With so many television show on the air both on network and cable (and let’s not forget the growing number of online programs), it’s an impressive feat when any one of them can hit 100 episodes.
ABC’s The Middle may not get the attention and accolades of sitcoms such as Modern Family, but it’s been a solid ratings performer for the network, remaining consistently funny and relatable over the years.
Tonight’s episode marks the century mark for the series, so it was the perfect time to chat with star Patricia Heaton, who talked about why the series has endured this whole time and how the show has handled one big obstacle: children that grow up over the course of so may episodes. Read on for excerpts from our exclusive chat...
TV Fanatic: 100 episodes is a big deal. Does it feel like you’ve done a hundred episodes of the show already?
Patricia Heaton: Actually, no. It’s bizarre. I cannot believe five years has gone by. I just can’t believe it. And it’s so amazing…it’s not amazing that the show is still running because it’s a wonderful show but it’s such a hard environment these days to get a new show up and running and have it stay on. And I just am so grateful in that Eileen [Heisler] and DeAnn [Heline] our creators, that they put together this wonderful cast.
The fact is that the show was already cancelled one time and not picked up the first time it was done so there was another whole pilot that we shot they rejected before I came on the scene. So the fact that it got a second chance and that that worked is incredible so I feel really blessed. These five years has flown by and then when I think of the first year and how little we knew each other and now how intimately we know each other, it is like a second family and it’s just a treasure to have those relationships.
It’s kind of what’s great about being in this business. There are so many down sides but one of the up sides is you constantly meet new people in your job. The bad part about it is your job is always changing but the great part is your job is always changing. It gives you an opportunity to meet other actors, your peers, wonderful young actors coming up and then people you’ve admired from afar that you get to work with, which happened quite a bit on our show. We’ve had Ed Asner and Jerry Van Dyke and Marcia Mason and Betty White and so we’ve gotten to get all the iconic actors on our show so it’s just been fantastic.
TVF: What is the one hundredth episode about?
PH: Very cleverly Eileen and DeAnn have put together that our actual one hundredth episode would be the one hundredth anniversary of Orson, Indiana (where the series is set), which is perfect. And so the Hecks get involved in the one hundredth anniversary festivities in various ways. Mike (Neil Flynn) very reluctantly. Frankie, of course, always being the optimist and thinking things will turn out great and they usually don’t.
It’s a great way to bring Axl (Charlie McDermott) back in. He comes home to celebrate with his friends…Sue (Eden Sher) is still going through a teenage romantic heartbreak and she tries to rekindle her relationship with Darrin (John Gammon) and as always, Brick (Atticus Shaffer) is trying to win the new Orson Centennial slogan and, as usual with all that, nothing goes as planned.
TVF: And we get to see a little bit of drunk Frankie in this, which I have to say you play really well.
PH: I think that what’s great about our show [is] it’s definitely a family show and one thing that people really like about it is they get to watch it with their kids so we get to do fun stuff that everybody has gotten themselves in the middle of, not too much but just enough to make them real and relatable and funny.
TVF: The show has seamlessly worked in the fact that the kids are all growing up. Has that been a challenge?
PH: I think one of the biggest responses we got with this season’s premiere [was] where we’re dropping Axl off at college, and so many families have gone through this or are going through it in the last couple years, myself twice so I completely related to it and it brought tears to my eyes and that’s what I heard from a viewer on Twitter [who said] how much they related to that whole thing, especially getting the shower caddy.
You know how that shower caddy because there’s no other time in life when you are told that you are going to need a shower caddy. By the way, you never need a shower caddy. Every kid at college had a shower caddy. I don’t know anyone that used it. So I just love those kinds of details that make the show so funny and sort of reflects back to life and the life of the audience members and sort of confirms that, yes, this is all the crap that we all go through and, yes, it’s going to be okay and actually it’s kind of wonderful.
TVF: I’ve always loved your chemistry with Neil Flynn. You’ve been through this before with TV husbands but are you still surprised that five years in you guys still such a great rapport on camera?
PH: Yeah. Actually he’s a really smart guy and he might seem kind of gruff but he’s just a real sweetheart and we both grew up in the same household almost because we’re Midwest Irish Catholics. We totally get each other and we have very similar families and we know all the same bad church songs from the seventies like Catholic folk church songs. We know all the same commercials and TV shows. It’s really kind of great and fun.
TVF: Well, congratulations and hopefully we’ll talk at 200th episode if not before.
PH: From your mouth to God’s ears! That would be great.
The Middle airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on ABC.
Jim Halterman is the West Coast Editor of TV Fanatic and the owner of JimHalterman.com. Follow him on Twitter.