For a dozen years, “The Big Bang Theory” has given us great comedy – sharply written, perfectly played, with likable characters colliding in fun ways.
It has its last new episodes Thursday (May 16), so here are a few things: First, an overall story, partly looking back to the show’s start. Then a few time-and-channel details, followed by some trivia. Also, please catch the recent story about Kevin Sussman, who plays Stuart. Here we go:
As the “Big Bang Theory” finale neared, producer Chuck Lorre made one thing clear:
No, he never had a master plan – and didn’t expect a 12-year run. “I didn’t anticipate Season Two.”
His actors were just as surprised by the success. “I was so new,” Kunal Nayyar recalled. “I bought an Audi. Then, after eight episodes, a strike. (I thought,) ‘Oh my God, how am I going to pay for this?’”
The 2007-8 writers’ strike left a four-month gap, with no work. Momentum was sapped; trying to revive support, the cast visited Comic Con, an event better known for wookies and robots.
“I expected about 40 people to show up …. I actually tried to bring down the expectations,” Lorre said.
Instead, “there were thousands”; it was a sign of big success ahead.
Many of those thousands understood the lead characters. “I don’t think it’s nerdy and I don’t think it’s geeky,” Bill Prady, who created “Big Bang” with Lorre, once told TV critics. These are brainy guys who see details most people overlook and “miss some of the parts people expect.”
And yes, Prady knows them well. To understand “Big Bang,” which has its finale Thursday, let’s flash back to 2007, when he, Lorre and the actors told the Television Critics Association about their show.
At the core were two guys and the blonde across the hall. Leonard and Sheldon were brilliant physicists; Penny was your sorta-regular person, a waitress (and sometimes actress) from Nebraska.
“The one I most identify with is Penny,” Lorre said, “because she speaks to the real world.”
But Prady? He’s lived in Sheldon’s world … and maybe in Sheldon’s mind.
“Chuck … has gently tried to tell me that when we go up a flight of stairs, it’s not important that I always teach him the thing about the difference in tread height,” Prady said.
Prady has known others with Sheldon-like tendencies. They’ve ranged from his father-in-law to a programmer for the computer company he worked at, before switching to comedy.
“This was a man who could do anything in his mind with numbers,” Prady said, “but he couldn’t figure the tip (at a restaurant). His savings plan was to keep uncashed paychecks in the drawer.”
That became Sheldon. Johnny Galecki (shown here in the finale with Kaley Cuoco), already a TV veteran, was considered for the role. “I said, ‘I think I’m more drawn to playing Leonard,’” Galecki said. “I’m glad that it happened that way.”
Instead, the role went to Jim Parsons, who was virtually an unknown when he auditioned. “He was so good, I couldn’t believe it,” Lorre said.
The pilot was shot with a different actress, then reshot with Cuoco. Like Galecki, she was already known to TV viewers; like Parsons, she had grown up as a fan of “Three’s Company.”
(She would later work with that show’s star, John Ritter, on “8 Simple Rules,” playing his daughter. “I couldn’t believe he was sitting right next to me.”)
That led to a debate at the TCA session, when a critic tried to compare Penny to the ditzy blonde in “Three’s Company.” People sprang to her defense.
This is a former farm girl, Lorre said, filled with practical smarts, “but in a different world than theirs.” It’s a case, Parsons said, of “book smarts versus barn smarts.”
Penny would evolve into a sharp, sarcastic observer of the flawed-but-likable guys around her. She would be joined by other smart women – Amy and Bernadette, both scientists. “Big Bang” went from a three-person show to one with seven stars … some who have gone a long way.
When Nayyar was cast as Raj, he’d only had two film roles — a pizza guy in a low-budget movie and an uncredited “NCIS” role as a terrorist. “I didn’t have as much experience as the others,” he understates.
Born in England, raised in India and educated in U.S. colleges, he was adjusting to new worlds. “Every day was the greatest day of my life,” Nayyar said. “Every day was the worst day of my life.”
And that fit Raj. “There’s a real lightness to him,” Nayyar said. “I love his innocence; I love his purity.”
It’s an attitude that Nayyar reflects in his own life. He seems to relate easily to his colleagues and reporters and the studio audience. “I love being social,” he said.
He has a certain Raj-ness … or as much as can be expected from a guy who is makes a reported $25 million a year, is married to a former Miss India and is helping wrap up a 12-season comedy.
– “The Big Bang Theory,” 8 p.m. Thursdays, CBS.
— May 16 has the final episodes at 8 and 8:30 p.m., the “Young Sheldon” season-finale at 9 and a special (“Unraveling the Mystery: A Big Bang Farewell”) at 9:30. Also, the cast will visit Stephen Colbert at 11:29.
— Reruns abound, on individual stations and on TBS. In the run-up to the finale, TBS has “Big Bang” from 7-10:30 p.m. Tuesday, 8-10:30 p.m. Wednesday and 2-8 p.m. Thursday (May 16). Afterward, it has more reruns from 9-11 p.m. Thursday, 8-11 p.m. May 18, 7-10:30 p.m. May 21 and 8-10:30 p.m. May 22.
— At 12 seasons, “Big Bang” has the longest run of any situation comedy taped before a studio audience.
— Some sources list 13 seasons for “All in the Family” and 12 for “Make Room for Daddy” and for “The Lucy Show.” However, that involves including four seasons of “Archie Bunker’s Place” or one of “Make Room for Granddaddy” or six of “Here’s Lucy.”
— Coming close with 11 seasons were “Cheers,” “Frasier,” “Happy Days,” “The Jeffersons,” “Married With Children” and (counting its one-year revival) “Murphy Brown.”
— Still in the running is “Will & Grace,” which has done 10 seasons so far.
— “Friends” also had 10 seasons and many others had nine — “Seinfeld,” “Everybody Loves Raymond,” “Coach,” “Alice,” “Drew Carey,” “Family Matters,” “The Facts of Life,” “The King of Queens,” “Night Court” and the original “One Day at a Time.”
— If you counted sitcoms not taped before an audience, “Ozzie & Harriet” would win with 14. If you included animation, it’s “The Simpsons” with 30. And if you go with comedy-themed variety shows, there’s Red Skelton in primetime (20) and “Saturday Night Live” overall (44).
(Sources: “The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows” (Ballantine Books) and www.imdb.com.)
Trivia break II (name game)
— “Sheldon” and “Leonard” are no accident. Sheldon Leonard – who started as an actor in tough-guy roles – produced many top comedies (with Dick Van Dyke, Andy Griffith and Danny Thomas) and a pioneering drama, “I Spy.” Chuck Lorre, the “Big Bang” co-creator, called the names “a little hero worship.”
— Then there’s “Howard Wolowitz,” the friend of Sheldon and Leonard. Before becoming a comedy writer, “Big Bang” co-creator Bill Prady had a computer job, working on a system developed by Howard Wolowitz.
— The show’s title is a bit of a play on words, as both a science and sexual term, but Prady adds one more: “The third thing, besides the physics reference and the sexual reference, is a coming together of forces.” In this case, it’s the opposite forces of Penny and the guys across the hall.