The Conners Live Episode and a Brief History of the TV Stunt

ABC's The Conners is going live with a special election-themed episode, but it's far from the first time a TV show has pulled this stunt

By Chris Harnick 11 Feb, 2020 5:00 PMTags
The ConnersABC

The Conners continues a grand tradition with its Tuesday, Feb. 11 episode: A live episode.

Pegged to the results of the New Hampshire Democratic primary, ABC's Roseanne spinoff will broadcast live. The Conners cast will perform the episode live twice, for the East Coast and West Coasts, with ABC News coverage incorporated into the story in real time as the primary results come in. The Conners' "Live from Lanford," has Mark (Ames McNamara) watching the results for a school project with his sister Harris (Emma Kenney), who is rather apathetic about the whole electoral process believing money has the real influence.

According to ABC, the episode features the other characters sharing their takes on politics and voting while prepping a surprise going-away party for Louise (Katey Sagal). This results in some major tension between Dan (John Goodman) and the family as his complicated relationship with Louise hits a crossroads.

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Beyond the recent swath of live musical productions such as The Wonderful World of Disney Presents: The Little Mermaid Live, Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert and Rent Live (despite much of Rent being a pre-taped dress rehearsal), which were all sparked by the success of NBC's The Sound of Music Live, live TV episodes were stunts used to grab ratings and attention. Going live for a TV show is a tired and true practice.

Most multi-camera sitcoms like The Conners are taped in front of a live studio audience, leading to an easier time for the shows to transition to a live format. However, single-camera comedies and one-hour dramas have been known to dip their toes into the water. Even cartoons.

Get a brief recent history of the trend below. Obviously there are other instances of a show going live, like soap opera One Life to Live, so emphasis on brief and recent history.

ER (1997)

Perhaps one of the most ambitious live events, the season four premiere of ER went live on both coasts with cast members including George Clooney, Julianna Margulies and Noah Wyle. The premise explained why viewers would see cameras moving around the hospital: A documentary film crew is invited into the hospital to film the fearless doctors and nurses.

The Drew Carey Show (1999, 2000, 2001)

Drew Carey and his cast were known for Whose Line Is It Anyway? And the show went live three times with loose plots to let the cast run wild.

Will & Grace (2005, 2006)

During the original eight-season run of Will & Grace, the NBC comedy went live twice, once in the season eight premiere with guest star Alec Baldwin and again later that season in an episode set completely in Karen's bathroom.

The West Wing (2005)

Another drama that unexpectedly went live, The West Wing staged a presidential debate between Arnold Vinick (Alan Alda) and Matthew Santos (Jimmy Smitts).

30 Rock (2010, 2012)

Tina Fey's workplace comedy was set at a live sketch show and full of veteran sketch and stage performers. This just made sense. The two live shows were full of cameos from the likes of Kim Kardashian, Paul McCartney, Amy Poehler, Fred Armisen, Jimmy Fallon, Jon Hamm and Julia Louis Dreyfus.

Undateable (2015-2016)

After the success of a live episode in season two, NBC made all of Undateable season three live. Each episode had a special musical guest, including Weezer, Charlie Puth and Backstreet Boys.

The Simpsons (2016)

At the end of "Simprovised," Homer (voiced by Dan Castellaneta) took viewer questions live for the East and West Coast broadcasts.

The Conners airs Tuesdays, 8 p.m. on ABC.