NEW YORK (Reuters) - One of television’s best-known families returned on Tuesday without its matriarch, as the character of feisty Roseanne Conner was killed off through an accidental opioid overdose.
Comedy series “The Conners,” featuring all the main characters in the blue-collar family from “Roseanne” except for its star and creator, Roseanne Barr, had its premiere on Disney-owned channel ABC, five months after “Roseanne” was canceled following a racist tweet by Barr.
Audiences had last seen Roseanne Conner hiding an opioid addiction stemming from knee pain and about to undergo long-delayed, costly surgery.
“We regret that ABC chose to cancel Roseanne by killing off the Roseanne Conner character. That it was done through an opioid overdose lent an unnecessary grim and morbid dimension to an otherwise happy family show,” Barr said in a statement.
In the first episode of “The Conners,” the family is shown struggling to come to terms with the death of Roseanne from what is first thought to be a heart attack but is later revealed to be an opioid overdose.
They find she had been hiding painkillers all over the house, and getting them from a circle of friends who shared medication to avoid costs.
The original “Roseanne” ran from 1988 to 1997 and was praised for its realistic portrayal of working-class life.
The revival in March, in which Barr played a supporter of Republican U.S. President Donald Trump, was ABC’s biggest hit, drawing an average 18 million viewers per episode.
The opioid theme at the center of “The Conners” could hardly be more topical. Addiction to opioids - mostly prescription painkillers, heroin and fentanyl - has reached epidemic proportions in the United States.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, opioids were involved in more than 49,000 deaths last year.
ABC canceled “Roseanne” in May after Barr sparked a furor with a tweet that compared black former Obama administration Valerie Jarrett to an ape.
Barr apologized and said the tweet was political, not racist, in its nature. But she agreed to step away from the show she created and will have no financial or creative involvement in “The Conners.”
Executive producer Bruce Rasmussen said the makers of “The Conners” had thought carefully about how to write out Roseanne’s character.
“You don’t want to be flip about how you do this,” Rasmussen told Variety in an interview last week. “A lot of people cared about these characters and it’s separate from whatever feelings they had about the person and her political views and the things she said.”
“The Conners” stars original “Roseanne” actors John Goodman (Dan), Laurie Metcalf (Jackie) and Sara Gilbert (Darlene).
The first episode of “The Conners” ends on a bittersweet note with Dan (Goodman) getting back into the marital bed for the first time in the three weeks since Roseanne’s death and reaching out an arm to an empty pillow beside him.
Reporting by Jill Serjeant; Editing by Peter Cooney