Creatives behind “The Big Bang Theory” have always adhered to one theory: Don’t fudge on the science.
“How silly would it have been to do a show about physicists and make this stuff up?” says co-creator and exec producer Chuck Lorre. “We have this wonderful opportunity to get to make a show about quantum physicists, astrophysicists, guys who deal with the fabric of the universe in their heads. Why not try and get it right?
“And if it’s a language no one understands, that’s OK because we understand the intent. We understand jealousy, fear, loneliness and loss.”
Beyond their own expertise, which in itself is impressively extensive, “Big Bang” writers rely on David Saltzberg, a UCLA professor of physics and astronomy, as their science consultant. He ensures that what comes out of the mouths of experimental physicist Leonard Hofstadter (Johnny Galecki), theoretical physicist Sheldon Cooper (Jim Parsons) and their geeky friends is accurate. Mayim Bialik, who has a doctorate in neuroscience, often writes her own scientific dialogue.
“We’ll sit there and try and write the science, but there’s always that moment when you go, ‘Who are we kidding?’?” says Lorre.
It’s at that point that Saltzberg receives a draft of the script.
“The first batch might only be six pages, and then it slowly grows to a full script, which is about 45 pages,” Saltzberg says. “It will say, ‘Leonard is working on Science to Come’ and I’ll have to think about what that might be. You would think you would run out of topics, but there’s always something in the context that just triggers something in my brain right away.”
Not only does Saltzberg add dialogue about topical matters in the world of physics, but also the whiteboards inside the guys’ shared apartment provide the scientist, literally, carte blanche to explore topics he’s interested in, including mathematical jokes, current conundrums such as finding a particle called the axion, and, if you’re really in tune with the language, even the occasional spoiler.
“For example, there was an episode about how the boys all first met and they’re experimenting with rocket fuel and it blows up,” recalls Saltzberg. “If you read the whiteboards you might have figured out what was going to happen.”
It’s an effort that has not gone unnoticed. “The Big Bang Theory” has been embraced by scientists around the world, with Russo-British Nobel laureate Konstantin Novoselov even mentioning the show in his acceptance speech in 2010.
“For an episode where Sheldon wound up working at the Cheesecake Factory, we asked David for a problem that he could express,” says co-creator and exec producer Bill Prady. “David had to do a lot of work to figure out what it could be and it wound being graphene, which that year was what the Nobel Prize was awarded for.”
“It’s really great,” says Lorre about being embraced by the science community. “These are not people that are watching a lot of TV, and the fact that they’ve embraced the show is really rewarding. When we get a phone call that a Nobel laureate wants to be on the show, that’s the greatest stunt cast of all.”
Gals grow new ground | Authenticity apparent in scientific scenarios | Timeslot shuffles don’t slow ascent | Syndie ratings strong for ‘Big Bang’ | Cast confessions