BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. – Patricia Heaton enjoys being the marquee name at the top of her new CBS comedy, "Carol's Second Act."
After co-starring on sitcoms featuring better-known stars, including Ray Romano and Kelsey Grammer, Heaton gets to bask in applause when she makes her first entrance in "Second Act," which is shot in front of a studio audience like those earlier shows.
How did the star and executive producer – who also headlined "The Middle," which was filmed without an audience – feel about getting that spotlight? "It's about time," Heaton jokedto the Television Critics Association Thursday, tapping on her watch. "How many shows do I do before that happens?"
She adds: "It's in my contract. Not just the first entrance, but every entrance throughout the show."
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"I remember many years on ('Everybody Loves Raymond'), watching Ray come out and do the intro to the audience, and then I did a show with Kelsey Grammer called 'Back to You' and Kelsey would be the one coming out welcoming the audience," she says. "I'm not embarrassed to say it's thrilling to be the person to do that."
After a year off from "The Middle," an ensemble family sitcom that ended its nine-season run in 2018, Heaton was ready to get back to work. She felt a connection to her new character, Carol Chambers, a longtime teacher who goes to medical school and becomes an intern at 50.
"I think what was perfect about (the new series) is my kids were pretty much out of the house and my second long-running show was done and I was feeling a bit at sea, not knowing what I was doing," she says. "I'm no longer a full-time mom and I don't have a job as an actress and I very much struggled with things a person like Carol would feel. Who am I without these things? The idea was so perfect. … It's important at any time in your life to keep challenging yourself."
In "Second Act," Heaton plays against a younger generation of doctors and Ashley Tisdale ("High School Musical") as her daughter. But she also has a contemporary in a higher-ranking attending physician (Kyle MacLachlan).
Heaton, 61, and MacLachlan, 60, didn't know each other, and Heaton wasn't exactly a fan of his hallucinogenic, critically acclaimed 1986 film "Blue Velvet."
"I thought 'Blue Velvet' was one of the most disturbing, awful two hours of my life I'll never get back," she says."I'll be glad to be exacting my revenge in the coming years."
In meeting MacLachlan, "What I've discovered is this really lovely, old-timey gentleman who stands when ladies come into the room. It's fantastic."
MacLachlan then jokes that "Blue Velvet" actually was a studio-audience sitcom, before explaining his newness to and concern about the shooting style of "Second Act."
"We did our live pilot and I was really nervous. I was sweating. I've been on stage in front of an audience but the dynamics and precision of this kind of show is daunting. I'm so grateful that I've got pros all around me, particularly sitting next to me, that will carry me through," he says, alluding to Heaton.
Keaton didn't miss a beat. "I have some notes for you after" this, she says, suggesting chemistry that could be a big plus for the show.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Patricia Heaton loves her big-star status on new CBS sitcom