Bryan Cranston and Frankie Muniz, <EM>Malcolm in the Middle</EM> Bryan Cranston and Frankie Muniz, Malcolm in the Middle

Friday, Jan. 13, turned out to be a truly bad-luck day for Malcolm in the Middle. That's when the cast members learned that the Fox sitcom, now in its seventh season, had gotten the ax.

"There was some sadness," Bryan Cranston, aka Malcolm's bumbling dad, Hal, tells, adding that he and his TV wife, Jane Kaczmarek, shared an embrace and a few tears upon learning their fate. "We realized it's about how much fun you have along the way," philosophizes the actor, who felt that Malcolm could have easily gone on creatively for another year. "But I can't complain. We'll have done 151 episodes. It's been fantastic. It's going to be good to see what else we can do."

Kaczmarek will remember Malcolm as the show that allowed her to break out of the serious lawyer roles that she'd been cast in for so many years. "I couldn't even get auditions for comedies," says the former Yale University School of Drama student. "I played very unfunny people."

Frankie Muniz, as the show's title character, took the news a bit better than his TV parents did. "I wasn't upset," he muses. "I was sad, of course. But we knew it would eventually be coming to an end."

The Agent Cody Banks star says that Malcolm is set to wrap production in mid-March, which will give cast and crew time to bond and commiserate before they officially part ways. "We didn't find out three days before [our] last day," notes Muniz. "That would have sucked!

"I've had such an amazing, lucky life," the grateful actor continues. "I'm ready for a transition. Life is about starting new chapters. This is definitely one of them for me."

Thanks to her popularity as one of the sitcom genre's more memorable moms will somebody just hand this woman her Emmy already? Kaczmarek and her real-life husband, Bradley Whitford (The West Wing), successfully established in 2002 Clothes Off Our Back, a charitable organization that unites designer duds from award-winning actors with fans who buy them.

"Mike Farrell [M*A*S*H] told me that you have a certain 'currency' when you become a celebrity and that it's up to you as to how you're going to spend it," Kaczmarek explains. "The first year, we sold Jennifer Aniston's [Emmy] dress for $50,000, which allowed 50,000 children to be immunized against measles. It's opened so many doors for me to say to people, 'Hello, can I have your shoes and your dress?'"

What might not end up on eBay is a purple jewelry box you may have spied in Lois and Hal's bedroom. "I might take that," hints Kaczmarek. "I've often thought that it must have been a pretty box before it ended up on Malcolm. I'll put it next to Brad's artificial Nobel Prize [from The West Wing]."

Cast members are already making future plans. For one, Cranston is directing a Christopher Titus pilot for Comedy Central, and has "a few ideas" he wants to pitch to HBO, too. While Cranston's glad to be available for pilot season, he's not going to grab the first Bob Patterson that comes along. "I'm very fortunate," he says. "Having the 'thank you, anyway' money [because of Malcolm] means I can be choosy."

Muniz is completing postproduction on his role as Swink Sylvania in the thriller Stay Alive (costarring One Tree Hill's Sophia Bush and The O.C.'s Samaire Armstrong, and due for a Mar. 26 release), and next year he is set to associate-produce the movie Choose Conner. Kaczmarek, meanwhile, wouldn't mind getting a call from pal J.J. Abrams for her next gig. "I love Lost!" raves the actress, adding that she was the first performer whom Abrams directed on the series Felicity.

And what about someday doing a Malcolm reunion? (After all, series creator Linwood Boomer, who played Adam on Little House on the Prairie, is no stranger to those!) "Oh, sure," says Kaczmarek. "I love these people."

In announcing Malcolm's fate, Fox said that the comedy's swan song will air May 14. Will the dysfunctional clan go out with a bang? "I think a mass explosion would be great," chuckles Cranston. Adds Kaczmarek, "We were just talking about that. Linwood would like to see an episode with absolutely no conflict. Everybody would be nice. We'd all be having a nice day." The actress laughs. "How scary would that be?"

Muniz hopes that his TV family's surname only hinted at once, in the pilot, where Francis' school uniform bears the tag "Wilkerson"  is not at last confirmed in the series' final episodes. "That's something that's always been really cool about the show," he says of Malcolm's many mysteries. "Nobody knew how old the boys really were or where they lived. It made the audience think that they could be in any town." (A genuinely frightening thought.)

While a pink slip is nothing to be happy about, Cranston is grateful that Fox is handing Malcolm in the Middle one bit of good news. "They're giving us our original time slot for our finale  Sunday at 8:30, after The Simpsons," reports the actor. "We're really happy that we're going to end the show that way."