EMMYS: Chuck Lorre And Bill Prady On 'Big Bang Theory'

Adam Buckman is an AwardsLine contributor

This was the season The Big Bang Theory became ubiquitous. Perched at the top of the primetime ratings, its reruns became omnipresent on TBS and local TV stations, which together air as many as 24 episodes of the show every week. Yet the show’s ascendance to the summit of the pop-culture mountain has not altered the routines of those who work on the hit CBS show.

The Big Bang Theory“That has nothing to do with what you do every day, just to try and find a good story and execute it”, cocreator and executive producer Chuck Lorre says mildly, making the achievement seem ordinary.

“There’s actually a cognitive disconnect between the impact that the show has culturally, on television, and all that stuff, and your day-to-day experience”, adds cocreator and executive producer, Bill Prady. “You drive to a lot, you go to an office, you procrastinate a little bit, you go sit in a room with writers, you do your best to write an entertaining show about the characters you have in front of you, you (do) run-throughs, you do rewrites, you shoot in front of an audience–and none of that changes”.

However, Prady says that while the average office routine remains unchanged, casual conversations are another story.

“The first thing you notice when a show starts to take off in a good way isBill Prady that when you talk to people, you’re not hiding what show you’re working on”, Prady explains. “There starts to be this sense of, ‘OK, this thing has an effect on people’, and then you have an experience like the one we (had) at Comic-Con, and you see people dressed as your characters, and you start to say, ‘OK, this is kind of a thing, isn’t it?’ ”

The Comic-Con connection is particularly appropriate because the convention and others like it exist to celebrate geek chic–a social trend embraced, if not embodied, by Big Bang Theory with its socially awkward scientific geniuses who are obsessed with all things Star Trek and sci-fi.

Big Bang TheoryJust this past season, lending legitimacy to this series about physicists, uber-physicist Stephen Hawking guest-starred as himself on an episode. And, as if the similarities between series star Jim Parsons’ emotionless characterization of Big Bang’s Sheldon Cooper and Star Trek’s Mr. Spock were not sufficiently obvious, Mr. Spock himself, Leonard Nimoy, finally made a cameo appearance on the show to drive that point home. (Though Nimoy didn’t physically appear, his enduring character’s voice did.)

For his part, Parsons has emerged as the most acclaimed member of the Big Bang ensemble, taking home the lead actor Emmy for the last two years and earning his fourth consecutive nom in July.

Big Bang TheoryAlso nominated this year: Mayim Bialik for the supporting role of Sheldon’s nerdy love interest, Amy Farrah Fowler–“a total, utter, sheer surprise”, she says of the nom, which was the first one she’s ever received.

Once the teenage star of the ’90s sitcom Blossom, Bialik took 12 years off from acting to marry and start a family. Now she’s starring in the highest-rated comedy on the air, along with Parsons, Johnny Galecki, Kaley Cuoco, Simon Helberg, Melissa Rauch, and Kunal Nayyar.

“I think it’s pretty unbelievable to have the opportunity once to be in a network TV show in my teen years, then take a 12-year break, have a few kids and (then) come back and get to be on this show”, she says. “Statistically, I don’t even know how to calculate (the odds of that happening)”.

Besides the Parsons and Bialik noms, the show received three more–comedy series, multicamera editing, and technical direction. But if there were an Emmy category to award shows for the impact they’re having on the outlets that air them, then Big Bang Theory would likely be a nominee in that fanciful category as well.

That’s because the sitcom is currently scoring big ratings in three different places–CBS, TBS, and local stations. On CBS, the show surpassed Two and a Half Men (which Lorre also produces) this past season to emerge as network television’s top-rated comedy with a total-viewer average of 15.9 million per episode at 8 p.m. Thursdays, a new time slot to which it moved last fall.

On TBS, the success of the Big Bang reruns gave a boost to Conan O’Brien’s late-night show Conan, whose ratings improved after Big Bang was installed as the show’s lead-in Tuesday through Thursday.

The challenge now, as The Big Bang Theory heads into its sixth season, is keeping the series fresh when its characters and scenarios are so well known and familiar to audiences. The producers, Lorre and Prady, both agree: It gets harder to create shows as time goes on, not easier.

“You don’t want to repeat yourself”, Lorre says. “After 100-some-odd episodes (111, to be exact), redundancy is looming”.

Adds Prady, “This is the great peculiarity of this line of work, which is that the writing of no episode is easier than the one before it. Larry Gelbart, the great writer of M*A*S*H, said (in his 1998 memoir, Laughing Matters) every time they worked out what the next story would be, the exhausting process of doing that left them convinced that that’s the last story for M*A*S*H they’d ever be able to figure out”.

However, the way last season ended gives Lorre and his writers plenty of material with which to grapple for the sixth season. Among other things, they’re dealing with the not-so-minor task of getting space-traveling scientist Howard Wolowitz (Helberg) back on solid ground.

“We will bring Wolowitz back from space”, Lorre promises. “He will linger in orbit, but we will get him back”.

As for Wolowitz himself, Helberg says he hasn’t read any scripts yet but he has some idea what’s in store. “Hopefully, he doesn’t burst into flames on the way down”, Helberg says. “From what I’ve heard, the problems he faces on Earth with (his) overbearing mother and new wife (Rauch, whose character Wolowitz married in the season finale) don’t really stay on Earth. He has some interactions with the two of them from space, and he’s getting bullied by the veteran crew that he’s onboard with, so there’s kind of no winning for him. He’s still back in high school”.

Wolowitz might feel like he’s still in high school being bullied, but thanks to his character and the others on The Big Bang Theory, the geeks are giving hope to bookish, homely teens and nerds everywhere.

In fact, Prady recently discovered that folk singer Janis Ian, whose 1975 song “At Seventeen” became an enduring anthem for those not attractive enough to be socially accepted, is a fan of the show. “So now, one of the people in my life is Janis Ian, who sends me an email after an episode airs talking about what she thought of it”, Prady reveals. “That’s more remarkable than bags of money with dollar signs on them”.

    1. It does better than that. It cures heartache and depression, which can at times be worse killers than cancer.

      1. Mayim Bialik playing opposite the – as this article pointed out – most acclaimed member of TBBT as Amy Farrah Fowler gives me heartache and depression. How her unbearably wooden over-the-top acting got an Emmy nom is beyond me.

    2. And you sound like a jealous wanna-be. My advice is to keep on writing and one of these days, a column like this will be devoted to you.

  1. Love the show …. Better tan two and a half men with Ashton ( he is not funny at all !!!!) ….. Love the cast ……. Is amazing how Well they fit together !! But we see only reruns …. We need something new please !!!! Thanks !!!!!

  2. I love this show too. I resisted it at first – the premise seemed so strained – but it won me over, and now I’m a huge fan. It breaks no new ground (nor does it pretend to – it’s a comfort-food show) but it is smart and sweet and very funny. The expanding ensemble is magnificent. As an actor, Parsons really is a genius. I can’t understate that. He deserves every award, and then some. Kaley Cuoco is also especially accomplished, and enormously likable, as is the entire show. To be a little critical, though, this last season wasn’t quite up to snuff, with too many loose, flat or pointless episodes, and a sense of spinning its wheels.

    1. sounds like you’re a new fan. watch the first 3 seasons and trust me, you’ll be hugely disappointed with the current ones. their comedy has taken a dive, dangerously threading on 2.5 men-sleazy-relationship territory, for the ratings. if they keep going down this road, pretty soon jim parsons’ comedic genius will be wasted on this show (thank god there’s broadway). all about for the cha-ching in lalaland. c’est la vie.

  3. Mayim also got her PhD in neuroscience during those 12 years. I can’t believe they didn’t mention that. She’s the only cast member to actually be a doctor!

    1. Good. She has a backup. She oughta go back to neuroscience. Mayim Bialik act naturally to save her life. So droidish. That Emmy nod is no testament whatsoever to her acting abilities — especially in a year where ridiculous Emmy snubs abound like Nick Offerman, Joel McHale, Hugh Laurie, Gillian Jacobs, Community, Aubrey Plaza, Parks & Rec, to name a few. She caught the Academy’s attention because she plays opposite Emmy winner Parsons, is all. Seriously, what is in the old fogies of the Academy’s water this year?!?

  4. I’m new to The Big Bang Theory this year, so I’m enjoying the fact that it’s on so much – I get to play catch up. That said, I really enjoy all the characters, but watching so much of it the last few months there are times I just want to smack Sheldon in the forehead. Genius or not, living with Leonard and being in a growing relationship with Amy Farrah Fowler means he has picked up on the fact that he lacks in social graces. The writers need to make him a smidge more human or risk loosing his character’s charm – as good as Jim Parsons is at playing him, he can’t play what the writer’s don’t give him. Also, I don’t think Simon Helberg gets enough recognition for his comedic timing. He’s truly gifted. I do have to give the writers credit, though. They have grown three characters very nicely: Leonard isn’t as whiny, Penny is more independent, and Amy isn’t as wooden. I look forward to this season’s adventures with the gang!

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