Keeping It Going
Sarah Gilbert’s last few years have been full of beginnings and endings and reimaginings, and there’s so much more to come.
Some shows just seem to have a life of their own.
Take The Connors, for instance. Its genesis was in 1988 as Roseanne, starring Roseanne Barr as the head of a working class household with husband Dan (John Goodman), and kids Becky (Alicia (Lecy) Goranson, later Sarah Chalke), Darlene (Sara Gilbert), and D. J. (Michael Fishman).
Also in the cast were Laurie Metcalf as Roseanne's sister Jackie, and Estelle Parsons as her mother Beverly, Running for nine seasons, it was a bona fide hit in the 80s and 90s.
A decade later, Sara Gilbert had the idea to bring it back, bringing the Connor family into the 21st century.
Sara Gilbert: I think it was just sort of like everything aligned, in a way. John Goodman and I did a little sketch on my talk show at the time, and it just felt so natural and so meant to be.
She says, "I think it was just sort of like everything aligned, in a way. John Goodman and I did a little sketch on my talk show at the time, and it just felt so natural and so meant to be. And it sort of reawakened this feeling in me that I didn't feel the show was done, and I've didn't feel done with the character.
"And then, the other thing was I didn't really know that the cast would want to do it, and when John said he wanted to do it, it made me just think, maybe I should just check in with people and see how they feel.
"And everybody seemed really enthusiastic. I just thought people might have wanted to move on. So that was the next reason.
"And then, lastly, it seemed, at the time, like it was the right time for the show to come back."
The show was once again a hit. But, after Barr left at the end of the first season, Gilber and the other creators and producers had to regroup to try to save the show.
The result was The Connors, which picks up after the titular Roseanne dies and the family is left to carry on. Even Gilbert was unsure about the show's future after Barr's exit, saying, "It was something I wasn't sure we were going to be able to pull off."
But pull it off they did, and the show, recently renewed for season three, continues to take on the topics of the day as only the Connor family can.
Gilbert says, "I think that the show historically has always done that, and so it's something that we wanted to continue. You know, to preserve sort of the legacy of the show and do the original run justice would be to tackle current issues, but always through the lens of the family and things they'd actually be dealing with.
"When we spoke with [creator] Bruce Helford, his take on the show, it was as much about the drama and the hardship that the family faces as a comedy, if not more. And so when we spoke with him, that's how I think we really knew that he was the right person to do the reboot.
Gilbert: ... this is a family that's dealing with real issues and it's a grounded sitcom so that the jokes are coming out of the struggle and out of the situations that the middle class is facing on the day to day.
"Because that is so much of it, is like this is a family that's dealing with real issues and it's a grounded sitcom so that the jokes are coming out of the struggle and out of the situations that the middle class is facing on the day to day.
"I think there's hopefully a relatability factor, you know, that people can feel like, in some ways, there is a character they identify with or the family overall or just trying to get by. If anything, this time is showing us how many Americans are living paycheck to paycheck."
When the series returns, the Connors will be dealing with whatever the rest of us are dealing with, including the pandemic. Gilbert says, " What's interesting about the sort of difficult situation we're in is that it affects everybody so differently. And it almost affects people right in their weak spot, whatever that weak spot is.
"Like, for someone like Bev, she would be most worried about her mortality, or Dan perhaps. And then there's the issue of the mortgage that we were already behind on. And then there's the magazine that Darlene and Ben are trying to start, but how can they be selling ads when there's no businesses open?
"And there's Harris, who would be in probably less physical danger, but is able to go out and work. And, you know, just like sort of everybody's, but she can't see her friends and neither can Mark, and it's just like everybody has their own specific set of issues and problems.
"And I'm sure Jackie would be like over the top OCD about it, and also probably would feel really alone because, even though she can come to the house, perhaps she's still living on her own. And a lot of people are feeling that."
In Gilbert's own life, the pandemic has had its own challenges and perks. She notes, "It's interesting that the nice thing about producing is that there is development.
"This is a time where I know a lot of people are struggling, not just to pay the bills or keep themselves healthy, but what to do with their mental and emotional health. So I have felt grateful that I've had this outlet of development when I'm not hovering over my kids making sure they have something to do.
"I can think about some of the projects we're working on and read documents, give notes. And there actually are some Zoom meetings, and people seem to be making deals. It's almost like people are doing what they can do, so they can make deals. So, in my experience, that hasn't ground to a halt."
She continues, "I know a lot of people are being creative, and then they're also thinking about what matters to them. You know, they're happy.
"They're able to realize that they like not being quite as busy. So what do I really want to do? What do I really want my life to be about? It's giving people time to reflect, to have the good fortune to have time to reflect, right now. I know a lot of people are just like trying to get by.
"It's weird, though, but you feel like you have no time. At least that's how I feel just because there's always some things to do at home, right? It's like you're cooking a meal for the kids. You're cleaning it up. You're getting one to do homework. There's a five-year-old running around the house. It's kind of like you're not just chilling out, right?
"I actually was going to have a little break, right now, and I think I'm busier than I would have been otherwise.
"So it's definitely more labor-intensive, but it's great. The silver lining is getting to spend so much time with them, and it's making me realize how much of their life passes by without them, which is pretty sad.
"There was this thing that the school sent out about, 'We'll look back on this time and remember how much time we spent with our kids, and it actually meant you start to cry. I was like, wow, that's so moving because it is really profound to get all these hours together."
When things eventually do start to open up, Gilbert has plenty to look forward to along with a return to The Connors.
She says, "We've got a show with Quibi that we had announced that we're working on with the writers, the scripts, and all that. And a few other pieces of development, so just really continuing to develop those and stuff we're going to take out, hopefully.
"But, hopefully, we can do that in this time so it's just seeing where that goes. You know how this process goes."
See who got nominated for Emmys this year.
Watch the replay and get all the details.
Our continuing series of opinion pieces from industry leaders and professionals, sharing ideas, fostering dialogue, and inspiring change.
This innovative Emmy-winning interactive program is breaking new ground this year.