How The Conners' Showrunner Felt About Bringing Maya Lynne Robinson's Geena Back Amidst The Unicorn's Cancellation

maya lynne robinson's geena in the kitchen on the conners season 3 finale
(Image credit: abc press)

Spoilers below for the Season 3 finale of ABC's The Conners, so be warned if you haven't yet watched!

In wrapping up its tumultuous third season, The Conners delivered some great relationship news for John Goodman's Dan and Katey Sagal's Louise, though the same can't exactly be said for Sara Gilbert's Darlene and Jay R. Ferguson's Ben. Michael Fishman's D.J. also got his own A+ update when former cast member Maya Lynne Robinson returned as Geena Conner for the finale, where it was revealed the character is retiring from the military in order to return home, meaning audiences will get to see a lot more from Geena in Season 4.

In a coincidence that skews both unfortunate and silver-lining-fortunate, Maya Lynne Robinson's return in The Conners' Season 3 finale came soon after it went public that CBS cancelled The Unicorn, on which Robinson had a starring role. When CinemaBlend spoke with The Conners' showrunner Bruce Helford and executive producer Dave Caplan, I asked about the crazy timing behind everything, which was quite similar to the situation with Katey Sagal's ABC drama Rebel being cancelled in the days prior the Conners finale. In Helford's words:

Well, we didn't root for Unicorn [to get cancelled]. When Maya Lynne told us she had that opportunity, we were like, 'That's fantastic. You're one of the leads in the show, and you deserve that so much.' And it was great. Unfortunately, it didn't continue there. But she was very happy to come back, and we'll definitely be seeing her again on the show going forward. One of the one of the most fun things about having her there was she hadn't been around for all the trauma, so when they are telling her all the horrible things - for the audience, it's a recap of really what a roller coaster ride this season was. So that was a really fun moment to play.

As much as it sucks to lose a cast member, it's definitely easier to do when that cast member is going into a role that equals their talents, which was definitely the case with Maya Lynne Robinson's work on The Unicorn. But since CBS made the call not to move forward, that gives The Conners' creative team a chance to truly bring Geena back into the narrative when Season 4 starts off, even if they may need to make some storytelling jumps if Robinson lands another big show in the coming months.

Not that The Conners EPs have any issue with trying to secure Maya Lynne Robinson no matter what she's doing professionally at the moment. Such is their love for the actress. Here's how Dave Caplan put it:

We wanted Maya Lynne back regardless of Unicorn's fate. We actually checked in to see, could she pull a Katey and give us some time even with the other show? Because we just felt there was so much unfinished business with that character, and how that character interacts with the other Conners. So we were checking into availability. And the fact that Unicorn didn't go forward... Again, we hurt for Maya Lynne, but we'll take the backhand advantage of having more Maya Lynne for us.

While Katey Sagal was able to split her filming time on occasion between The Conners and Rebel, with both being ABC shows, it appears Maya Lynne Robinson wasn't able to do so while on The Unicorn. And it was probably even more difficult to make something happen once COVID protocols limited the show's use of recurring and guest stars. For better or worse, at least that won't be an issue for anyone in Season 4, and Geena being around might lessen some of the sitcom's more dramatic storylines, as enjoyable as those can be.

While waiting for The Conners to return to ABC this fall, catch up on past episodes on Hulu and stay up to date on all the big shows hitting the 2021 Summer TV schedule.

Nick Venable
Assistant Managing Editor

Nick is a Cajun Country native, and is often asked why he doesn't sound like that's the case. His love for his wife and daughters is almost equaled by his love of gasp-for-breath laughter and gasp-for-breath horror. A lifetime spent in the vicinity of a television screen led to his current dream job, as well as his knowledge of too many TV themes and ad jingles.