‘The Conners’ Cast And Producers Talk Shooting During Pandemic Without An Audience, Possibility Of Live Episodes

The Conners are coming back! And as we see in the new promo below, ABC’s favorite irreverent family are responsibly practicing social distancing and staying safe during the pandemic — or should I say, “fan-demic” — the best way they can: by watching TV, drinking beer, blaming everything on the government and lots of laughs. During ABC’s VirtuFall event, show stars John Goodman, Laurie Metcalf, Sara Gilbert, Lecy Goranson and Michael Fishman were joined by executive producers Tom Werner, Bruce Helford, and Dave Caplan talked about what we can season 3 which debuts October 21 at 9PM EDT.

As seen in the promo, The Conners will be very much addressing the pandemic and how it is impacting the family. During the panel, Helford addressed how the pandemic is affecting the show in front of and behind the camera.

“The characters were built for disaster,” said Helford. “We’ve been following their life and their trials through all the things going on since the 1980s. I know there are a lot of shows that aren’t going to be reflecting what’s really going on, but we felt that it was an obligation to our viewers and to stay relevant and to show them how it’s like for a family that knows how to get through hard times but is thrown a curve like never before.”

He added, “Obviously we have rigid protocols on the stage — and those are maintained throughout. The way we’re reflecting life is pretty close to the exact thing the only thing that is different — but it really isn’t different — the family doesn’t wear masks or social distance amongst themselves because they are in quarantine together when they are in the house.”

Helford goes on to point out that on the show, Mark (Ames McNamara) is being very vigilant, taking everyone’s temperature before they enter and leave and he’s making sure everyone is washing their hands. “We’re keeping it very close to what everyone is doing,” he said.

As for the production, Helford said, “We have zones where you have to wear a certain amount of PPE; we have testing before you come on to the stage and we are being extremely careful with everyone’s health. We have never been in the business of keeping everyone healthy before but we take it damn seriously.”

The multi-cam show normally has a studio audience, but since the world is on lockdown, there isn’t one. Gilbert, who also serves as an EP on the show, said there was conversation about having a limited audience once things started to lift. “We’ve talked about it and we felt that the risks aren’t worth the benefit even if we’re testing people — we’re just dealing with safety issues,” she said.

As for how it’s like to not have audience Gilbert said, “As an actor, I can feel insecure or if it affects my performance but the producers swear it doesn’t so you guys will have to judge.”

It doesn’t mean that there are zero reactions while the cast is performing on stage. Helford said that there are bout 40 people on stage at a given time and they laugh and it will serve as a guideline for the show’s editor to insert laughter when needed.

The Conners aired a live episode during the New Hampshire primary and a live promo for the Oscars — but don’t expect any live episodes this season — particularly election night.

“Nothing is planned yet,” said Helford. “Obviously that would be a very difficult thing during COVID — but you never know.”

He laughed, “I know certain cast members aren’t crazy about doing one.”

There have been four episodes shot and Helford said that the pandemic will likely be a theme throughout all the episodes of the season. We will see Darlene and Becky work at Wellman Plastics, the same factory their mom and aunt worked at in the original series. Fans of the show know that the TV family goes all out when it comes to Halloween and Helford said that there will be a Halloween episode as the Conners try to figure out how to celebrate it during the pandemic. And of course, they will address the polarization of America during the election. Helford said they will be “on top of all of it”.

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