Why The Middle's Neil Flynn Took The NBC Sitcom Abby's After The Middle Ended

neil flynn in nbc's abby's

While he might not be one that comes up quickest when it comes to the biggest TV stars out there, TV and film vet Neil Flynn has been a big part of primetime television for the past 18 years. Having starred in the hit comedies Scrubs and The Middle, he’ll soon be seen downing backyard brewskis on NBC’s new sitcom Abby’s. Flynn revealed at TCA why he made Abby’s his next big TV project, saying that the other offers he got after The Middle were a little too familiar.

I don’t know why I got involved in this thing. I don’t know what I was thinking. (laughs) I didn’t know, on the scale of ‘being absolutely ignored’ and 'having my door beat down,’ I knew what was going to happen was somewhere in there. And it was a lot closer to silence than my ego is comfortable with. But I was glad when this show [came around]. I saw a couple scripts that were very much like the character I last played, in a different situation. ‘Mike Heck meets the 1970s. Mike Heck, and he lives in Minnesota.’ Of course, not called Mike Heck, but you read it, and you go, “This is the same guy.” So I didn’t want to do that. So I was very happy when this came along.

For a seasoned vet like Neill Flynn, it’s totally understandable why he wouldn’t want to dive into another broadcast series playing the same role he’d brought to TV audiences for the previous nine years. After all, Mike Heck was cut from the same cloth as quite a few sitcom husbands and fathers before him, and the traditional sitcom dad will likely always be a small-screen mainstay. But as it was implied when the actor spoke to the press at the Television Critics Association’s winter tour, don’t expect Flynn to slot himself right back into that kind of role.

Don’t get me wrong, I think it would be pretty fabulous to get some legitimate The Middle spinoffs in which the actual Mike Heck goes to space, or treks to the North Pole, or starts up a new career as a puppeteer. Or may some other, better ideas.

In any case, Neil Flynn is currently ready to return to weekly audiences as Abby’s Fred, a generally decent guy who doesn’t see much of a reason to do much in life other than hang out at his friend’s backyard watering hole. Abby’s isn’t technically a business so much as it is library where the books are made of alcohol, and there’s a late fee on everything when you buy it.

Because the NBC show is officially about Natalie Morales’ sentimental barkeep Abby, Neil Flynn isn’t technically a lead character. However, he’s part of the regular ensemble of patrons that consider the bar a home away from home. (That does happen to be attached to an actual home.) As such, fans can expect to find him in each and every episode, trying to keep the liquor-fueled status quo intact.

Thankfully, Neil Flynn wasn’t avoiding Heck-like characters over frustrations about The Middle now being off the air. He spoke to that at TCA, saying that the foreknowledge that things were ending was a big advantage. In his words:

Well, the good thing about The Middle’s run was that we all knew before this last season started that we were [done]. It was up to the producers and the actors that we were going to end. So it wasn’t abrupt to us or shocking or anything. And they got to tell the story the way they wanted to tell it, and end it the way they wanted to end it, and break hearts the way they wanted to break your heart. So it was all a completely pleasant experience.

But enough about shows that have ended, and more about new series that have yet to capture viewers’ attention. Beyond Neil Flynn and Natalie Morales, Abby’s also stars black-ish’s Nelson Franklin, Man with a Plan’s Jessica Chaffin, stand-up comedian Leonard Ouzts and Station 19 recurrer Kimia Behpoornia. It was created by Josh Malmuth and is executive produced by The Good Place creator Mike Schur. You can watch the brand new trailer below!

Abby’s will be making its sudsy premiere on NBC on Thursday, March 28. It’s part of a solid midseason lineup that is sure to keep comedy fans rolling through until summer.

Nick Venable
Assistant Managing Editor

Nick is a Cajun Country native, and is often asked why he doesn't sound like that's the case. His love for his wife and daughters is almost equaled by his love of gasp-for-breath laughter and gasp-for-breath horror. A lifetime spent in the vicinity of a television screen led to his current dream job, as well as his knowledge of too many TV themes and ad jingles.