It’s been four months since the revival of their hit show Roseanne was canceled by ABC in May after their costar Roseanne Barr tweeted a racist comment about a former White House adviser. Now, the stars are opening up about the controversy and how they’re grateful the aftermath led to a spin-off series, The Conners.
“There was the feeling of not wanting it to go away until we were ready,” Goodman, 66, tells PEOPLE exclusively in this week’s cover story. “There was a debt owed to this fictional family. We want to finish telling this story.”
- 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
The actor recalls first hearing of the tweet “in my kitchen and maybe my daughter or my wife told me,” he says. “It just didn’t seem true. Then it got true. I was consciously trying to accept it.”
For Gilbert, 43, it was more about compartmentalizing the news. “I don’t remember too much,” she recalls. “It was more just, ‘Okay, what are we dealing with today?’ I was just kind of taking things one step at a time as they came.”
Metcalf, who was in New York City performing on Broadway, remembers finding out “on the news, actually,” she says. “And I [first] thought, ‘Oh, I wonder if we still have a show.’ Because of how heavy everything became.”
In the weeks following the cancellation, each of them struggled to find acceptance. Goodman held on to “the hope of resurrecting it,” he says. “It was so unbelievable to do this show and it was like easy come, easy go.”
Metcalf, 63, was just trying “to reconcile myself to the show being gone,” she adds. “And you know, coming off such a high, it was hard to wrap our heads around.”
When the idea of a spin-off was first broached, the cast was hesitant yet hopeful. “There was a lot of risk involved,” says Metcalf. “But we all decided as a group to take the risk, knowing that we could be judged by deciding to come back.”
While Barr will not appear in the spin-off — she agreed to have no creative or financial ties to the show — all three are now grateful to her for allowing the new series to proceed. “That was a very big deal,” says Goodman. “To give us a chance.”
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Her character Roseanne reportedly will be killed off and the family will adjust and move on without her.
“Any sadness that we feel over what we’ve lost we’re hopefully channeling in an honest way into the show,” says Gilbert, who also serves as a producer. “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.”
Now, as the cast looks forward to the premiere of The Conners, they are anxious to continue the story of the beloved Lanford, Illinois, family.
“We’re leaning on each other when we do this show,” Goodman says. “And supporting each other — that’s a very strong feeling among us. It’s different, but we can create something new from it. Let us finish the story on our own terms. Come along with us and see how we do.”
The Conners debuts Oct. 16 at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.