'The Conners' on Going Live to Kick Off Season 4 (Exclusive)

The cast talks to EP about their ambitious start to an all-new season and why this episode will be special for fans.

The Conners are back with season 4! And to kick things off, the ABC sitcom is going to broadcast live for the night as America’s favorite blue collar family continues to navigate the ongoing pandemic while dealing with breakups, sobriety and an upcoming wedding. Ahead of the premiere, the cast -- Sara Gilbert (Darlene), Michael Fishman (D.J.) and more -- talk to ET as they prepare to go live. 

While the series previously went live during season 2 with a politically-themed episode tied to the New Hampshire Primary, Gilbert says this is not “a stunt for stunt’s sake.”

“When the writers came up with this idea that fans could actually be a Conner and be on the show, it became such a meaningful way to honor people for watching it,” she explains, referring to the “You Can Be a Conner” sweepstakes. 

Launched ahead of the premiere, the fan-themed raffle offers viewers the opportunity to make a virtual appearance during the premiere. According to ABC, “a Conner family member will call each lucky sweepstakes winner for a live conversation regarding how they deal with some of the same life issues that the Conners navigate on a daily basis.”

Adding to the excitement is that “you never know exactly what they’re going to ask,” Fishman, who also helps behind the camera as director on various episodes each season. “That’s part of the joy. That’s part of the excitement for both us and the audience all at the same time.”

He adds, “I always think that the fans are part of this show. They’re the extra element… So the best part is getting to share it in a totally unique way that no one has ever done before.” 

And no matter what happens with each call, the cast has to go along with it. “You just got to play along and try to improv everything,” says Jay R. Ferguson, who plays Ben.  

“The most prepared I think will be Ames [McNamara],” Emma Kinney, who plays Harris, referring to her onscreen sibling, Mark. “I think all of us are pretty nervous. I know I am.”  

Of course, if things don’t go accordingly, executive producer Bruce Helford reveals they have a backup plan: a mute button. “There’s a little button we can push if we have to,” he says, explaining that this is a cast who can handle just about anything. “Whatever happens, whatever comes on, they’ll respond to what we ask them.” 

He adds, “We just love the idea that people are going to get the chance to come on… I just think the idea of getting to be part of the family is going to be pretty special.” 

And circling back to Gilbert’s point about doing a live episode, it’s not about watching to see if the cast will make mistakes or flub lines or break out into laughter. “Better than that is having some elements that truly are required to be live. And this has never been done before on a broadcast,” Helford explains. “So that’s going to be something special.” 

The Conners season 4 premieres live on Wednesday, Sept. 22 at 9 p.m. ET/PT.