At “The Middle,” they call her “Cup-a-Soup.”
“Because she’s so instantly funny,” says show co-creator/executive producer Eileen Heisler. “She absolutely always knows where the funny is.”
Heisler’s talking about Patricia Heaton, star of “The Middle,” the first sitcom to have that particular distinction. Heaton spent nine seasons of “Everybody Loves Raymond,” but after all, the show wasn’t called “Everybody Loves Debra.”
With “Middle,” she’s the narrator and the centerpiece of the show as working mom Frankie Heck, and she’s no one’s second banana.
“It felt very, very different from ‘Raymond’ — the kids are an important part of the series here,” Heaton says. “Then, I hadn’t done single-camera on a consistent basis, but I wanted the skill set. When a really good script comes along, you have to say ‘yes.’ ”
“Middle,” which wraps up its third season Wednesday and has syndication sales in 92% of the country, is on its second life: The pilot was in development with Ricki Lake as the lead in 2006, but it didn’t survive to air.
“Patty was always our type (to play Frankie), but we didn’t allow ourselves to dream,” Heisler says.
When the show was revived, Heaton was an easy sell but did have one reservation. “She wondered if she would be Debra to everybody, but this role was different,” says Heisler. “Her experience helps; there’s no insecurity about her.”
And while it’s nice to have the spotlight for once, Heaton — for all her experience — feels that she’s still learning.
“You know how they say you have to do something for 10,000 hours before you’re a professional at it, right?” she asks. “I think I’m maybe halfway there.”
Right in the middle.
Sitcom world is Heaton-up