When Roseanne premiered in 1988, the ABC series offered viewers a bold new take on the traditional family sitcom.
In the era of Full House, The Cosby Show, and Growing Pains, the Conners reminded Americans that not all households are filled with affluent parents imparting valuable life lessons to their grateful, obedient children.
The Simpsons often receives the lion’s share of the credit for expanding our notion of what a sitcom family could look like.
But it’s worth noting that Roseanne beat Homer and company to the punch when it came to mining comedic gold out of suburban dysfunction.
The show was a critical success right out of the gate, and over the course of its nine-season run, it developed into a reliable ratings juggernaut.
In its second season, Roseanne stunned skeptics by knocking The Cosby Show out of the top spot for the
From a creative standpoint, the series fell off a cliff in its ninth season when the family won the lottery and abandoned the working-class realism that made it a success.
The writers somewhat managed to turn things around in the original series finale when it was revealed that the lotto storyline was all in the imagination of Roseanne Conner, who was overwhelmed by grief following the death of husband Dan (John Goodman).
Despite that rocky departure, Roseanne was given the reboot treatment in 2018.
And there might be no better example of how much times have changed since the early ’90s — and why series revivals aren’t always a great idea, especially from the creators’ perspective.
We’ll begin our conversation about The Conners by noting that the show has outperformed expectations.
But it was a rocky road getting to that point, and some of the stars who made Roseanne a success probably wish that the show had remained buried.
Recent rumors that The Conners will soon be coming to a close have prompted us to reexamine the series’ legacy — and it’s impossible to do so without comparing it to Roseanne.
First, the good:
The Conners has proven a modest hit for ABC, averaging over 3 million viewers and typically falling just short of the top 50 shows in a given week.
Network execs will take what they can get these days, but in a report on the state of the industry, Deadline called those numbers “paltry,” “inauspicious,” and a “rude awakening.”
Compare that to Roseanne’s peak, when the show routinely pulled in over 35 million viewers.
Obviously, the TV landscape has changed tremendously since then, but that’s not the only troubling comparison data for The Conners, which is currently drawing an audience about a third the size of the one that watched its debut.
To be fair, in those days, the show was called Roseanne, and Roseanne Barr still portrayed the title character.
Barr was fired from the show in 2018 in response to racist remarks she made about former Obama advisor Valerie Jarrett.
Network execs made the right call — and one could argue that they had no choice in the matter — but not surprisingly, Roseanne was furious about being kicked off the series that made her a household name.
Without its signature star, the sitcom — now rebranded as The Conners — experienced a rapid dropoff in its reception among both critics and audiences.
It’s easy to blame that decline entirely on the absence of Roseanne, but there were several other factors involved.
In fact, in retrospect, it seems obvious that The Conners was doomed to fall well short of the heights reached by its predecessor.
For starters, no network sitcom could achieve what Roseanne accomplished in the late ’80s and early ’90s.
The most obvious reason why is that we have far more entertainment options these days.
But viewers also engage differently with the shows they choose to tune into.
It’s almost impossible to imagine any show — much less a traditional three-camera, laugh-track sitcom — sparking conversations about the state of the American working family the way Roseanne did in the final days of the Reagan era.
Hell, without the built-in audience that comes with brand recognition, it’s impossible to imagine a show like The Conners being greenlit these days.
And even if the series cleared that initial hurdle, the drama behind the scenes likely would have doomed it to an early demise.
Production on The Conners was troubled from the start, and in 2022, Michael Fishman became the second original cast member to be fired with little warning.
Execs tried to sweep that mess under the rug, but Fishman has confirmed that he was not given a choice in the matter.
Between the show’s sharp decline in popularity (and, frankly, quality) and all that turmoil going on behind the scenes, it didn’t come as much of a surprise when executive producer Bruce Helford told TV Line that The Conners’ upcoming sixth season would be the show’s last.
“We feel that [next season] is possibly going to be the last season of The Conners,” EP Bruce Helford said at the time.
“I would not [say that] definitively because the numbers were so good this season, and we’ve all had a really great time… but it’s definitely a possibility.”
But interestingly, Helford recanted those remarks in a new interview with the same outlet.
“As far as going forward, it’s funny… When I made that comment [about it possibility of it being the final season], the response by ABC was, ‘We never agreed to that,’” said the EP.
Yes, The Conners might be fighting for scraps in a desolate primetime landscape, but increasingly desperate network execs are more reluctant than ever to let go of a former hit.
It’s a state of affairs that explains why the show was rebooted in the first place, why it was kept going in the wake of Roseanne’s departure — and why it might continue to grace our screens for many years to come.
How do you feel about the current state of The Conners? Hit the comments to share your thoughts!
Tyler Johnson is an Associate Editor for TV Fanatic and the other Mediavine O&O sites. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, cooking, and, of course, watching TV. You can Follow him on X and email him here at TV Fanatic.