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ABC To Run A Politically Charged Episode Of 'The Conners' Live For N.H. Primary


The ABC sitcom "The Conners" will go live next month twice in one night. This is the show about the family from "Roseanne" that's been reframed since Roseanne Barr was fired in 2018. ABC has announced that on February 11, the night of the New Hampshire primary, "The Conners" will be live and include coverage of the primary.

Here to talk more about this is Danielle Turchiano. She's Variety's senior features editor for TV. Welcome to the program.

DANIELLE TURCHIANO: Thanks for having me.

CORNISH: What have you heard from the creatives involved in this process? Is this a choose your own adventure where they swap in one candidate's name for another? How much do they actually plan to integrate this?

TURCHIANO: Well, to be honest, the announcement actually came from ABC as a network, so those details are still being worked out. And it is not a hundred percent a political episode. There is still a storyline that ties into the overall season arc of Dan Conner, played by John Goodman, his new love interest, played by Katey Sagal. And she's been offered a job out of town, and the family kind of meddles and throws her a going-away party.

And so it's not a hundred percent political partially because they don't know what's going to happen. And if it's just not that exciting, if nothing is - if it's a lot of sit around and wait because results are not coming in on time, they do have...

CORNISH: An actual plot to follow through with.


CORNISH: What's the calculus of using a show like this, which has had such a rocky time, right? Roseanne Barr fired after this racist tweet about Barack Obama's adviser, Valerie Jarrett - they're basically getting back into politics - right? - as it's happening.

TURCHIANO: You know, it's interesting. It doesn't really feel like the show left politics. It's always - because it's had the blue-collar family at the center of the show, they've always dealt with those types of, quote, unquote, "issues" or just topics - immigration, certainly health care.

In dealing with how they wrote Roseanne out, she basically - the character basically overdosed after developing an opioid addiction. So it's not a complete stretch to continue down the political road. It is a much more overt way of responding to what's happening than they've done before. But I think that's also, to be honest, what makes it really interesting and unique.

CORNISH: Well, I want to talk about money because my understanding is that live broadcasts are presumably meant to get people to watch shows when they air, right?

TURCHIANO: Absolutely.

CORNISH: Instead of on demand, instead of streaming - so do they get to charge advertisers more? Kind of how does this work out for ABC?

TURCHIANO: You know, that's an interesting question. You're absolutely right that the point of these types of live events, and much of ABC's overall network strategy, is to eventize (ph) in order to get those live same-day ratings.

CORNISH: Eventize - I haven't heard that word yet.

TURCHIANO: Oh, that's interesting. ABC Entertainment President Karey Burke uses it a lot. It's very true for their strategy to, you know, try to stay in the game in terms of getting people talking about the shows and getting them talking immediately as they're airing so that, you know, they're not just going to diminish in those ratings as we've seen over the past few years as the content volume increases and the attention is stretched.

CORNISH: What does this mean for ABC News? I mean, usually, election nights are a time to showcase those departments.

TURCHIANO: I mean, they still will. ABC News' coverage will be incorporated into this broadcast by seeing those pundits and those anchors in the Conners' living room, so...

CORNISH: OK, but you hear how weird that is, right?


CORNISH: I don't know if I'm saying that...

TURCHIANO: You know...

CORNISH: ...Just as a newsperson. They've got a pretty esteemed newsroom, and now we've got to watch the Conners watch them.

TURCHIANO: Correct. I will say that it is pretty exciting that they're trying. I do think that it's a unique take on a live show. It's a unique take on reporting and election coverage. I don't know how many people will take it seriously. I think that is going to be a struggle that they may have, and that kind of remains to be seen on February 11.

CORNISH: Danielle Turchiano, thanks so much for speaking with us.

TURCHIANO: Thank you.

CORNISH: And Danielle is Variety's senior features editor for TV. She joined us via Skype.

(SOUNDBITE OF BLOUSE SONG, "FIRESTARTER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.