ABC’s under-the-radar family comedy The Middle has reached the 100-episode milestone.
For the creative team behind the half-hour series, still going strong in its fifth season, it has been a learning experience since debuting in 2009.
“The first year seems like a year because you’re trying to figure out the show and the network has more concerns, but after that, it really has flown by,” co-creator DeAnn Heline tells The Hollywood Reporter. “We have a big board in our writers’ room and you have all the stories and you go, ‘Wow, I can’t believe it went that fast.’ ”
But co-creator Eileen Heisler says their biggest accomplishment may be the show’s “consistency.”
“We’ve managed for five years to keep our characters growing and I think we’ve churned out great episodes and I hope we haven’t had great dips in quality,” she tells THR. “The show’s been able to grow, and we haven’t run out of stories yet.”
Heline adds: “When we came on the air, there was no other show like this. It was dealing with people who weren’t making a lot of money and who were struggling. Television has forgotten about those people, and it was a love letter to those people.”
Star Patricia Heaton seconds Heline’s sentiments, telling THR that it’s the show’s “relatability” that ultimately connects with audiences.
“I don’t get to wear nice clothes; that seems to be key,” Heaton says jokingly. “Some of the craziest episodes are verbatim from the writers’ lives. They’re able to take those small moments and really explore them. I believe that audiences like to see their own lives reflected back to them in a funny way that confirms their lives are meaningful and whatever you’re going through will be OK in the end.”
The Middle’s 100th episode celebrates the town of Orson, Ind.’s 100th anniversary (the “Orsontennial,” if you will), with Frankie (Heaton) and Mike Heck (Neil Flynn) finding themselves driving a giant cow in the town parade.
To mark the occasion, THR caught up with the cast to take a trip down memory lane.
On memorable on-set moments
Atticus Shaffer (Brick Heck): “There was a scene in Red Lobster when a U.S. soldier comes home and shouts ‘USA!’ He’s surprising his family because he just came home. The ‘USA!’ thing was so energetic for the crew that the waitress spilled some water on the table. Instead of turning it into a negative thing, the prop designer started shouting ‘USA! USA!’ and so we all shouted ‘USA!’ ”
Charlie McDermott (Axl Heck): “I never got to graduate so it was cool to actually do that. My mom got to see me in a graduation cap and gown. That was more for a selfish reason. I got to graduate from imaginary high school on TV.”
On favorite episodes
Patricia Heaton: “Recently — this was something I related to — Frankie and the family dropped Axl off at college for freshman year and Frankie really wanted to make it an iconic moment and it fell apart for her. The greatest part was she wanted to make this great farewell speech to Axl, and he just gets to school and takes off. He doesn’t want to be with her; he wants to be with his friends. I recently experienced that with my kids. Frankie ended up giving that speech to the back of his roommate, who was at his computer, gaming. It was touching.”
Shaffer: “The scene in the block party back in episode one where Brick was disappointed because Mike said he would take him to the library and Mike changed his mind and said no. Brick is sitting on the curb, sad, and Mike, wanting to make Brick happy, comes back and picks Brick up on the lawnmower and they head to the library. That was my favorite moment.”
Eden Sher (Sue Heck): “The episode where we danced to the Fame song; that’s probably my favorite moment. It’s like trying to pick your favorite meal!”
Neil Flynn: “I like the family group scenes and the master bedroom scenes with Patty — the one-on-one moments.”
DeAnn Heline: “The episode of the map, which is where Aunt Ginny dies. It’s a sad one, but it was such a great celebration of life.”
Eileen Heisler: “I loved ‘Hecks on a Plane,’ when they went on a trip together. I loved the episode from season one, ‘Siblings,’ when the family was out playing football in the snow.”
McDermott: “I loved the life skills episode, which was last year. Axl and Sue had to do a class project together and Sue actually messed up, which is surprising and Axl stepped in to save the day. I wasn’t just making fun of her, which it usually is, and I don’t think that ever happened again or before. It was cool to be on the same side.”
On reaching 100 episodes
Heaton: “It’s hard to believe it happened again [after Everybody Loves Raymond]. It’s a tough business we’re in, and to be able to find another show that feels very different from Raymond that America responds to is pretty miraculous.”
Sher: “I almost feel like when I look back on this, I’m going to think, ‘This is the glory days.’ I can’t take this for granted. I feel like I’m being the high school jock in the moment, but I’m so aware that I’m in this amazing heaven place that I’m in a constant state of trying to absorb it all. It is a unicorn of television [reaching 100]. It’s very surreal.”
Flynn: “I’m just grateful, as I was last time [Scrubs], to be part of a successful effort. This time I had a little bit more to do with it. I’ve spent a lot more time working than I did last time.”
The Middle airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on ABC.