‘The Conners’ executive producer explains how the spin-off decided to handle Roseanne’s absence

‘The Conners’ used its premiere episode Tuesday night to explain what happened to Roseanne and show how it affected each character on the show. ABC

Warning: There are spoilers ahead for “The Conners.”

The Conners” finally revealed how the show would move forward without Roseanne Barr on the spin-off Tuesday night.

The series killed off the iconic TV mum by opioid overdose in an emotional half-hour premiere. If you watched the “Roseanne” revival at all earlier this year, the decision didn’t come completely out of left field.

“I think that it was important that we all be respectful of Roseanne Conner and Roseanne Barr,” executive producer Tom Werner said during a panel for the show Tuesday evening at PaleyFest in New York City. “What made the show work last year for us – obviously we have an extraordinary ensemble cast – but what made the show work for us is that, I think we were touching on themes that were very relevant to our audience.”

“If you had seen the shows last year, Roseanne Conner was struggling with drug [addiction],” Werner continued, saying that when they discussed what to do moving forward with Roseanne’s character, the logical choice seemed like it was already written for them.

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Tom Werner said ‘The Conners’ and ‘Roseanne,’ at their cores, are shows about a working-class family that is ‘very identifiable to the audience.’ ABC

“We’re doing a comedy, but this is a problem that has affected tens of thousands of people, opioid addiction,” he said. “This was a challenge that Roseanne Conner was dealing with last year, and we felt that this was something that could shine a light on something.”

Toward the end of the “Roseanne” revival, the Conner matriarch was seen stashing and hoarding painkillers she acquired from others. Roseanne was using the pills as a crutch for a knee operation she knew the family couldn’t afford.

On one episode, her husband Dan (John Goodman) discovers Roseanne’s secret and tells her they’re going to get her the surgery she needs so she stops self medicating.

“What is wonderful for the show, for me, is that when [an episode is] over, people feel like they have spent a half hour and it was worth their time,” said Werner. “I think that there will be people talking about this and how it affects the family. And obviously it touches on healthcare issues.”

On the premiere, Dan learns Roseanne had received some pills from a woman named Marcy (guest star Mary Steenburgen). She proceeds to tell Dan that she has been sharing drugs with others in the Lanford, Illinois community.

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Dan Conner (John Goodman) becomes very upset when he learns his wife didn’t die of a heart attack, but an overdose. ABC/Eric McCandless

“In part, as we know, that’s because we know prescription drugs are expensive,” said Werner of a storyline we’ll most likely see play out this season on “The Conners.” “I don’t want to get to heavy, but, I think this was an honest and authentic way of dealing with Roseanne Conner.”

The death of Barr’s character on the show wasn’t a big surprise to fans who have been following the star. Barr first revealed she would be killed off the series by overdose in September, during a YouTube interview.

Soon after the episode premiere, Barr tweeted out that she’s not dead.


After a successful season, and an order for a second season, the “Roseanne” revival was canceled in May after Barr compared former Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett to an ape on Twitter. ABC announced “The Conners” spin-off one month later with the entire cast, except Barr, returning.

In a four-paragraph statement to INSIDER after “The Conners” premiere, Barr said she was not happy with how her “Roseanne” was canceled and how she was killed off the series.

“That it was done through an opioid overdose lent an unnecessary grim and morbid dimension to an otherwise happy family show,” said Barr and her Rabbi and friend, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach. “This was a choice the network did not have to make. ‘Roseanne’ was the only show on television that directly addressed the deep divisions threatening the very fabric of our society.”

“The “Roseanne” revival was a big rating’s winner for ABC.More than 27.3 million viewers tuned in for its March premiere.

The network’s executive vice president for programming strategy and scheduling, Andy Kubitz, told Vulture if “The Conners”receives half that audience, they will still be the No. 1 show on TV.

“The Conners” airs on ABC Tuesdays at 8 p.m. You can read our review of the premiere here.


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