It’s hard to feel sorry for anyone whose sitcom runs nine seasons on network TV. It sounds a bit like whining to say, “We don’t get no respect.”
On the other hand, ABC’s “The Middle” never has gotten the respect it deserves.
Heading into its ninth and final season, the series has delivered 191 solid, funny, often heartfelt, sometimes hilarious episodes. But it hasn’t made many end-of-year lists, and it has been virtually ignored by the Emmys.
“The Middle” has gotten a grand total of one Emmy nomination. For makeup. In 2012. And it didn’t win.
“Modern Family,” which debuted one week before “The Middle,” has won 22 Emmys on 80 nominations.
“I’m not going to lie,” said creator/executive producer DeAnn Heline. “We bitch about it in the writers’ room sometimes.”
But she and creator/executive producer Eileen Heisler insist they don’t let it bother them. They focus on the fact that they’ve “seen so many shows … that have gone away, and here we are nine years later. We are still on. Our fans love us.
“So for us to sit there and worry about, ‘Oh, no! We should have gotten more Emmys!’ Eh, that’s fine.”
The premise behind “The Middle” isn’t exactly revolutionary. It’s about middle-aged married couple Frankie (Patricia Heaton) and Mike Heck (Neil Flynn) raising three children — Axl (Charlie McDermott), Sue (Eden Sher) and Brick (Atticus Shaffer). The twist, if there is one, is that the Hecks live in Middle America — Indiana — not the East or West Coast.
They’re by no means perfect parents or model children. They go to church, but they’re not overly serious about it. They yell and argue like real families.
“Our show is about family values and morals and us being together as a family and how do you navigate the craziness of life as a family,” Shaffer said.
Somewhat ironically, “The Middle” seems to be getting the most promotion ever from ABC as it heads into its final season (Tuesday, 7 p.m., Ch. 4). It isn’t being run off by the network — the producers and the show’s stars jointly decided this will be the farewell season.
“It meant a lot to us to know that we had a season to say goodbye,” Heisler said, not find out they’re getting canceled shortly before or after they film their last episode.
“The truth is we could write this family for 10 more years,” Heline said. “The actors are so great. We all love each other. We’re a great family. To keep it going was certainly appealing. But we didn’t want to be at a point where, a few years down the road … we didn’t get to end it on our terms.”
They’re planning on bringing back supporting characters who have appeared over the years. And each of the regulars will get an episode that focuses on him or her.
The final season will not be “something crazy and different,” Heline said. “It’s going to be the show that you love, but I think it will have extra meaning for fans of the show and people who love the show.”
“The Middle” is already in syndication, and it will stay there for decades, raking in revenue. Not bad for a sitcom that Heisler compared to Mike Heck, a guy whose philosophy of life is to stay in your lane.
“I think our show has always been kind of like Mike,” she said. “Don’t stick your head too far above the wheat. Just kind of keep doing your job and do our job. And I think that people have found it. And maybe it didn’t get all the massive attention that it could have gotten, but the critics have been really kind to it.”
Well, not always. But I heard a whole lot of my colleagues saying that this is a show they wish they’d watched more frequently over the past eight years.