Diane Haithman is contributing to Deadline’s TCA coverage.

Modern Family is such a hit for ABC that entertainment president Paul Lee just referred to it as simply “Modern” during a morning TCA panel. Everyone on the planet would know what show he meant.

But if ratings are any indication, the TV viewership is not on such a first-name basis with another ABC Wednesday night comedy, The Middle. At today’s late afternoon panel on the show, executive producers DeAnn Heline and Eileen Heisler joked that they were going to go to a bar and have a drink for every time a TV critic calls the show “underrated.”

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Still, the producers and cast members who attended the panel (Eden Sher, Atticus Shaffer, Neil Flynn and Patricia Heaton), said they are pretty satisfied with the show’s 8 PM time slot and the loyal fan base that finds it there. Heisler and Heline say that the “underrated” references feel like awards for the show.

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“Slow and steady wins the race, “ said actor Flynn. “Before you know it we’ll have done 120 episodes before anyone says that show doesn’t deserve to have 120 episodes. It’s better to be underrated.”

The cast and producers were asked if they thought The Middle would do better in a later time slot with Modern Family as a lead-in (instead of, as cast and crew jokingly pointed out, the show’s current lead in, Wheel Of Fortune). But the producers called the time slot a “vote of confidence” from ABC.

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Heisler said she is proud that the show has met the challenge of providing “ funny, subversive sophisticated humor that everybody can watch.”

Added Heline of the 8 PM slot: “If I were at the network, I’d make the same decision.”

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