Patricia Heaton Previews the 100th Episode of THE MIDDLE!
Way back in 2009 (September 30, to be exact), a little show called THE MIDDLE premiered, and I fell in love immediately. After airing two episodes, it was granted a back nine. Then a Season 2, then Season 3, 4, and 5, and with each passing episode, the ratings grew. The show became more beloved by critics and audiences alike, and since Season 5 premiered (armed with an an early syndication deal that found the show airing weekdays on ABC Family) the ratings have been up, the comedy has been sharp, and the Heck family has continued to be the best family on TV.
Over the years, through the 100 episodes, we have seen the ups and downs of this middle-American family. We’ve seen career decisions, money troubles, and the small but relateable issues like birthday cards and presents delivered late or forgotten. Mike and Frankie argue like any old married couple who love each other unconditionally; Axl’s had girlfriends, Sue’s had boyfriends, and Brick has read every book ever published. I’ve laughed and cried and come to think of the Hecks as old friends. To celebrate hitting this milestone 100th episode, I spent some time chatting with Frankie Heck herself (Patricia Heaton) about tonight’s Orsontennial and why this show has continued to gather audiences with each passing week!
I have to say – we’re in a world where shows barely make it to 13 episodes, barely make it a full season, and here we are at 100 episodes. It’s even a bigger feat in the current landscape.
I agree! I’ve been watching this season’s new crop of shows, and just thinking, man, why? I am so grateful that we’ve gotten to do 100 episodes. It’s tough out there. We have our lovely little home, our little family at Warner Bros that we get to go to every day. I am grateful, I tell you! What’s really interesting, this show, our show, probably shouldn’t ever have been on. It was shot, the pilot was shot with a different cast, and rejected originally. For a show to come back with a new cast, get a second chance, and get to 100 episodes? That’s incredible.
And so deserving – fires on all cylinders. Season 5, 100th episode – I love it more every time I watch it. I feel like people are having the same reactions.
I think you’re right – I, too, watch it sort of like an audience member because I don’t know what it’s going to look like when we’re shooting it, because A) I’m not in all the scenes, so I don’t know what it’s going to look like. So as a result, I’m seeing it for the first time just like the audience is, and I have seen the growth. In the stories, as the cast has really relaxed into the characters and gotten to know the characters’ voices. The writers have also learned the actors’ voices, and have figured out what the strengths are. And so then can write to those strengths. The fact that we all are living our lives, and that’s what they bring to the show, that’s what makes the show great is the authenticity. To be able to have all of that, and see it keep growing and developing, and getting stronger and stronger and stronger. Sometimes what happens is that a show starts off really hot, and then they can’t sustain it, because the foundation maybe isn’t really based on something real, and it’s hard to sustain it. Then you start looking around for story ideas and plot lines, and you’re just kind of making them up. I think audiences can feel that. But when the show is based on, as it is Eileen and DeAnne, and the writers’ lives, and what they go through with their kids every day, it’s an endless stream of inspiration. The show continues to be strong.
Let’s talk about the “Orsentennial” – another in a great line of what we’ve come to love about the show. Talk a little bit about what we’ll see in this episode, “The 100th.”
Well, I thought it was so clever of Eileen and DeAnne to celebrate our 100th episode with the Orson Centennial, with the 100th anniversary of the founding of Orson, Indiana. Just the perfect meeting. It really gave each character such great opportunities for comic relief. Frankie and Mike are reluctantly dragged into being a part of the festivities, and they’re driving the float. They’re “honored” with driving the cow float, which sounds fun on paper, but turns out to be much different [laughs]. Axl comes back for the weekend, to make some money off of the event with his friends Sean and Darren. Sue tries to get back with Darren by making her jealous of her relationship with Brad [laughs]. Brick enters the slogan competition and comes up with the best slogan, but that doesn’t always mean that you’re going to come out on top. It was great to have Brian Doyle-Murray back for a scene as Mr Ehlert from Ehlert Motors where Frankie used to work, and we had a lot of our neighbors come back, so it was really a fun episode. We had one of the characters, I hope he made it into the episode, we have the 4th best John Mellencamp impersonator, Ron Cougar Mellencamp [laughs].
The show continues – I’ll be watching it and all of a sudden moved by the show, crying at something that’s happened.
I think that the opening episode of the season when he whole family takes Axl to college and Frankie’s trying to make it an iconic moment and of course, everything is going wrong, and no one wants to participate. Everybody goes through this. It was really hilarious because Axl’s college is only 45 minutes away, and it ends up taking them 5 hours to get there. At the end where Frankie is hoping to give her big speech to her first born, who she’s now sending out into the world, and he takes off for a keg party, and she ends up delivering it to the back of the roommate – that really got a lot of people, and it got me, too! Your kids will never know what it’s like until they have their own kids. You don’t get the appreciation from your kids because they just can’t understand it until they have it themselves. You’re left there with your full but breaking heart. And I think that happens a lot on our show, and it’s not in a forced way; I think it’s a very natural way which is appealing.
And now the show is in syndication, and you’re continuing to find an audience. A lot of shows in a fifth season – they have their core audience, and rarely see new people “find” them, but that’s not the case for THE MIDDLE! Every time I turn around, someone new is finding it, and I think that’s incredible.
I agree and there are people that are still discovering it. It has a very similar trajectory to [EVERYBODY LOVES] RAYMOND. The fact that we get to go into syndication a little bit early really helped. I know that there are people who are starting to watch in syndication which in turn, is getting them to tune into new episodes Wednesday nights, so it’s really great. I have all kinds of people come up to me and tell me how much they love the show. When we first started, people would come up to tell me how much they loved my show, but they were almost always talking about RAYMOND. They didn’t even know I was on another show. Finally, now, when people come up and say “I love your show!” and I say, well which one, and they say “THE MIDDLE!” I love RAYMOND and that’s doing great in syndication, but it’s nice to know that this show is becoming very present in people’s minds.
THE MIDDLE’s 100th episode airs tonight (Wednesday) at 8/7c on ABC. For all things THE MIDDLE, head over to ABC.com!