The Conners is going live for a special episode airing on Tuesday. While this is the first time any iteration of Roseanne has chosen to air a live episode, it is not the first time ABC has dealt with the risks of real-time TV. Ahead of the newest live episode, showrunner Bruce Helford recalled an infamous moment from The Drew Carey Show‘s real-time broadcast that left network censors in a tizzy.
ABC was a pioneer of live scripted programming in the late 1990s and early 2000s. They had an annual live edition of The Drew Carey Show, which was co-created and executive produced by Helford.
In an “unscripted” moment during a bachelorette party scene in the Season 5 episode “Drew Live” — which aired in 1999 — an extra playing a male stripper pulled down his pants and flashed the audience to reveal a “hi mom” message written on his buttocks.
“We had no idea that was coming at all,” Helford told Deadline. “ABC was not crazy at all about that.”
In a Warner Bros. press release for a subsequent “Drew Live” episode, ABC Broadcast and Standard Practices editor Neil Conrad admitted he was nervous about the annual live episode after the extra’s bare butt stunt.
“Nothing scares me more than the annual ‘Drew Carey Live’ episode. It’s like watching your career flash before your eyes,” Conrad said.
“He’s right to be scared!” Helford replied.
Moon moments aside, Helford admitted that after doing multiple live episodes of The Drew Carey Show, he was ready to take advantage of The Conners’ “amazing cast” to film a live episode of his current ABC sitcom.
The episode will be political-themed as it will feature the sitcom family watching the New Hampshire primary election’s real-time results from ABC News, which will be incorporated into the broadcast. Helford told The Associated Press that rehearsals for the live episode included prepping for possible directions the live news could go and how the characters might respond.
“Anything could happen,” Helford said. “It’s a live show.”
In a teaser video posted to Instagram, The Conners star Michael Fishman said the script is “locked in” and ready to go but added, “There are some very open segments, perfect for live.”
Fishman added The Conners will take real-time news segments and place them in the show to give viewers a real-life experience of how a family deals with politics and differing opinions.
“But it will all be live and real,” he added.
More than 20 years after the “Drew Live” fiasco, The Conners “Live From Lanford” episode is part of ABC’s recent push into live and special event programming. ABC Entertainment President Karey Burke told reporters in January that the network’s plan will be “to present one live or big tentpole event every month.”
In November, ABC presented The Little Mermaid Live and in December, the network presented Live In Front of a Studio Audience with live recreations of classic episodes of All in the Family and Good Times.
The Conners “Live From Lanford” episode airs Tuesday, February 11 at 8 p.m. on ABC.