It seems like only yesterday Patricia Heaton was wrapping up Everybody Loves Raymond. Hard to believe The Middle has been going strong for seven seasons now. The Heck family has become just as much a fixture of family viewing as they try to get by and laugh with each other.
I met Heaton at the ABC party for the Television Critics Association where she’ll always be welcome as long as the Hecks are on the air. She told me about a funny episode of The Middle that has now just aired, and also looked back at the show’s children as they’ve grown up on the show. The Middle airs Wednesdays at 8 PM on ABC.
What funny stuff is happening this season?
I just read I think the funniest sitcom script I’ve ever read since I’ve been in L.A. I just love it. There’s a movie premiere that happens in Orson because an exterior shot was filmed in Orson. So we all go and it’s just a wonderful, wonderful episode. I think it’s a testament that our writers in their seventh season are still coming up with incredible scripts.
Do the Hecks act like people you know in real life act when they know you’re in Hollywood?
I think people could be a little more in awe of me than they are. Make sure you write, “she said chuckling.” I think what’s interesting is with social media today, people feel much more connected to our industry no matter where they’re living. I have fans in India and Australia and I love hearing that someone from Bali is excited about the show. It’s kind of great.
Ray Romano has said he would still do TV but he wouldn’t do a sitcom again because he’s done that. Do you understand where he’s coming from?
I do. I think he’s referring specifically to multi-camera and that’s a tricky format these days. We’re all getting very used to single camera and a different kind of humor. I do believe that there’s another multi-cam out there for me. Yes, I do believe it.
Do you think if they could pair you with a different sort of person, you could get away from the Everybody Loves Raymond comparison?
Oh yeah, oh yeah. I think it’s about who the family is that you’re setting the person with. By family, I mean it could be workplace. It’s a very old and lovely tradition. It’s almost vaudevillian. You think of Honeymooners and Lucy. It speaks to the theater person in me because it’s like doing a play. You get to rehearse for a week and then you perform it for your audience from beginning to end. So it’s very theatrical in that sense. So I think that will never die. I think people will always be interested in that.
What about you and Neil Flynn doing the next sitcom?
I said to Neil, “If you see me and my next series is something like a Murder, She Wrote, you have to be my sidekick. Or just kill me.”
How about a workplace comedy where Eden Sher and Atticus Shaffer are now your boss?
That’s a good idea. I’m going to take that.
What has it been like to see the kids grow up?
Well, we forget, because it’s kind of like with your own kids. You see them every day so you kind of don’t realize how much they’ve grown until you go back and look at the first season. Atticus is like this little [man]. I think the interesting thing is we always thought Atticus was kind of an old man from the minute we met him. So we forgot how young he was until we look back and see him now.
Did you do anything else over the hiatus?
I went to England for Christmas. Unfortunately, my mother-in-law in England passed away so we were doing Christmas and we were also doing her funeral. So it was a mixed kind of holiday but it was lovely to be able to have the time to actually be with my family in the U.K., my in-laws and celebrate my mother-in-law’s life. So it was a trying family but that’s what family is for and I think that’s kind of what The Middle is about. When things get tough, it’s always about your family.
Where are you on Wednesdays at 8 when it airs?
In front of the TV, unless I’m working. I’m often filming at that time because we film for 12 to 14 hours a day, but I try to watch it on the day. I like to get people’s reaction in real time.