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TCA: The End of ‘The Middle’
August 8, 2017  | By Ed Bark
 

Beverly Hills, CA -- In a sea of disaffected TV teen daughters with 'tudes, The Middle’s Sue Heck is a fount of boundless optimism and pluck.

Who among us would dare root against her? Those who would are not worth befriending.

Eden Sher (left), now 25, has played sunny Sue of Orson, Indiana for all eight seasons of ABC's most under-recognized comedy series. This fall, "The Middle" fires up for its farewell tour while remaining as the network's Tuesday night lead off hitter after seven seasons on Wednesdays.

Your TVWorthWatching correspondent homed in on Sher during and after a panel with all of the show's principal cast members and producers. Is Sue in her DNA? Did the producers basically decide from the start that they couldn't make Sher "a character with attitude because it just wouldn't work" with her?

"I will say I don't think I really have much range as an actor," Sher said to laughter. "So yes, I will probably only play this in my life. I'm kidding. I'll probably have a career."

Creator/co-executive producer Eileen Heisler said that Sher "embodied Sue" from the day she first auditioned. "And then, as we got to know each other even more, they started feeding each other. But our intent from the beginning was to kind of buck that trend -- the really snotty teenager that we hope wasn't who we were when we were young. It was important to us that this be a different type of character."

Sher said the writers sought to avoid two tropes -- "the snotty teenager or the dork." Sue was "oblivious" to anyone making fun of her. "It wasn't like, 'I'm a dork, and I wish I could be cool.' "

After the session, TVWW sought to assure Sher that she surely has range and probably could segue to a role as a heroin addict if she wanted. She rolled right with it.

"And she'll be the happiest heroin addict there ever was!"

If acting doesn't work out for her after "The Middle" departs ABC, "maybe I'll be a professional Pilates instructor or dog hanger outer with," she said.

Sher also likes to write and has a book out titled "The Emotionary: A Dictionary of Words That Don't Exist for Feelings That Do." She plans to take "maybe a tiny break from acting" after joining "The Middle" right out of high school. "But if somebody wants to give me a job . . . "

It's gratifying, she said, that teenage girls tell her how much they relate to the essential goodness of Sue (right). "That's such a nice compliment." Plus, "maybe I have this sort of unintentional effect on cynical people."

That includes otherwise cynical TV critics. Not to mention any names.

***

Patricia Heaton (right), who plays mama Frankie Heck on "The Middle," had a long run on "Everybody Loves Raymond" before again hitting a sweet spot.

Her "takeaway" from the show, Heaton said after the panel, goes beyond "the wonderful, beautiful, precious relationships with everybody." "The Middle" marked the first time she had ever worked on a "single-cam" comedy without a studio audience or a laugh track in play.

"It was kind of a new skill set to put in my tool box," she said. "I'm still working on it. The kids know how to do it so easily. I really have to work to make it seem natural and normal."

On "The Middle," unlike "Everybody Loves Raymond," scenes are shot out of order, and there's next to no rehearsal, Heaton said. "My brain has been working overtime" for eight seasons. "I'm still trying to refine how to do this."

Neil Flynn (above with Heaton), who plays Frankie's stoic husband Mike after a lengthy run as a mono-syllabic janitor on "Scrubs," had more to say during the formal interview session. But he mostly saved himself for a big finish.

Flynn noted he's been on TV "a lot, but I didn't have long scenes. I've been in movies, and I'm usually Cop No. 4 or something. You are just glad to be there. This has by far -- BY FAR -- been the most that's been required of me as an actor. And Patty has been by far my favorite scene partner. And we get to play pages of dialogue.

"Sometimes like, four pages of just sitting in bed, talking. That's such a gift to an actor . . . Harrison Ford probably doesn't have a four-page, one-to-one scene in any of his movies. I hope to get to do it again, but that's what I have treasured from the experience."

"What about your scenes with me? Will you miss them?" Sher interjected.

"Sure," he dead panned. "I love my scenes with you." (left)

"The Middle" so far has received a not-so-grand total of one Emmy nomination -- for makeup.

Co-executive producer/creator DeAnn Heline acknowledged that this hurts at least a little.

"I'm not going to lie," she said. "We bitch about it in the writers' room sometimes. But honestly, I guess we take the Sue Heck attitude, which is the positive, optimistic attitude. We've seen so many shows on Wednesday nights after us that have gone away. And here we are, nine years later. Our fans love us. The critics have been lovely and wonderful to us."

After all, what's not to like?
 
 
 
 
 
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Good news, TVWW readers: David’s new book from Doubleday, The Platinum Age of Television: From I Love Lucy to The Walking Dead, How TV Became Terrific is available on Amazon for $20. (Paperback will be available September 5th, here.)

Doubleday says: “Darwin had his theory of evolution, and David Bianculli has his. Bianculli's theory has to do with the concept of quality television: what it is and, crucially, how it got that way."

"The Platinum Age of Television is an effusive guidebook that plots the path from the 1950s’ Golden Age to today’s era of quality TV. For instance, animation evolved from Rocky and His Friends to South Park; variety shows moved from The Ed Sullivan Show to Saturday Night Live; and family sitcoms grew from I Love Lucy to Modern Family. A high point is the author’s interviews with Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks, Norman Lear, Bob Newhart, Matt Groening, Larry David, Amy Schumer and many others...Bianculli has written a highly readable history." —The Washington Post