ABC’s blue-collar families team up
‘Roseanne,’ ‘The Middle’ form a ‘flyover country’ power comedy hour
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.
Roseanne (Roseanne Barr) and Dan (John Goodman) share many people’s everyday struggles.
Frankie (Patricia Heaton) and Mike (Neil Flynn) are called to the school therapist’s office on “The Middle.”