When he first heard the news, “I was consciously trying to accept it,” Goodman, 66, tells PEOPLE exclusively in this week’s cover story. “Just like, ‘Okay, this is happening, just breathe and go with it.’ Underneath I’m trying to get out of a plastic bag that is closing in on me, but I’m trying to be calm on the surface. I remember that contradiction.”
Now grateful the controversy led to the new spin-off, The Conners, costarring Sara Gilbert and Laurie Metcalf, Goodman recalls struggling “for about a month,” he says. “And then other things started going wrong. I fell down the steps and broke a rib. My wife got sick — just all kinds of weird stuff happened at one time. But I just had a feeling that it would work out.”
- For more of the exclusive interview with Gilbert, Goodman and Metcalf — including behind-the-scenes photos — pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday
Performing on Broadway at the time, Metcalf, 63, “wasn’t in the loop of any other possibility except [the show] being gone,” she says. “So I was trying to be resigned to that.”
For Gilbert, 43, who served as a producer on the show as well, it was more of a process. “It was just, today we’re dealing with what happened and the cancellation,” she says. “And then the network pretty shortly thereafter started to talk to us about what could come next. You know, after the dust settled. I tried not to think too much about anything other than what I was dealing with at each step.”
“Any sadness that we feel over what we’ve lost we’re hopefully channeling in an honest way into the show,” says Gilbert. “And our show has always been able to deal with heavy topics, particularly for a sitcom. It’s been kind of built into the mix.”
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In a new promo for the series, Gilbert and Metcalf’s characters are seen in the kitchen discussing the upcoming holidays.
“I thought we should talk about a game plan for Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas,” says Metcalf’s Jackie.
“Oh, I say we follow the Conners’ traditions and spend every dime we have on Halloween and have nothing to be thankful for or buy gifts with,” replies Gilbert’s Darlene.
When the show premieres, the cast is hopeful fans will tune in to see the Lanford, Illinois-based family reacting “to what’s missing but everything else is pretty much the same,” Goodman says. “There was a debt owed to this fictional family. We want to finish telling this story.”
The Conners debuts Oct. 16 at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.