For some reason, America seems to have something against the middle. We talk about the curse of “middle-child syndrome” and generally think of being between a rock and a hard place as a pretty crappy place to be. But if there’s one person who can appreciate the value of being smack-dab in the center, it’s Patricia Heaton, star of ABC’s recently-renewed sitcom THE MIDDLE. And while the show may not yet have blazed its way to the top of the ratings charts — thanks at least in part to HANK, the weak-link in ABC’s Wednesday night laughfest which happens to feature Heaton’s BACK TO YOU co-star, Kelsey Grammer — THE MIDDLE is winning new fans every week.
“Critics have been wonderful and everyone seems to really like it,” said Heaton during a recent chat about the show’s trajectory.”ABC realizes that as soon as people watch the show, they’re going to love it, and I think they’re really putting their support behind it.” Which speaks volumes about the network’s belief in the recession-friendly, lower-middle-class sitcom, espcially given how reluctant modern networks are to allow a show time to find its audience. “Sometimes, all a show needs is to be out there long enough for people to see it.”
After nine years on the wildly-successful EVERYBODY HATES RAYMOND — not to mention the BACK TO YOU’s “can’t miss” pairing of Heaton and Grammer that, well, missed big time — Heaton had to decide whether she really wanted to take on another sitcom. “In some ways, it can be scary,” she admits, “because I am just in about every scene, and you feel like you have to carry the show.” Fortunately, she’s come to recognize that there’s a lot more to the series than her harried working mom, Frankie. “THE MIDDLE really is an ensemble to me, and one that isn’t going to be my success or my failure, so I don’t worry about it.”
Fortunately, she’s got a winning team stepping up to the plate with her each week, including Neil Flynn (SCRUBS) as her TV hubby Mike and on-screen kids played by Charlie McDermott (shirt-eschewing Axl), Eden Sher (failure-prone optimist Sue) and Atticus Shaffer (delightfully dysfunctional Brick)
“The are very special and don’t have that smart-alecky, Hollywood-kid thing going on that you so often see,” says Heaton of the actors portraying her alter ego’s brood. “These kids are real, natural — and yes it helps that they’re going on 30 years-old in real life!” she says with a laugh. “But they just really are naturalistic actors and nice normal kids off camera.”
It also helps that Heaton has a lot of “mom” experience under her belt. In fact, she knows exactly what it’s like to share one’s home with a teenage son who seems allergic to clothing! “I have a 16-year-old,” she reveals. “And I can tell you, they never wear shirts! I have said to my son, ‘You can’t sit down at the dinner table unless you put a flippin’ shirt on’,” jokes Heaton. So doing scenes with McDermott in his boxers is pretty much old hat. “It’s funny, because we’ve gotten so used to Charlie walking around the set shirtless that it’s weird to see him with a shirt on!” Given all the exercise required to avoid those legendary 10 pounds added by the camera, she’s just as happy to be playing a character whose more likely to wear a Wal-Mart sweater than a Victoria’s Secret bustier. “I know that’s why I don’t have my shirt off all the time!”
THE MIDDLE airs Wednesdays at 8:30PM on ABC