The ABC family sitcom The Middle joins an esteemed list of TV classics tonight as the show reaches its 200th episode at 8PM ET/PT on ABC. The episode, appropriately titled “The 200th,” is celebratory for the town of Orson for reasons you’ll see tonight.
Only a few live-action half-hour sitcoms have made it to 200 episodes; others in this esteemed list include Cheers, Full House, Family Matters, Roseanne, Happy Days, and Bewitched as well as Middle star Patricia Heaton‘s other show, Everybody Loves Raymond.
As filming was underway for Episode 200, the cast of the series had lunch with members of the press, appropriately around the Heck family dinner table. While there, we asked at what point did they realize the show could make it to 200 episodes.
“They kept us hanging every year,” Heaton (Frankie Heck) recalled. “They told us they were never sure we were coming back, from year to year.”
“It really feels kind of unreal that it got to 200,” Neil Flynn, who plays Frankie’s husband Mike, said. “Patty [Heaton] had done this before [with Everybody Loves Raymond]. 100 is all anyone would ever hope for. You’re on the air, you’re happy, you hope you make it through the season, and you get renewed… then you can kind of tell you’re going to stay, you have a place…. that gets you to 100. That’s seen as a milestone. And then somehow we just stuck around. Nobody told us to leave!”
Atticus Shaffer (Brick), the only cast member to have appeared in the original Middle pilot that starred Ricki Lake and Lex Medlin, always had higher hopes. “I remember way, way back when we were doing interviews right after Season 1 had come out and we had just been picked up for Season 2, I was doing interviews with Neil and they asked ‘hey, what do you think the show can run?’ And he was saying ‘hopefully 4 or 5 years, making it to 100.’ I did have a feeling of ‘maybe we can get to 7 or 8. I’d like to see 7 or 8. And obviously we’re past that now, so that’s a huge blessing,” he said.
The Middle’s current season will be its last, with the ending being a planned one. Neil Flynn said that fans have stopped to offer their condolences; Heaton said that it’s that “or they couldn’t believe that Malcolm in the Middle was running this long.”
Ultimately, The Middle has been a huge and possibly surprising success for all involved — even though it had no real lead-in for much of its run. “That first season we were on, Cougar Town was going to be the big hit. That had all the advertising,” Heaton recalled. “The evening started with a Kelsey Grammer show Hank, which was pulled after two episodes! And then it was us, and then it was Modern Family, and then Cougar Town. And so Hank disappeared after two episodes, Modern Family just exploded out of the box, and then we’ve just been sort of the Little Engine That Could.”
The Middle 200th episode airs tonight (December 5) at 8PM ET/PT on ABC.