As cable TV shows continually try to find new ways to attract viewers away from streaming sites, The Conners decided last night to do something that is very rarely done for scripted TV shows; air the episode live. In the past soap operas, including As The World Turns and The Edge Of Night, were aired live, but even they stopped doing it in 1975. New episode of shows like Saturday Night Live are of course live as well, but very rarely do you see any type of scripted show do it. And when they do, the actors typically perform the episode twice, once for the East Coast and once for the West. The Conners were the first show to do it since Undateable did it for their entire third season from October 2015 to January 2016.
The Conners live show went off without a hitch, and the only real difference between the east and west coast versions was the use of the New Hampshire Primary. One episode had Bernie Sanders winning the primary, and the other said he won it, both based on what was going on at that moment. The story on the other hand was unaffected, and it, and the script, for the most part stayed the same. In the coming days fans will surely go over both versions though, looking for bloopers and mess ups.
Live scripted television isn’t anything new, but several shows in the past have done it as a gimmick to draw viewers in. Gimme A Break did it in 1985, while ER attracted a much larger audience when they tried it back in 1997. The Drew Carey Show famously did it once a year for three straight seasons in 1999, 2000 and 2001. Even The West Wing jumped on board for a live debate episode in 2005. Most of the shows tie into other live events as well to show they are actually live, such as the primary the Conners tuned into, or a live sporting event. This of course is to show that there is no way the episode could be taped beforehand and presented as live, when it’s really not.
So what’s the attraction to live episodes? Networks know people will tune in to see the shows, even if they don’t usually follow them, because they hope to see something they have never seen before, such as actors slipping out of character for even a split second or even messing up. The fact of the matter is though, the actors are professionals, and most have had some experience performing on stage, so they are used to being live. Sure there will be the odd slip-ups, but the actors are professional enough to know they need to carry on. This of course means that any errors will be few and far between, and in most cases, nobody but the writers will know the difference. And when fans re-watch the episode later on, even they won’t be able to tell the difference. At least not where it matters.