If there is one word that The Middle co-creator and executive producer Eileen Heisler can describe the end of the popular ABC family sitcom, it would be “bittersweet.” Heisler and fellow creator and EP DeAnn Heline served up the season finale of The Middle tonight and fans of the show were very much in their feelings as they saw the Hecks drive off into the sunset as they took Axl to his new job in Denver.
The fans weren’t the only ones emotional after saying goodbye to the Hecks. During Deadline’s interview with Heisler, she shared stories from the final days of filming with the cast and crew. Some people broke down, some people were nostalgic, but after nine seasons with one of TV’s most beloved families, the one feeling that stayed consistent was love. As Heisler points out, the family on-screen made way for a family behind the scenes and even though it was hard to say goodbye there was lots of love to go around — so much that she is envisioning a reboot in 10 years.
DEADLINE: How has it been making the final season of The Middle?
EILEEN HEISLER: It was bittersweet, of course, but we really were happy we got to go out on our own terms. Knowing it was the last season made every moment more precious. I think we got the chance to show a lot of appreciation and love for each other all season long. So many special moments for all of us — it was a joy.
DEADLINE: What was the mood on set while filming the final episode?
HEISLER: Well, it was an hour, so we shot for two whole weeks. From the moment we had the table read of the final episode, there were a lot of tears… a lot! The first week had moments of denial where it almost felt like a normal episode, but then as we got into the second week there was a lot of, “ohhh, this is the last time we’ll shoot in the kitchen” [and] “this is the last time we’ll shoot in the living room” — so many lasts. The mood was — and if this is drinking game, here’s another chance to drink — bittersweet. Different people broke down at different times throughout the two weeks. It was very tender and nostalgic — there were some tough moments for sure, but in the end, it was celebratory and loving and heartbreaking and sad all mixed together. Nine years is a long time, and it was and is hard to believe it’s really ending.
DEADLINE: During the nine seasons, how do you think The Middle has connected with audiences and all that has been going on in the world and pop culture?
HEISLER: Throughout the entire run, we’ve been told, “You must have a camera in my house.” I think a lot of people felt we were representing them — their families, their lives. The word we most heard from fans is that our show was relatable. I don’t think we were ever that influenced by pop culture and world events — we’ve kinda been making the show we were making from the beginning. The world changed around us, but I don’t think we changed the show we were writing. It’s possible that the press may have found it to be more relevant since the election, but I think the audiences have always liked the show for the same reason — because they loved the characters, and saw themselves and their problems represented in a way that was funny and touching. The show has always had a tinge of nostalgia and a lot of heart, and we hear from fans that they appreciated the cry moments as much as the laughs.
DEADLINE: What will you miss most about The Middle?
HEISLER: Wow, it’s so hard to pick what I’ll miss most when I’ll miss all of it so much. It’s cliched to say, but I’ll miss the people — these people we’ve been so lucky to get to work with for such a big chunk of our lives. I’ll miss sitting around with our wonderful group of writers and sharing stories, I’ll miss that whenever there are fights in my family or things my kids do that make me nuts I know we can turn it into an episode. I’ll miss our crew and wonderful directors, I’ll miss this cast. Working with this cast every day was a gift — as not only were they always at the top of their game creatively, they’re truly lovely people. We’ve had the privilege of working with such an amazing group who not only were good at their jobs, they were kind to each other and loved and were proud of the work we were doing. It was a very special place, and we knew it. Everyone who came to work on our show said it wasn’t like other sets. It was kinda like Orson, a nice place to be.
DEADLINE: What do you hope fans take away from the series finale? And do you think they will be satisfied?
HEISLER: I hope they think we did a good job and treated them well. Finales are hard to do. You really want to stick the landing. We worked very hard to do the series justice in this hour-long finale and thought about the fans a lot as we crafted it. I think they’ll be very satisfied.
DEADLINE: That in mind, how do you think the fans have influenced The Middle?
HEISLER: I think the fans have kept us going. We’ve always felt a lot of love from our fans, and it’s been very gratifying to hear people say how much they’ll miss the Hecks and how much they saw their own families in them. We’ve thought about them a lot over these nine years, and have always been aware of them — yeah, we check in on Twitter and Facebook and see how we’re doing! I think they’ve always been in our minds and our hearts and we’ve realized we’re a show that lots of families watch together, and tried to keep that in mind with the stories we’ve written.
DEADLINE: Why is now a good time for the show to end?
HEISLER: Well, it isn’t because we ran out of stories. We had a whole board of stories we never got to. We felt it was a good time to end because we were all still loving it, loving each other, and enjoying ourselves. We never wanted to get to the point where we were retreading old stories, or anyone was feeling restless and wishing they were somewhere else. We wanted to go out while we’re still at the top — (the middle?) — of our game, and to have a year of knowing we were wrapping up so we could write to an ending. We feel very grateful we’ve gotten to do that, and hope we are leaving fans wanting more.
DEADLINE: If ABC wanted one more season of The Middle what would be next in the Heck family narrative?
HEISLER: Our ratings have been great and ABC was very clear they did want more seasons — it was our decision to bring it to a close. And hey… I can’t tell you what’s next… gotta save it for the reboot. See you in ten years!