On Tuesday night, as results were coming in from the New Hampshire primary, ABC aired a live episode of “The Conners.” It was a just-OK episode, but it incorporated the news from New Hampshire into the script — twice, actually, once for the East Coast and again for the West Coast. Here, we heard characters talking about Andrew Yang dropping out of the race, and out west they heard about Bernie Sanders’s victory.
It was fun to feel the live energy — and the attendant riskiness that is generally anathema to scripted network primetime shows — and to catch the updated, of-the-moment dialogue. Turns out viewers were up for it. The episode drew a season high of 6.34 million viewers for “The Conners,” a 19 percent increase from the last new episode two weeks ago. It also did well among the 18-49 set, as the night’s second-highest draw after “This Is Us.”
Viewers tune in for live sports, live reality shows, and “Saturday Night Live.” Is live TV one way into the future for the networks struggling to regain a foothold in the scripted realm? I’d love to see more live scripted primetime events in the mix, like the redoing of Norman Lear sitcoms or the live Broadway musicals we’ve seen in recent years. I still have vivid memories of the live episodes of “30 Rock” and “E.R.,” as the casts and the cameras all teetered on the edge of disaster — but never fell over. The live aspect adds the kind of excitement that is so painfully missing on so very many network shows.