But don't worry -- just because the ABC sitcom is now attracting guest stars like Romano, former 'Saturday Night Live' star Molly Shannon and former 'Glee' star Chord Overstreet doesn't mean the show will lose any of what star Patricia Heaton calls its "Heck style."
In the Season 3 premiere (Wed., Sept. 21, 8PM ET on ABC), the Hecks go camping -- Heck-style, of course -- and if you're thinking that sounds like a recipe for disaster, you're absolutely correct.
Below, Heaton sounds off on her hatred for camping, reuniting with Romano and which pop culture obsession Frankie will harbor next now that the Royal Wedding is over.
What was it like filming the premiere?
Well, first of all, I hate camping, so I loved doing a horrible camping show because that's exactly how I feel about it. Of course it was so much fun to be reunited with Ray Romano, and I think they did such a good job making it seem like a natural fit -- not making it seem like "Oh, let's just find a way to stick Ray Romano in here." We had so much fun, although I have to say the rain scenes are horrible to film. Oh my gosh. It pours down on you, you have to do it over and over again, and it's cold. We get handsomely compensated for our pain, so I can't [complain].
What's coming up for the Heck family this season besides their camping misadventure?
Let's just say this: Frankie is invited to the most disgusting, gross-out event by mistake and it completely makes her have to rethink her whole life. I can't even say what it is, but it's really hilarious. We just did that one.
This season, it feels like 'Everybody Loves Raymond' in that we knew we had a great show, and then every season we came back it got better and better and better -- we were all like "Oh my gosh, every one of these scripts are amazing." I'm having the same feeling with 'The Middle.' We're going into episode 5 next week, and every script has been amazing.
Last year Frankie was obsessed with William and Kate's wedding. What is her new pop culture obsession going to be?
She loves 'Wheel of Fortune,' and that's come up in one of the episodes. I think that's all we've done so far. What's fun about 'The Middle' is that they mention certain things that for every American it's part of your life, like 'Wheel of Fortune' and the Royal Wedding and stuff like that, and it's really fun because I think it places our show right in the middle of America.
You're right -- I have a friend who told me her parents named their new dog Brick after your show because they love it and relate to it so much.
That's fantastic! I actually have a Kate and William setup in my office -- I have all my Kate and William stuff there. I was over there shortly before the wedding and got a lot of souvenirs.
Why do you think people relate so much to the show?
Well I think some shows are sort of wish fulfillment and aspirational, where you've got people living in New York City in high-rise penthouse apartments and fabulous clothes, those sort of wonderful things. There's also shows that just help us reflect back to ourselves and what our life is like, and takes a look at our everyday lives and puts a humorous spin on it. In the case of our show, I think it really tries to see the beauty in average American life -- [the Hecks] don't have a whole lot of things, fancy cars or vacation homes, things like that. But they have a fulfilled life even with all the ups and downs with trying to raise kids, and keep on top of everything, and try to make a living. They find what's wonderful about life and about family.
'The Middle' has done a lot of holiday episodes, but what haven't you done yet that you'd like to see?
I don't think we've done Easter yet; I'm sure they can do something really wonderful and horrible with Easter. We're going to have a great Thanksgiving this year because you're going to meet my sister, who is going to be played by Molly Shannon. I'm really excited about that. In fact, I had run into Molly in our neighborhood and said "You would be so great as my sister." I suggested it to the producers, and fortunately it worked out with her schedule. There's going to be a big blowup on Thanksgiving with me and my sister.
Now that Frankie has two high schoolers, how is that affecting her?
It's really great because Axel is just having a horrible time having Sue at the school with him. I think the second episode deals with the fact that I want him to really watch out for her more, and he's completely horrified by her presence and embarrassed that she's his sister. I think we're going to see a lot more of the kids and their high school stuff going on.
Are you planning any more 'Raymond' reunions? Who else would you like to see on 'The Middle'?
I think we're going to have to get Brad Garrett on there, on 'The Middle' anyway. It would be great to do something with 'Raymond' again but I don't know how we'd do it. We don't have Peter Boyle anymore and he was such an integral part of 'Everybody Loves Raymond,' so that would be up to Ray and Phil Rosenthal. We'll see.
'The Middle' Season 3 premieres Wed., Sept. 21, 8PM ET on ABC
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