The Real Reason Why The Middle Went Off The Air

After nine seasons as a television underdog, ABC comedy "The Middle" came to an end in 2018. The show centered around the everyday life of the Hecks — a fictional middle-class American family. The appropriately titled sitcom starred acclaimed actors Neil Flynn and Patricia Heaton as Mr. and Mrs. Heck, alongside actors Charlie McDermott, Eden Sher, and Atticus Shaffer as their children.

While "The Middle" never became as big as some other ABC sitcoms, it did earn a devoted following and critical praise. This made the news that the show was ending a shock to viewers who related to the series' stories and lovable characters. "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," co-creator Eileen Heisler told Deadline in 2018.

If you're still missing the Heck family and wondering what happened, here are some reasons why "The Middle" went off the air.

The creators decided it was time to end the series

While fans were heartbroken over "The Middle" ending, they might be surprised to learn the creators planned it. Despite it already running for nine seasons, the show's co-creator Eileen Heisler insisted ABC would have been delighted for more of the Heck family. However, the creators thought it was the right time to wrap the series. "Our ratings have been great and ABC was very clear they did want more seasons," Heisler told Deadline. "It was our decision to bring it to a close."

Although the show's creators decided to end the series, they didn't make it alone. Instead, they talked things through with the cast of "The Middle" ahead of the ninth season and came to the decision as a team (via Entertainment Tonight). Speaking with People before the finale, series star Patricia Heaton revealed ending the show was "a mutual decision amongst the writers and the actors."

Fans thought the long-running show was underrated

Although "The Middle" left the air when it was still adored, many fans viewed the series as an underrated cult classic. Compared to ABC's other family-oriented sitcoms, such as the hit "Modern Family," "The Middle" never gained a huge viewership. In fact, the show never reached more than 9 million viewers throughout its run, according to Entertainment Weekly. In a joint statement announcing the final season, as reported by Entertainment Tonight, co-creators Eileen Heisler and DeAnn Heline even joked that they "wanted to go out before too many people knew we were on the air."

However, the reception from die-hard fans more than made up for "The Middle" being overshadowed by other acclaimed shows. Heline told Entertainment Weekly that they were "lucky" to have the show run for nine long seasons while being "underappreciated," noting, "Some know about us, some don't. We are at heart a midwestern show."

"In its own way, the show has been recognized even though it's not a ratings magnet," Heisler added in the same interview. "It's very stalwart and steady."

The Middle never won an Emmy

In addition to not being a huge ratings success, "The Middle" never won any Emmy awards — the pinnacle for television broadcasts. Although the show starred Emmy-winning actress Patricia Heaton, she didn't receive an Emmy for her work on the series, and neither did any of the show's other actors.

Like rubbing salt in a wound, "The Middle" only received one Emmy nomination throughout its entire run; however, it wasn't for any major acting, writing, or directing categories. In 2012, the show received its lone Emmy nod for Outstanding Makeup for a Single-Camera Series (Non-Prosthetic), which it lost to "Game of Thrones" (via IMDb).

That same year, ABC's other series "Modern Family" took home the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Comedy Series. "Black-ish," another long-running family comedy on the network, has been nominated for multiple Emmy awards, including Outstanding Comedy Series, Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series, and Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series. Like "Modern Family," "Black-ish" also received critical acclaim and won an Emmy.

They didn't want to rehash stories

While we know series creators and showrunners planned to end "The Middle," fans might have wondered why. One reason was simple: They didn't want the show to become dull by repeating stories. While the co-creators insisted they didn't run out of stories, they did want to end "The Middle" before that happened. "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," Eileen Heisler told Deadline in 2018. "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."

In a 2018 interview with People, lead actress Patricia Heaton shared the sentiment of wanting to "go out on top." Heaton also noted the show wasn't canceled by the network, contrary to popular belief. "We were at a point where the journeys of these five characters were kind of feeling pretty full," she said during the interview. "And so, we all agreed that this would be a good time to stop, this year."

Patricia Heaton wanted to try new roles

Knowing the decision to end "The Middle" was mutual between the cast and creators, it's natural to wonder how the show's actors felt about working on the longstanding series. For Patricia Heaton, who starred as the Heck family matriarch, the show's ending was a chance to try a new type of role.

Prior to portraying Frankie Heck on "The Middle," Heaton played television mom Debra Barone on the hit show "Everybody Loves Raymond" for nine years. As "The Middle" came to an end, Heaton expressed a desire to move away from sitcom mother roles. "I would like to play something different," she told People, adding, "Listen, most everybody is a mom, but anything that doesn't make that the focal point of the show."

In 2019, Heaton got her wish when she starred in the short-lived series "Carol's Second Act," playing a woman with adult children. When asked about what drew her to the titular character, Heaton told Watch! Magazine, "I didn't want to play another TV mom — I wanted to do something new and interesting."

Eden Sher had a spin-off lined up

Like her co-star Patricia Heaton, actress Eden Sher also had plans after the series ended. However, Sher, who played daughter Sue Heck on "The Middle," was looking forward to portraying the same character. Before "The Middle" went off the air, there were rumors that a Sue Heck-centered spin-off might be in the works, and Variety broke the news just one week after the final episode (although ABC didn't comment at that time).

Sher later confirmed the spin-off in July 2018. "We are shooting a pilot," she said during a TVLine interview at Comic-Con. "I hope it gets picked up. I think it's going to be great." The show, titled "Sue Sue in the City," would follow Sher's character as she moved to Chicago.

Unfortunately for Sher and fans of the Hecks, ABC ultimately decided not to move forward with the show, which would have been executive produced by "The Middle" co-creators Eileen Heisler and DeAnn Heline, according to TVLine.