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What 5 shows can teach showrunners trying to breathe new life into a 'Roseanne' reboot

Key Points
  • A Roseanne reboot — without its outspoken namesake — is reportedly in the cards.
  • Rebooting a show without a prominent character has both risks and rewards, entertainment watchers told CNBC.
Roseann Barr and John Goodman in "Roseanne," a TV series.
Adam Rose | ABC

Weeks after ABC abruptly cancelled its revival of the sitcom "Roseanne," after star Roseanne Barr was hammered by accusations of racism, the  -owned broadcaster announced this week that it's moving ahead with a spinoff of the hit show.

ABC announced on Thursday the spinoff was greenlit straight to series, with an order of 10 episodes and a working title "The Conners." Barr, the star of the original sitcom, will have no financial or creative involvement in the new series, according to ABC.

Although popular television shows have pressed on without central cast members before, the idea of a"Roseanne" minus Roseanne may seem like a bridge too far. DeeAnn Sims, founder and creative director at the SPBX public relations firm in Los Angeles, said that the show is simply too heavily identified with Barr to simply re-cast her.

"[Barr] has always been such a brash, standalone presence, this would need to be a completely different show altogether," she said. However, Sims did not rule out the possibility of a successful spinoff.

"I think a reboot around the family, rather than Roseanne herself, could actually work," she said.

Actor Patrick Kilpatrick, president and CEO of Uncommon Dialogue Films and has appeared on such television shows as "The X-Files" and "24," said that such a spinoff would undoubtedly have its share of hurdles to overcome. Yet it's not out of the question that the formula could work, he added.

"In the case of 'Roseanne,' you have to first address the issue of the name of the show, and then re-cast," he said. "The potential interest in the process by a huge audience could also more than offset the challenges."

It's anyone's guess how a "Roseanne" spinoff might fare, but the television landscape is peppered with shows that attempted to move on without prominent characters. With that in mind, CNBC looked to history for several examples of how trying to resurrect a show — whether via spinoff, a reboot, or re-cast — might play out.

Lou Grant

American actor Ed Asner talks on the phone over a cluttered desk in a still from the television program "Lou Grant," 1977.
CBS Photo Archive | Archive Photos | Getty Images

"Lou Grant" emerged from the ashes of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," and starred Ed Asner as a gruff editor-in-chief. But while the show that spawned it was a comedy, "Lou Grant" was a drama — and in its five seasons it won multiple Emmy awards.

Kevin Howley, professor of Media Studies at DePauw University, said that transforming the Dan Conner character into a serious leading man could work in the same way.

"If someone decides to morph John Goodman's character into a dramatic lead, a la Ed Asner's character, you might have something," he said. "That's the best-case scenario."

The Dukes of Hazzard

John Schneider, Catherine Bach and Tom Wopat in a promotional portrait for the TV show 'The Dukes of Hazzard', circa 1980.
Silver Screen Collection | Getty Images

When CBS's "The Dukes of Hazzard" lost stars John Schneider and Tom Wopat to contract negotiations, it hired new lookalike actors to play their cousins, basically replacing the stars in all but name.

The brief experiment failed spectacularly. Naeemah Clark, associate professor at the School of Communications at Elon University, recalled seeing the cast switch as a child. "Even as a seven-year-old, I knew that recasting the core of a show was a bad idea."

Ratings plunged, and Schneider and Wopat eventually came back. According to Clark, trying to replace Barr with another actor would likely be just as unsuccessful. "The brand is Roseanne," she said.


Jason Bateman as David Hogan, Valerie Harper as Valerie Hogan, Josh Taylor as Michael Hogan, Jeremy Licht as Mark Hogan, Danny Ponce as Willie Hogan in "Valerie."
Ron Batzdorff | NBCU Photo Bank | NBC

"Valerie" was an NBC show starring Valerie Harper, another veteran of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show." During its second season, a pay dispute prompted Harper to walk off the set. So how did that turn out?

NBC killed off the title character, then hired "acclaimed stage actress Sandy Duncan as [Harper's] sister, and then changed it to 'The Hogan Family,'" noted Richard Laermer, CEO of RLM Public Relations.

In fact, the show continued for three more seasons in that incarnation, meaning that a reboot named "The Conner Family" could very well be on the minds of ABC executives.

Spin City

Michael J. Fox in "Spin City."
ABC Photo Archives | ABC | Getty Images

ABC's political comedy faced an existential crisis when "Spin City's" lead actor, Michael J. Fox, left after its fourth season when he was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. His character was replaced with a new one, portrayed by Charlie Sheen, who starred in its final two seasons.

"Many shows simply end once they lose a central character," said Andrew Selepak, professor in the department of telecommunication at the University of Florida. "But there are some that see success, for however brief it may be — and no actor represents this more than Charlie Sheen."

Better Call Saul

Bryan Cranston as Walter White in "Breaking Bad."
Source: AMC

When the critically-acclaimed "Breaking Bad" ended in 2013, it ended on a note so bleak that continuing the franchise must have seemed like a major challenge. Yet one of the supporting characters, a lawyer named Saul Goodman, became the star of the prequel series "Better Call Saul." The current show is considerably lighter in tone than the series that inspired it.

"Better Call Saul" has not been the hit that "Breaking Bad" was, but it found enough of an audience to sustain it, even if its ratings have steadily declined over the past three seasons. It's done well enough with critics and audiences to earn a fourth season, which will air on the AMC network in August 2018.