On the eve of Comic-Con, where The Big Bang Theory has always been a top draw, the uncertainty surrounding the production of the mega-hit CBS comedy’s eighth season intensifies. With only one week left until the actors on the Warner Bros TV-produced show are scheduled to convene for the first table read of Season 8 on July 30, none of the Big Bang original cast members are close to new deals. The contracts of Jim Parsons, Johnny Galecki, Kaley Cuoco, Simon Helberg and Kunal Nayyar all expired at the end of last season, and no one would go to work without a contract in place. Modern Family co-creator/co-showrunner Christopher Lloyd was in a similar position recently and sat out the first week of work in the writers room until his reps reached a new deal with producer 20th Century Fox TV. In both cases, talks between the studio and talent started pretty late, leading to the missed deadline.
While the Modern Family writers proceeded without Lloyd, with fellow co-creator/co-showrunner Steve Levitan at the helm, keeping up production on Big Bang with only the two cast members who have contracts — Melissa Rauch and Mayim Bialik — would be impossible.
A week ago, there were some signs of movement but I hear the communication between the two sides over the past seven days did not result in significant progress to help bridge the gap between what the actors are seeking and have been offered — both on the episodic fee and back-end side. I hear there hasn’t been a face-to-face meeting between WBTV’s negotiating team and the cast’s agents yet, and that is usually how those big negotiations get settled. That has led to sources close to the talent pegging the odds for getting new deals done by July 30 to less than 50-50. Still, as one observer noted, anything is possible.
At TCA last Thursday, CBS chairman Nina Tassler did not sound worried. “We’re feeling very confident that everything will work out,” she said of the negotiations. “These deals manage to get done somehow miraculously year after year.” Big Bang plays a major piece in CBS’ fall plans, with an hourlong premiere on September 22 leading to the debut of new action drama Scorpion, often referred to as a procedural take on Big Bang. Even if the production start is pushed, there is no immediate danger of missing the premiere date.
The Big Bang negotiations are under extra scrutiny in light of the ongoing takeover attempt of WBTV parent Time Warner by 21st Century Fox. Big Bang is one the biggest singular TV assets of the company, estimated to generate up to $3 billion in profits. Nobody is talking, but industry expectations are that, when the i’s are dotted and the t’s are crossed, the trio of of Parsons, Galecki and Cuoco would each cross the Friends mark of $1 million an episode and will significantly increase their current back-end stake of 0.25 points. As they did the last time, Helberg and Nayyar are said to be negotiating together.
The cast of Big Bang is not scheduled to appear at Comic-Con (the Big 5 wouldn’t have had contractual obligation to do so anyway). Instead, the show is doing a writers panel for a second straight year. It is slated for Friday, with Craig Ferguson moderating. Last year, co-star Rauch was the moderator, with Galecki making a surprise appearance after standing in line in costume as Princess Leia’s bounty hunter from Star Wars.