Patricia Heaton may have two hit comedies (Everybody Loves Raymond, The Middle) and two Emmys under her belt, but that didn’t make it any less scary to headline Carol’s Second Act — a multi-cam sitcom premiering tonight about a 50-year-old divorcée who embarks on a new career in medicine.

When Heaton showed up to tape the first episode opposite Kyle MacLachlan (who plays her new colleague Dr. Frost) and Ashley Tisdale (Carol’s daughter Jenny), she was unexpectedly jolted by the jitters. “Being back in front of a studio audience after nine years is scary,” the actress admits, referring to her more recent ABC single-camera comedy. “I’m having actor’s nightmares of not knowing my lines. It feels very new.”

Credit: Sonja Flemming/CBS

But that’s what made Heaton, the mom of four grown sons, the perfect choice to play Carol. “I’ve had the privilege of
playing a mother in different stages of life,” says Heaton, who is executive-producing the sitcom with her husband, David. “Carol is an empty nester who’s creating a second act for herself and discovering her true passion. That’s really exciting.”

Well, not all of it: Heaton candidly admits that, at 61, it’s a lot of work “to keep yourself presentable” in front of the camera. “I’m talking to the young people out there,” she says with a wink. “Just eat everything you love, and a lot of it, because around 45 you’re going to have to cut it.”

Carol’s Second Act airs Thursdays at 9:30 p.m. ET on CBS.

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