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Michael Fishman of 'The Conners' talks life without Roseanne and the show’s future

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 Michael Fishman as DJ Conner and Maya Lynne Robinson as his wife, Geena Williams-Conner, in an episode of "The Conners" (formerly "Roseanne"). New episodes air each Tuesday at 8:00 p.m. Michael Fishman as DJ Conner and Maya Lynne Robinson as his wife, Geena Williams-Conner, in an episode of "The Conners" (formerly "Roseanne"). New episodes air each Tuesday at 8:00 p.m. (photo courtesy ABC)

According to Michael Fishman (“DJ Conner”) the cast of “Roseanne” faced a somber reality when they gathered in late August to begin shooting the first episodes of “The Conners” – ABC’s retitled, restructured reboot of the show that had returned to air with stunning ratings in March after more than two decades. The family matriarch was gone, and they had to figure out a way to carry on without her.

Following a controversial late May tweet from Roseanne Barr, the network pulled the plug on “Roseanne” but changed course three weeks later when they announced a reboot of their reboot. When “The Conners” debuted last month, we saw the cast dealing with the death of Roseanne Conner from an opioid overdose.

Fishman says the characters on “The Conners” have many stories left to tell and that he feels a responsibility to the fans that they honor the legacy of the show by continuing to tackle the deepest and darkest subjects with humor and love.

From the beginning, “Roseanne” reflected the realities of life for many in America. Since the show returned last month as “The Conners,” it has tackled addiction, life for soldiers returning from active duty, and how families cope with grief after a sudden loss.

The Maine Edge: Was it kind of surreal to return to the set in late August without Roseanne?

Fishman: It’s never what we envisioned but I think we found that these characters have a lot of stories left to tell and we wanted to stick together to tell those stories and honor the legacy of the show and the legacy that our fans have really built with their loyalty.

The Maine Edge: When you received the call that a reboot of the show was in the works, were you on board immediately or did you take some time to think about it?

Fishman: With the original reboot, I said “If everyone is involved then I’m in too. When do we start?” This time around, there was a more somber kind of reality. I honestly didn’t think it would be possible to do the show without Roseanne. Not only for everyone to come back but for ABC to give us this opportunity - I didn’t know if all of those pieces would be able to come together. What we’ve really done is lean on each other in this time and we’re trying really hard to make sure that we are honoring everything that this show has stood for.

My character – DJ - is a veteran and his wife Geena - played by Maya Lynne Robinson – is an active duty soldier. When you consider being in an interracial marriage with a biracial child, and the story lines centered around Mark (Ames McNamara), and Darlene’s (Sara Gilbert) transition to being a single parent and Becky (Lecy Goranson) trying to find herself - I think we have something that everyone can relate to and that has always been the strength of our show. We have such brilliant writers. We just aired a show where we touched on faith in a way that we never have before, and I think it’s a really significant thing for people to see.

The Maine Edge: The ratings for “The Conners” have been very strong. Do you pay much attention to the numbers?

Fishman: You try not to be centered on that, but you have to because it really is the lifeblood of what we do. What’s more important to me is that the show has always resonated with people and that it continues to do that. People have 30 years of history with us. What I’m most proud of is that that people feel like the show is representing them and we will continue to do that. We’re continuing to show what it’s like to really struggle but not give up. Or that it’s OK to fail sometimes but then you lean on each other and overcome it. That it’s OK to fight but to bring humor to bring each other back up.

The Maine Edge: I revisited some of the old shows recently and was struck by the fact that it didn’t really feel dated. The problems faced by the Conner family then are problems people go through today.

Fishman: I’m really lucky. That’s one of the things about this show in particular that keeps drawing me back. You can draw those correlations to real life family experiences and they are kind of timeless. We all have family struggles and the ability to find humor and tease each other while being honest about those struggles is something I think is unique to this show. The way we do it is authentic, and you don’t get that in every show.

The Maine Edge: How has your experience with all versions of this show affected your life on the outside?

Fishman: I’ve always been kind of a student of the show. This show is a great example of how you can cover the deepest, heaviest, darkest topics and do them with humor and love. As a writer and a creative person, I try to harness that. When I watch the older shows, it’s kind of like watching old home movies in a way. I remember all of the things that were going on – not just with the cast but with the crew. There are a lot of people who have been with us off and on for 30 years and I have relationships with them behind the camera as well.

We were kind of a wacky, fun group of people who were hugely professional when the time came but knew how to have a good time behind the scenes and we’re still that way.

The Maine Edge: Do you mentor some of the younger members of the cast of “The Conners” like you were mentored when you were their age?

Fishman: I do. I’ve always had people who had high expectations of me and it was important for me to live up to that. I spend time in the school room helping to teach Ames (McNamara – “Mark”) and Jayden (Rey – “Mary”) and help them understand that it’s not just the work part of it. Being famous is a magnifier. More people can see you, so it magnifies who you are. If you’re a kind person, the fame allows you to do bigger and kinder things. If you’re an unkind person, that gets magnified too.

The Maine Edge: I’m intrigued by the title of the episode scheduled for next Tuesday (Nov. 27) at 8 p.m. – “One Flew Over the Conner’s Nest.” Could you give us a preview?

Fishman: I can tell you that the Conners are expanding the family a little bit. It’s interesting because Jackie (Laurie Metcalf) wants to make sure that she’s still connected to this family. I think when you’re the sister in-law and are so deeply involved, you feel that you’re tether to the family may be severed when your sibling is gone. It’s important that Jackie knows and feels that she is still part of this family. And Laurie is amazing in this episode.

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