“The Middle” recently wrapped up a successful nine-season run of 215 episodes on ABC. This endearing and witty sitcom followed the misadventures of The Hecks, a five-member, working class family dealing with life’s daily struggles. Told from the point of view of mom Frankie, played by Emmy winner Patricia Heaton, it takes us on the Hecks’ journey. Content marketers looking for inspiration to up their funny game should take note from the success of this journey that lasted nearly a decade. There are plenty of lessons to be learned, like these:
Focus on Storytelling
There’s no doubt that “The Middle” is funny. The combination of wit and subtle slapstick draws laugh out loud guffaws from an average of 7 million viewers in every episode. But those laughs only come within the context of the story, which is the actual focus of the show. The show has an overall arc at the beginning of each episode that expertly unfolds in less than 20 minutes. It does this by taking two or three story vignettes focusing on different family members and tying them together in the end. With Frankie narrating the story, it’s reminiscent of a mommy blog — just from a mommy that’s lazy, needy, and somewhat neurotic.
This sets “The Middle” apart from sitcoms that try too hard to get the giggle, leaving the story, and even the show’s concept, to get lost. Some may make it through a full season, maybe even two. But it’s not long before audience’s fall away, because the story was weak or nonexistent.
This is a critical lesson for content marketers to heed. Funny for funny’s sake ain’t funny, or interesting. Instead, content must tell a story that draws audiences in and means something to them. The humor can complement the content – not encompass it.
Curate Content From Your Experiences
One especially memorable episode of “The Middle” involves toenails. Yep, I said toenails. Frankie is so engrossed in a TV show that she grabs a potato chip bag that’s on the coffee table and starts chomping down. Unfortunately, the bag contains nothing but the freshly clipped toenails of her oldest son, Axl, played by Charlie McDermott. From here, mayhem ensues. Another fun episode involves Frankie and husband Mike, played by Neil Flynn, going online to buy a dining room set for a bargain. When it’s delivered, they learn it was such a great deal because it’s doll furniture.
While it may seem like these storylines are pulled out of thin air by the creative minds of screenwriters, that’s not the case at all. Instead, “The Middle” creators DeAnn Heline and Eileen Eisler took real stories that their cast and crew swapped over the years and tweaked them to create TV gold. The toenail incident happened to a family member of one of the show’s hairdressers. And the doll furniture? That came from Patricia Heaton’s story of how her husband went online to order a set of gazing balls for the garden. The picture showed just what he wanted. But upon delivery, he found he had ordered three marbles that fit in the palm of his hand.
Heline and Eisler masterfully took the truth-is-stranger-than-fiction approach to pack their show’s storylines. They often curated ideas from everyday life. This creative, yet common sense, approach is one that content marketers (especially those who want to create comedic content!) can draw inspiration from. When you’re brainstorming and planning content, look at your own life or the lives of friends, family members, and colleagues. You never know when those watercooler stories or seemingly far-fetched adventures can be re-worked into content marketing gold.
“The Middle” creators set their show in the fictious small town of Orson, Indiana. Along with the family was the sixth character that embodied all the recurring characters, guest characters, and even the locations. Both Eisler and Heline were from the Midwest and referred to this sitcom as their love-letter to the region.
But “The Middle’s” appeal extended way beyond the Midwest. It’s an ode to small-town life audiences across the world relate to. Quite often, fans took to social media to share how an episode was eerily similar to an experience they had. Or even that a character was just like their own kid, parent, or neighbor.
One of the most endearing and relatable characters from “The Middle” is Sue Heck, played by Eden Sher. This character breaks the mold of the middle child by getting the least amount of attention from anyone. Yet she has the most determined and optimistic attitude – direct contrasts to those of her family. Things don’t always work out, but she tries and tries again. She’s so beloved that plans are in the works for a spinoff featuring Sue navigating young adulthood, even as the original show lives on in syndication.
This relatability endeared “The Middle” and its characters to its legion of loyal fans. It’s definitely a lesson that content marketers should learn from. In today’s climate, the only way to be successful in content marketing is to be relatable. Doing so enables audiences to interact comfortably. From there, they build a relationship with you, come to rely on you as an industry authority, share your content, seek your services, and recommend them. Before you know it, you’ve set yourself up for growth, thanks, in part, to your authenticity and relatability.
Cathy H has years of well-rounded experience in the writing field. Since transitioning from the newspaper industry, she has written countless pieces for clients that include content for blogs/articles, website landing pages, apps, press releases, and email newsletters. While her versatility enables Cathy to adapt her tone to the need, her favorite projects are those that add a dash of fun.