During the eight years Neil Flynn played the janitor from hell on the ratings-challenged hospital romp "Scrubs," he was never sure if he'd be hanging up his mop at season's end. "We moved more than a dozen times," Flynn said. "And we were told every year this is the last year. And we'd always come back."
No such worries with his new sitcom, "The Middle," in which he and Patricia Heaton play an Indiana couple trying to make ends meet while raising three, shall we say, less-than-perfect kids. Not only has the freshman series been a consistent winner in its 8:30 p.m. Wednesday time slot, ABC has already renewed it for a second season.
Flynn, 49, recently chatted by phone from Los Angeles with Newsday's Daniel Bubbeo about his own Midwest roots (he hails from Waukegan, Ill.), being typecast as a cop and whether he'll pop up on "Scrubs" again this year.
Being from Illinois, was the Midwest setting one of the things that attracted you to "The Middle"?
I can definitely relate to it very much. I also grew up in a very similar house to the Hecks'. Despite my mother's best efforts, our house was not quite clean. Not that it was not tidy. Sorry, Mom.
The situations in the show are very relatable. Have you ever made suggestions to the writers?
I have suggested things. The youngest son, Brick, has a habit of repeating things to himself, which is something I did as a kid. It was troubling for a month or so to my parents, and then it faded.
So does that mean some of the stories, like the one about the dog in diapers or social services checking up on the Hecks when they mistakenly think they're abusive parents, have some basis in fact?
The social services incident really was one a writer with the show had. Her son had some sort of a scratch, and that led to something with the children's protective services. I've learned, be careful what you say in the writers' room. [Laughs]
After playing the Janitor for so many years, where everyone seemed scared of you, it must be nice to play a character who's somewhat normal.
I definitely wanted to play something other than the Janitor. I didn't want to be seen as someone who only plays intimidating weirdos. The kids respect him, but they're not scared of him. He's still a full-blooded man. He's a blue-collar, solid guy.
Any plans to appear in further episodes of "Scrubs" this season?
I appeared briefly in one episode. I was told I'm welcome back anytime, but I can't do both shows at once.
It must also feel good to graduate to having one of the lead roles on "The Middle."
It absolutely does my ego proud to be second on the call sheet. I'm happy not to be the star. Being the star comes with some pressure that I don't need. I'm happy to be in the background or deep in the background. Being second in command is fine with me.
Early in your career, you seemed to always be playing cops. Is that because you're so tall [he's 6-foot-5]?
Probably. I can pass as a cop. And there are cops in just about everything. I was either cast as Cop No. 1 or Cop No. 2. After doing a few smaller parts and making a little progress in the business, I insisted on people casting me as Cop No. 1.
Is it true that when you tried out for "Scrubs," the Janitor was never meant to be a regular character?
I'm not sure they even held auditions for the Janitor. I read for Dr. Cox and Bill Lawrence decided to go with John [C. McGinley]. Then, they asked me to read for the Janitor. I said, "Sure, I'll take a week's work." He was just supposed to be in the pilot. Then, he showed up in the second episode, and the third, and never went away.