SPOILER WARNING: This article contains details about Thursday’s series finale of The Big Bang Theory.
These are dark days for the fan tribes that flock to Comic-Con International. After all, Game of Thrones is retiring, the Avengers are in tatters, Chewbacca and Stan Lee have passed away, Rick Grimes is still missing, and Warner Bros wants to hand the Batmobile keys to a pretty boy. The latest blow came tonight with the series finale of The Big Bang Theory, which is treasured by the nerd universe as if it was The Honeymooners of Hall H or Seinfeld with Sith Lords. Oh, where have you gone Johnny Galecki, a nation turns its lonely eyes to you…?
The finale tonight of Big Bang Theory ended a historic 279-episode run that surpassed Cheers to become the longest-running multi-camera comedy in television history. More than that, the CBS mainstay finished seven of the past eight seasons as TV’s top-rated scripted comedy in total viewers and now bequeaths its plum Thursday night slot to its next-gen spinoff Young Sheldon.
Fans are already debating the Big Bang finale – in which Sheldon (four-time Emmy winner Jim Parsons) and Amy (Mayim Bialik) are awarded the Nobel Prize for their asymmetric string theory – but for the cast, crew, and creative team the finale already feels like a success by their standards. Deadline talked with two of the show’s writers, Steven Molaro and Steve Holland, about the tricky task of finding the funniest way to say farewell to a show that will be seriously missed.
DEADLINE: Well, gentlemen, congratulations and condolences.
STEVEN MOLARO: You know, that’s very, very well said. It’s been a week filled with, well, I guess the best word is grieving. There’s been so much. We’ve been together for 12 years and, yes, it’s cliché to say we are a family, but we truly are. You were at the taping, so I’m sure you saw all the tears. That was very heartfelt and coming from a group of people who have to say goodbye to a thing that has brought us an immense amount of joy for a very long time.
DEADLINE: There was a lot of emotion, definitely, and it came bundled with intense expectations and pressure. Some of the best TV shows in history have overreached or stumbled badly in their farewell episodes. For the Big Bang finale, what were some of the key priorities or challenges you recognized from the very start?
STEVE HOLLAND: Certainly, this episode gave us all a lot of sleepless nights. We were aware that endings are hard and we were aware of pressure on this. A lot of that pressure came from ourselves and really wanting to stick the landing. I think our approach emerged from a lot of conversations that began early this year when we knew this would be the final season. That gave us time to plan and we ended up landing on [the tactic of emphasizing] what the feeling of the finale was going to be and not really trying a big, final “The End” stamp on it. We knew the audience was saying goodbye to these characters, but that these characters didn’t need to be saying goodbye to each other.
DEADLINE: The closing sequence with Sheldon’s speech in Sweden was a very practical decision in a way. Acceptance speeches must be one of the few natural circumstances where an individual is expected to go through a roll call of their friends and express their feelings for them.
MOLARO: [Laughs] And the show has always been an ensemble and it was important to us to honor that ensemble. Obviously, everyone knew we were driving toward the Nobel Prize but it was to make this moment not just Sheldon and Amy’s moment but to make this everybody’s moment. It felt like a great way to give this big moment of character development to Sheldon, too. He can be a selfish character and for him to turn the spotlight toward his friends shows how much they mean to him, that’s a big thing for him.
DEADLINE: There’s the old adage that television shows are about character and feature films are about story. When a venerable character-driven show reaches its final episode, however, contemporary audiences reflexively want a pay-off finish. Do you agree and if so was that part of the challenge you faced?
MOLARO: Hopefully, with ours, it does feel like a solid episode of The Big Bang Theory and not like we took some weird swing at doing something totally different.
HOLLAND: Having gone through it, however, and feeling the pressure you’re talking about, I certainly have sympathy now for anyone that’s ever had to write a long-running series finale.
DEADLINE: Was there one character who was especially challenging when it came to finding their satisfying finale moment?
MOLARO: It’s hard to answer. We care about every character like we would children. Everybody was hard. We were worried about everybody having a good landing place and moment.
DEADLINE: The success of the show over its second six years was really something to behold. I was down at Comic-Con for some of those Hall H panels with 6,600 fans in the audience and the energy was like a rock concert at some points. Did any of that effect the actual creative process in any way, positive or negative?
MOLARO: You know, for all of the popularity, at the end of the day it was about these writers in a closed room doing the best we can and trying to come up with jokes that entertain us and stories that feel good to us while working with these characters that we all love and care about and want to see grow. I don’t think we ever really thought of it as, “Well, the show is really popular now so we need to point the ship this way.” And I think it was better that [our tack] was always that, doing one script at a time and kept it that simple.
DEADLINE: Was there a point where the planned story for the finale looked considerably different than the one that aired? Was there any story avenue that you followed but then abandoned, for instance, or a major course correction on any aspect?
HOLLAND: We had been talking about this finale for a long time and certainly it’s the episode that we thought about more than any other episode. So certainly there were things earlier in the year that changed, but I’d say it was more a case that those things evolved into an ultimately better version of those ideas. I don’t think anything really fell out…
DEADLINE: So it was more like a sculpting and refining process?
MOLARO: That’s very accurate, yes. Things shifted around but there wasn’t anything that we wanted to get to that got left out in the end.
DEADLINE: Last question but it may be one you can’t answer. Over the 12 years of The Big Bang Theory, is there a joke or a moment that you think sums up the show’s unique appeal and tone?
MOLARO: Boy, that is a really tough question. Thousands of jokes…
HOLLAND: The jokes that stick with me, and they’re not my jokes usually, don’t really play too well out of context. They’re not like a joke you can tell at a party. There’s this one scene where the girls are reading Thor and arguing about comic books and someone questions something Thor has done. Bernadette turns and says [in a bitter voice],”You don’t know his life!” And that’s a joke we repeat in the room all the time but you can’t really tell that as a joke at a dinner party. I don’t know if that even really qualifies as a joke. But it always make me laugh.
MOLARO: You know, one does come to mind, a moment on the show that I will often talk about. And one thing I love about it: on paper it’s not really a joke. It’s a testament to the actors. It’s an episode in which Sheldon is trying to use science to create the perfect joke. Leonard and Sheldon are walking up the stairs and in the script all it says is that Sheldon asks, “Do you think I’m funny?” and Leonard’s response is “No.” And I remember thinking, OK, there’s probably a funny version of that line, so I was looking forward to seeing what Johnny Galecki would do with it. When they did the scene, Sheldon asks “Do you think I’m funny?” And Johnny answers [with a tone of grave disapproval] “Noooo…” I still don’t know what I would have written as direction in the script to get Johnny to use that tone. Gravely maybe? I think about it all the time, it’s not a joke, not really, but it sure was funny to watch.