One of the most enjoyable things about sitcom The Conners (the revival of late ’80s comedy Roseanne) is that it’s like going home for a holiday, in a really literal sense. Little has changed about the Conner family’s house in the 30-plus years since it was first on air in Roseanne in 1987, from the ratty sofas in the living room, to the colourful crochet blanket on the back of one of them. Like a smelly old family pet, you see it through the lens of love and memory rather than weighing it up for a home reno.

There’s a simple reason for that choice from a storyline side: (relative) poverty. “The Conners don’t have the money to go out and buy a new sofa. Whatever was working for them 20 years ago is still working for them now,” says the revival’s set decorator Anne Ahrens.

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But in terms of the production, it was also a choice based on everyone’s emotional connections to the set. “It came down to producers saying, ‘The audience really wants the old-fashioned, emotional connection that they had in the original nine seasons.’” The returning actors also wanted the Conner house to stay as is, down to the littlest Godzilla trinket on the sideboard – some of which (like commemorative Elvis Presley plates) had been nicked by the original cast and crew when Roseanne ended. “They had a lot of emotional connections to the colour of the walls and the plaid sofa, and they all asked for certain things back. These are things that don’t really matter, but they mattered a lot to the actors. If it matters to them, then it matters to the audience. They remember all these special things,” says Anne.

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Couch surfing

In reality, though, everything old is new. Anne had to go out and source lookalike furniture, and every single one of the hundreds of trinkets and tchotchkes that litter the Conners’ living areas, while production designer John Shaffner worked on recreating the spaces. Roseanne’s original couch still exists safely in the Museum of Television in Phoenix, but that in itself was a problem. “There was a gentleman who claimed to have the original sofa. He has it in some kind of TV museum in Arizona, and no one understands how he got the sofa. He did offer to rent it to us, under conditions that there always be a security guard with it, it has to be in a temperature-controlled environment, and it’s only used on days when we were shooting. So we passed on that,” explains John.

Instead, Anne went out and sourced a similarly shaped sofa on internet “classified ads” sales site Craigslist. She then sourced the fabric to cover it from a company that makes mobile homes. After beating up the end result to age it realistically, “We even went in and painted some of the stripes in the plaid, to match more accurately what we could perceive as the stripes in the original sofa,” Anne reveals.

That couch is not trivial. "The focal point of most sitcoms is the couch. I always feel the couch is sort of the fireplace or the heart of the set. That's where most conversations happen. And the viewer wants to feel like he or she is sitting in the living room,” says Anne.


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Props to you

Anne tracked down a few bits and pieces to props warehouses in LA, and was able to rent them for the show. And what they could find exactly, they sourced close lookalikes for – as a family might as they broke and lost things over the years.

John reveals that for the kitchen, “We looked at around 40 episodes so that we could figure out how to do all the moldings, trim, door and window detailing, and the kitchen cabinets. Then we drew everything as best we could guess, very carefully, to match what had been there.”

And series co-producer Sara Gilbert, who plays Darlene Conner, also brought her expert memory into play. She wasn’t just the one who remembered that jar of pickled eggs in the pantry, she insisted that the living room be painted its original colour, a “pale lettuce green”. John says, “Sara had the best colour memory. Trying to find the colour was really tricky. The first time, there was a little too much blue in it. It was minty. That’s not right. I have to hand it to production. They truly wanted us to have the opportunity to get it right.”

Laurie Metcalfe, who plays Aunt Jackie, was amazed. “They recreated it to a T – little knick-knacks on the counters, pictures on the walls and some of my favourite new memories now are all of us laughing in the kitchen, looking at the jars of pickled eggs that sat for nine years on that shelf,” she says.

Watch The Conners S2(B) on Saturdays on M-Net (DStv 101) at 17:00


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