Even six years and a whole new sitcom later, Patricia Heaton still loves Raymond.
That’s why the actress invited her onetime TV husband Ray Romano to make a meta-nod to “Everybody Loves Raymond,” the beloved show they starred on together as Ray and Deborah Barone for nine years, by guest starring on the third season premiere of Heaton’s ABC series “The Middle.”
“It was really fun,” Heaton tells PopcornBiz.” I don't like to do stunt casting unless it really makes sense, and I think the timing was perfect because Ray was available. Unfortunately his wonderful show 'Men of a Certain Age' was cancelled, but also the writers just came up with a great concept to bring Ray in, in a flashback, as one of Mike's old high school friends who sort of crashes our honeymoon, our honeymoon camping trip. So it was really fun and the writers took the opportunity to kind of wink at the fact that we'd played husband and wife on another show. There's a kind of joke which you'll see.”
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Heaton says reteaming on set with her old scene partner was quite as easy as riding a bike again. “We used to film 'Raymond' in multi-camera and this is single camera, and so it's a very different way to work together,” she explains. “When we worked together we had the whole week to rehearse the show, and with this we had one day because Ray was only available for a day. It was a very different way to film and it's much harder to do. We have a script supervisor who doesn't let you miss one single word or transpose any words, so between every take she comes up with her list of everything that you've said wrong, and at one point Ray said, 'Really? This is the way that it is every day?' They were like, 'I don't know what kind of slop you were doing on "Men of a Certain Age," but yeah, we do the script as written. So step up to the plate my friend.'”
Romano also got a taste of the show’s effects budget. “We got rained on and it was freezing,” Heaton laughs. “It literally took Ray's breath away when they turned the rain machine on. He was like, 'Are you kidding me?!'”
Even though both stars have busy schedules and big families, they’ve managed to see one another from time to time since “Raymond” closed up shop in 2005. “I just saw him,” says Heaton. “He does like a Labor Day party every year, and so we get a chance to get together. Sometimes we'll have a chance at a charity benefit, but really because he's only one kid left in high school and my kids are all still in high school we really don't have much time to stay in touch. I happened to just see Brad Garrett at his house recently, too, which was great. You get about ten minutes to catch up and then everyone is off.”
Heaton consoles herself with her new TV clan the Hecks, offering a preview of this season’s family absurdity. “We're now having issues because Sue and Axle are in the same high school,” teases Heaton. “Sue is a freshman now, and it's really ruining Axle's life because I really want him to be more responsible for his sister and take care of her and look out for her at school and he wants nothing to do with her. Then we just filmed an episode where my character Frankie has this really horrible, gross out experience that I can't tell you what it is. That makes Frankie have to rethink her whole life and she sort of runs away from home because she hates her life so much. It's so funny and so disgusting – whenever I would talk about it at home my family would just say, 'Don't even tell us! Don't even say that! It's so gross!'”
"The Middle" returns tonight at 8 PM ET on ABC