A successful show entering its fourth season has a lot to feel great about but there’s a lot to live up to as well. For The Big Bang Theory there’s a different challenge. They are not only under pressure to satisfy the faithful, but now they have to headline a new comedy block on a new night for their network. For executive producers Bill Prady and Chuck Lorre, a time change is nothing compared to pushing the creative direction. There are bigger fish to fry.
“You really can’t think so much about that,” said Chuck Lorre at a press roundtable at Comic-Con in July. “[It’s] a really wonderful story that we want to tell. Are we laughing? Who watches it and when it’s on is kind of out of our control. I’d be happy to give my advice to CBS but they’re just as happy to ignore me.”
“One of the things we like the show to be is friendly to new viewers and familiar to old viewers,” added Bill Prady. “And I think that’s why we don’t tell a serialized story. We hope people find it and like it.”
People do like it. The Big Bang Theory has been a bona fide hit for CBS and is their number one rated show in the 18-49 demographic. Not only do they have the adoration of their fans, but even the Emmys took notice this year, awarding lead actor Jim Parsons (Sheldon) Best Actor in a Comedy Series in a very competitive category.
The character of Sheldon has certainly in three seasons taken on a life of his own. Was there anyone who’s been the inspiration behind Sheldon? “I think initially there was and a lot of these guys were based on people that I knew when I was a computer programmer before I was a writer,” explained Prady. “I have to say that he’s become his own thing very much. I think at this point Sheldon is the inspiration for Sheldon.”
“That’s the magic trick of a show is to grow the characters without changing them so much that you lose them,” said Lorre about how he approaches any character. Despite the notion that Sheldon never changes, Lorre thinks his changes are incremental. “If you saw the flashback episode, where we saw how Sheldon and Leonard meet, you can tell how vastly he’s changed having these guys in his life. I love that. He was far more isolated and dysfunctional before they came into his life.”
Bill Prady thinks that through the characters is how the show has changed in general. “The characters have naturally become more three dimensional. The more things you learn about them the more parts you layer onto their life, the more real they become. As writers we’re in a place now where we can let the characters pull stories forward. For us that’s been the biggest change.”
Now that the show is carrying on strong into season four, are there going to be any big arcs or story lines? Do they plan by episode or season? “Oh, we think first scene. As Chuck will say, we’re not doing Lost here,” joked Prady. “There’s no complex or over-arching season arc that we do because we’re character driven not thought driven. We try to follow the characters through.”
How about some spoilers? What is planned for the season four premiere? Both Prady and Lorre were actually perplexed by that question. “Do you remember the first script?” Lorre asked Prady, who didn’t. Prady said that remembering scripts has even turned into some behind the scenes fun. “You should know there’s a great game that you can play on the set which is while you’re shooting an episode you can walk up to another writer and say ‘I’ll give you ten dollars if you can tell me what we shot last week.’”
They were able to share a couple of tidbits (mild spoiler alert!). Wolowitz (Simon Helberg) takes home some equipment from the space program and it doesn’t go so well. Also Penny (Kaley Cuoco) gets involved in Sheldon’s new romance with Amy Farrah Fowler (Mayim Bialik). What about Steve Wozniak? “He’s going to play Steve Wozinak,” said Lorre, not expanding anymore on that.
Any other possibilities? How about some more family members coming into the fold, a device that has worked so well in the past seasons? “I think it’s inevitable,” answered Prady. “The more time you spend in a series with characters, people in their lives naturally connect with their families. It would be odd if we didn’t see it. We’ve got Sheldon’s sister, he has a brother, Leonard has a brother and a sister. There are more people to meet. We haven’t met Penny’s family at all and we might.” Will that happen this season? “There’s no plan either to or not to.”
Plans or not the formula has worked so far and seems to be going strong in season four. The show’s flexible writing style will provide them an advantage now that star Kaley Cuoco (Penny) has been sidelined with a broken leg and will have to be written out of some episodes as well as face a possible changing storyline.
How long can they keep this up? “This is the great challenge of series television which is things have to change but stay the same. You kind of do it by digging deeper. So that you’re true to what’s come before but you learn more. Eventually it gets hard. You know, by year 12 we might be out of stories.”
Other Sound Bites
Someone brought up the issue of Wolowitz not having a doctorate. Prady had a great explanation for how that came about. “One of the things is that a doctorate in engineering is a rare thing and you seek it generally if you’re going to teach or ultimately head a department of engineering. In fact many great engineers don’t have even a Bachelors degree. We’re talking to Dr. David Salzburg who’s our science consultant and physicist at UCLA and he says he’s worked with great engineers who are college dropouts. So, because Howard’s field of engineering doesn’t require it then the question was does he have a doctorate? He said he probably doesn’t, he seems to be a working engineer. So, once we had that then we thought well, that would be a sticking point.”
Chuck Lorre was also asked what it was like working on two hit shows at once, The Big Bang Theory and Two and A Half Men.
“Schizophrenic. It’s really joyful because they’re so different. Tonally they’re so different. The way people speak and the way they feel and the way they react it’s so different. It’s wonderful. The shows are very specific. I love that.”
Is it really hard to keep the direction of the two different? “I think the only thing we’ve stumbled over is whether or not The Big Bang Theory gets as edgy as Two and A Half Men. We quickly learned that’s not where that show belongs so we’ve learned to stay away from that.”
The Big Bang Theory starts on its new day and time Thursday, September 23 at 8pm on CBS.