The map of Indiana gets a little more crowded this TV season. Last year, it added Pawnee, the fictional setting for NBC's Parks and Recreation
. This year, it's Orson, the location for The Middle
, a new sitcom that premieres at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday on WRTV (Channel 6).
The mythical southern Indiana city is the home of the Heck family Frankie (Patricia Heaton), Mike (Neil Flynn) and their three utterly average children. They're a typical family, stressed from trying to cram too many activities into too few hours and stretched to the limit economically.
They're also very funny. The credit for that goes to DeAnn Heline and Eileen Heisler, best friends who met as roommates at IU-Bloomington.
They came up with the idea for The Middle
about three years ago, sold it, saw it scrapped and, ultimately, revived. They said if everything goes as they hope and The Middle
is a hit, we'll see a number of economy-related stories this summer like the Hecks shopping at an expired-food store as well as neighborhood block parties and lawnmower races.
NUVO: What's the history of this show?
Heisler: We had a deal with Warner Bros. We pitched the show to them 2½ years ago and they loved it, and we sold it to ABC. We wrote the script and went through the pilot process. It came close, but it didn't get picked up at the time. All the elements weren't perfect. They held the actors for a while, and then it went away. Then after the writers' strike, it was a script ABC was still passionate about. We started talking about it and talking about the changes we were going to make to the script. Obviously, casting was totally key. Then Back to You
went down and Patti Heaton was available. We got her the script and she loved it really quickly. We had breakfast with her and she wanted to do it. From there, we started the casting process again and got the pleasure of making it again.
NUVO: Is it a very different show now?
Heline: It is and it isn't. I would say the script changed a little bit. The character of Axel (the teenage son) changed and we punched it up. But overall, the first script was a little bit more "indie film." This is a little more richer in color, a little funnier.
NUVO: So now you wait and hope.
Heisler: We try to keep our eyes on the things we can control, like making good shows, and just hope that it catches on.
NUVO: Since the last time I talked to you (when they made Three Sisters
for NBC in 2001), you were working on How I Met Your Mother
Heline: We did How I Met Your Mother
, then the original pilot for The Middle
and Lipstick Jungle
. Now we're going to do this again.
Heisler: We're fortunate to get to do it again. You usually don't get that chance. And you just hope there's a reason it came alive again. It will become a great story to tell if that's what happens.
NUVO: What was the Lipstick Jungle
Heline: It had already been rewritten a couple of times when they brought us on.
Heisler: We had a deal with NBC.
Heline: We agreed to write it. They loved the script and we got the pilot shot. Then Ben Silverman came in (as network president) and they wanted to make it different. Ours was a one-hour drama with a little more comedy, a little more Sex and the City
, more funny. They decided they wanted to go in a different direction. So we were out and other people were in.
Heisler: What ended up airing in the Lipstick Jungle
pilot was about 50 percent of what we shot, but the tone was very, very different.
NUVO: Your new show is on a night where everything on ABC is new. That has to be daunting.
Heline: We're just so happy it's a comedy night. I love the other shows that are on I love Modern Family. So I think it's a great night.
Heisler: We hope that by having a new night, that in itself makes it a novel thing. Then maybe we'll get people to check it out. I think comedy always exists better in a block, and I think ABC is brave. We're thrilled.
NUVO: Does having a name actress leading the show help?
Heisler: Always. I think it's harder to get people to turn on a show the first time. I think if people say, "Oh, I like Patti Heaton," that's a reason to turn it on. It helps lighten your load.
NUVO: So where do you take this show from here? This looks like a very traditional family comedy.
Heline: I think any time you're doing a family comedy, people say it's traditional. For us, what's different is, it's not a dysfunctional family. It's an oddly functional family. But I think what makes it different is the characters. They're very specific characters. I think the one camera makes it different. (The show is shot in single-camera style, with no laugh track.) I think the setting will make it different. We set out to do a family comedy we could watch with our kids. Our kids watch it, our parents watch. We're proud of that fact. Sometimes, you're so worried as a writer about what makes it edgy and what makes it different. It just has to be good. If it makes you laugh and you're having a good time, that's what counts.
NUVO: How does Indiana play into the stories?
Heisler: It plays into it with things like show choir, and I think I hope we're capturing the people. There was a whole thing with MSNBC looking at Elkhart and what's going on there with the economy, and we look at that. Obama has said there are a lot of places in Indiana that are kind of a bellwether for the country, so we try to pay attention to what's going on there. It's Indiana as representative of our American Midwest.
NUVO: Now we have your show and Parks and Recreation
both set in Indiana.
Heisler: We did our show and then Parks and Recreation
came on and we went, "They're in Indiana!" There's room for two shows to be set in Indiana.