOS ANGELES, Jan. 21 (UPI) -- The night of Feb. 11, many newshounds will be glued to the television for live results of the New Hampshire primary in the 2020 race for U.S. president. So will the fictional Conner family, who will perform a live episode of the ABC sitcom as they watch.

The Conners showrunner Bruce Helford aims to keep the show apolitical, but capture the live energy of a funny family reacting to the day's news.

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"The idea is to show the real perspective of real people who live in Lanford," Helford told UPI in an interview. "We'll still maintain a level of balance like we would have at any time before. There's no agenda to it."

The Conners features the cast of Roseanne without its title character. After ABC canceled the successful revival of Roseanne when creator/star Roseanne Barr tweeted a racist joke, the producers resurrected it as a new sitcom without her.

Like on Roseanne, the cast of The Conners still struggle to make ends meet in Lanford, Ill. Now in its second season, producers of The Conners were looking for a way to create a water cooler event.

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"What made this compelling was that we were going to shoot it on a night in which something interesting was happening in the world and be able to comment on it live," executive producer Tom Werner said. "We're going to shoot the first show at 5 o'clock [Pacific] which is 8 o'clock after the polls close in New Hampshire and be able to comment on what other people are talking about."

Executive producer Bruce Rasmussen said regardless of who wins the primary, the theme of the episode is to encourage voting.

"It's more just about just a certain cynicism about do you matter as a voter?" Rasmussen said. "We're trying to make the point that it does matter. A lot of us start to get cynical about it. You can't complain about things if you don't engage."

Sara Gilbert plays Darlene Conner, the sarcastic younger sister in the '80s Roseanne series, who now has two kids of her own on The Conners. Also an executive producer, Gilbert said Helford was talking about a live show last season. She couldn't hold him off any longer.

"He was so passionate about it," Gilbert said. "I'm scared of it, but I know he's excited about it, and I felt like he could actually bring awareness to voting. So all those things considered, I felt like it was a worthwhile endeavor."

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John Goodman plays Dan Conner, father of Darlene, Becky (Lecy Goranson) and DJ (Michael Fishman), and father figure to the whole clan. Since the Primary episode will be live, Goodman doesn't see the point in worrying about it ahead of time.

"The less I know about it the better," Goodman said. "If I don't think about it, I'll be a lot better off than if I dwell on it. For me, anything induces stress, and I like working live, so it should be okay. We'll have it drilled pretty good."

Laurie Metcalf plays Jackie Harris, Roseanne's sister. The actress is not hiding her anxiety over the live episode.

"[I'm] scared to death, but we're going out on a limb, and we're trusting the writers," Metcalf said. "That's all I know right now."

There are three episodes of The Conners before Feb. 11. Tuesday's episode features the family, all Bears fans, watching the Chicago Bears/Green Bay Packers football game.

Goranson came up with the premise that Becky would bring home a Packers fan.

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"I'm from Chicago," Goranson said. "I land in O'Hare, already I'm just immersed in sports fans. We all know that it's a really important thing to the working class and for all of us, all of America."

The football episode provoked less stress among the cast than the upcoming live show.

"That was a fun episode," Metcalf said. "Anything about Chicago is always fun to do."

For Goodman, having the entire cast sit in the living room commenting on football was an ideal acting situation.

"We got everybody together, so that's different," Goodman said. "Less lines to learn. It's always a good thing when you get everybody together."

Becky's new boyfriend is part of her larger storyline in which Becky is in recovery. Now that she's sober, she's choosing a different sort of relationship. The Conners finds humor in Becky choosing a Packers fan, but the show also allows her to explore the real struggle of sobriety.

"It's been really cool to see her become a different part of the family as someone that's actually a lot stronger," Goranson said. "Motherhood, too, has empowered her, but she's still stuck in Lanford, no matter what, sober or not."

The Conners airs Tuesday nights at 8 p.m. on ABC.

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