ABC’s blue-col­lar fam­i­lies team up

‘Roseanne,’ ‘The Mid­dle’ form a ‘fly­over coun­try’ power com­edy hour

USA TODAY Weekend Extra - - TELEVISION - Bill Keveney

Work­ers of TV, unite!

ABC has as­sem­bled a blue-col­lar com­edy hour that’s likely to be­come a high-end rat­ings district, at least for its short du­ra­tion.

Start­ing Tues­day, the net­work will pair Roseanne (8 ET/PT), which made shabby chic with a huge re­turn last week (25 mil­lion view­ers and count­ing) and a quick 11th-sea­son re­newal, with ninth-sea­son Mid­west­ern neigh­bor The Mid­dle (8:30 ET/PT), pre­sent­ing the first of its fi­nal six episodes.

The Con­ners of Roseanne and the Hecks of The Mid­dle have dif­fer­ent sen­si­bil­i­ties, as ev­i­denced by the light­ningrod re­ac­tion to Roseanne star Roseanne Barr. But both rep­re­sent a de­mo­graphic — fam­i­lies sur­viv­ing pay­check to pay­check, heart­land divi­sion — that tra­di­tion­ally gets lit­tle rep­re­sen­ta­tion on TV.

“I feel like the Hecks in­her­ited this won­der­ful legacy that was miss­ing from TV since Roseanne went off the air,” says Pa­tri­cia Heaton, who plays Frankie in the In­di­ana-based Mid­dle.

“And I won­dered to my­self when we de­cided to leave, where would that show be that is go­ing to rep­re­sent all the peo­ple that we rep­re­sent? And, of course, it’s Roseanne.”

Although sit­coms usu­ally fea­ture fam­i­lies where money isn’t a con­cern or isn’t dis­cussed, there has been an uptick in characters liv­ing pay­check to pay­check, in­clud­ing those on ABC’s Speech­less and NBC’s Su­per­store. Net­flix’s One Day at a Time of­fers a vari­a­tion by fea­tur­ing a Cuban-Amer­i­can fam­ily in Los An­ge­les.

Barr em­braces Mid­dle Amer­ica in her sit­com, which deals with touchy top­ics such as health care, So­cial Se­cu­rity and opi­oid ad­dic­tion.

“It’s work­ing-class peo­ple and the things they go through. They’re try­ing to stay above water. I wanted to bring those sub­jects to television,” says Barr, who says nuts-and-bolts is­sues don’t get enough at­ten­tion. “They don’t have too much real stuff on TV. That’s good for me.”

She sees blue-col­lar con­cerns dif­fer­ently, even from fel­low Roseanne pro­duc­ers, who talked to peo­ple in Illi­nois (the show’s set­ting) ahead of its re­turn.

“When they came back, I was laugh­ing so hard, be­cause the things they cared about were so off. They asked peo­ple in Illi­nois if it was im­por­tant to eat or­ganic foods, and they said, ‘Nah,’ ” she says, mak­ing the response sound ex­tradis­dain­ful. “I’m like, ‘You guys are lost.’ ”

The sit­com pair­ing seems sur­real to Mid­dle cre­ators (and Mid­west natives) Eileen Heisler and DeAnn He­line, both writ­ers on the orig­i­nal Roseanne.

ADAM ROSE/ABC

Roseanne (Roseanne Barr) and Dan (John Good­man) share many peo­ple’s ev­ery­day struggles.

MICHAEL ANSELL/ABC

Frankie (Pa­tri­cia Heaton) and Mike (Neil Flynn) are called to the school ther­a­pist’s of­fice on “The Mid­dle.”

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