'The Middle's' Patricia Heaton thankful for 'Modern Family'

patricia-heaton-tca-summer-tca-gi.jpg Patricia Heaton is quite content to remain caught in "The Middle."

The "Everybody Loves Raymond" alum tells Zap2it she considers her Wednesday family sitcom, now in its second season on ABC, "sort of The Little Engine That Could. When we premiered, 'Hank' (with Kelsey Grammer, Heaton's earlier 'Back to You' co-star) was our lead-in and did not do well, so we were kind of starting alone there."

Heaton recalls "Modern Family" and "Cougar Town" -- also newcomers to ABC's Wednesday schedule then -- "were getting a ton of press, and we were kind of chugging along on our own. Fortunately, critics did such a great job of trumpeting our show, we were able to get a pretty decent audience even without a strong lead-in.

"This year, we're the lead-in [to the whole Wednesday lineup] -- and we've not only brought back the viewers we had last year, we gained viewers from repeats over the summer, and the audience continues to grow. Our ratings were up again this week, and I'm grateful to ABC for hanging in there and putting that whole comedy block together."

The Emmy-winning "Modern Family" has given Heaton more reasons for gratitude, especially since executive producers Steve Levitan and Christopher Lloyd also ran her aforementioned "Back to You." She realizes airing on the same night is a boon, noting that after "Hank" was canceled, it was "really helpful" that ABC sometimes filled the slot with "Modern Family" repeats leading into "The Middle."

A judge in this year's edition of "CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute" on Thanksgiving night, Heaton is looking forward to an upcoming reunion of the "Everybody Loves Raymond" cast. They'll gather Thursday, Nov. 4, to honor co-star Doris Roberts at an Inner-City Arts benefit at Los Angeles' Beverly Hilton Hotel.

" Ray [ Romano] has a wonderful show with [TNT's] 'Men of a Certain Age,'" Heaton says, "Doris has always worked nonstop, and Brad [ Garrett] has a comedy club in Las Vegas now. Everyone's doing well, and it will be great to all be together again."

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