×

Direct theory on ‘Big Bang’ explosion

Camaraderie keeps comedy cooking for helmer Cendrowski

There are several hypotheses as to why “The Big Bang Theory” has busted out this season to become primetime’s No. 1 comedy, but inhouse director Mark Cendrowski has his own reasons.

The helmer brought in a ping-pong table to stage 25 on the Warner Bros. lot when the series first launched three years ago. Sure, it could also be that all the actors — Jim Parsons, Johnny Galecki, Kaley Cuoco, Simon Helberg and Kunal Nayyar — have developed a winning chemistry and that the writing from Chuck Lorre, Bill Prady and others remains stellar … but don’t discount the table-tennis axiom.

There are downtimes during rehearsals, and once they get into Ping-Pong, everyone gets sucked in,” says Cendrowski, who has directed all but a handful of “Big Bang” episodes during the show’s three seasons.

“We had a tournament, drew names out of a hat and then everybody comes together. You can go a whole year without knowing certain people like grips, but now you’re partnered with them, and it led to some great camaraderie.”

And on a recent day before the holiday hiatus, Cendrowski was working with Parsons and offering suggestions for a scene in which the actor is forced to crawl out on a ledge. Exactly when and where to feign fear were a couple of pointers the director discussed with his actor.

Cendrowski might not know astrophysics, but he’s got a sense of what makes a good laugh.

He’s comfortable around comedians, having befriended comics while patronizing the Comedy Store early in his career.And those friendships have helped him understand what makes each comedian unique, as well as the best way to find a willing ear for his advice: Make it come from a place that’s about making them funnier, and not from a place that’s competitive.

Starting out as a stage manager and then moving up the production food chain to director, Cendrowski has been behind the camera for nearly 15 years in one capacity or another, having helmed several seasons of “Yes Dear” as well as a episodes of other laffers, including “George Lopez,” “The King of Queens” and “Still Standing.”

While Parsons and the cast have been what the public appreciates about “Big Bang,” those on the inside offer much of the credit for the show’s success to Cendrowski, a Michigan native who has guided the performances and helped the actors — along with Lorre and Prady — find out what makes them tick as part of their geek-filled universe.

I try to steer actors and give them starting points,” he says. “For certain scenes, I want to offer a slightly different look or angle.”

An ability to think outside the traditional sitcom production status quo has elevated Cendrowski from a director-for-hire — with TV a writer’s medium and helmers often a secondary thought — to an integral part of the show’s success. Actors trust Cendrowski, and, as Galecki says, “He has both a confidence in himself, and a confidence in us.”

For a scene where Galecki, Parsons and the guys were in the middle of desert and stoned on “magic” cookies, Cendrowski not only suggested using a crane to shoot from overhead but also thought that having them climb on a few rocks would play better than if they were just lying around.

In a landscape where many sitcoms are single camera and shot on location, “Big Bang” remains something of a reminder of a golden age of TV. With the show shot in front of a studio audience, Cendrowski says the actors feel the energy of the audience, and that theater-like atmosphere often amps up their performances. He’ll shoot a few pickups during the week and then air them on tape nights to allow the assembled aud to feel part of the production process.

Our show goes back to the old days. This is still shot like a play, and our characters like to be in their element,” Cendrowski says.

Cendrowski and Galecki hit it off right away, as the two share Midwestern roots. While Galecki says it’s important for a director to have a firm hand on where a story should go and how the actors should interpret specific scenes, being open to suggestion is just as vital.

My favorite thing about Mark is that he’s not afraid to say, ‘I don’t know yet.’ That is something priceless with a director,” Galecki says. “If they’re bullshitting and you ask a director a question and they make something up because they don’t want to say, ‘I don’t know yet,’ you’ll never trust them again.” Parsons says Cendrowski’s presence every week has been an essential part of the show’s growth.

I thought if we ever got someone new here for even one episode, it wouldn’t matter how good they are, a language barrier would exist,” says Parsons on the stability of having a singular voice and vision. “It sneaks up on you having Mark here every week. You don’t really think about it, but he’s our working voice.”

Popular on Variety

More TV

  • YouTube logo

    BBC Studios to Explore 'The Edge of Science' for YouTube Originals

    The BBC’s production division, BBC Studios, has won its first YouTube Originals commission, “The Edge of Science.” Starring presenter and science enthusiast Rick Edwards and YouTuber Colin Furze, “The Edge of Science” will carry out a range of stunts and experiments to explore if it’s possible to levitate. The presenters will meet the scientists behind [...]

  • Kirsten Dunst'On Becoming a God in

    Kirsten Dunst Talks 'Little Women,' 'Interview With a Vampire' Reboots

    Kirsten Dunst was just 11 years old when she skyrocketed into stardom as Claudia in “Interview with a Vampire,” but now Dunst says her age is the only thing keeping her from reprising the role in a hypothetical reboot. “I mean I’m too old, right?,” she told Variety at the premiere of “On Becoming a God [...]

  • A Planned Parenthood clinic is seen,

    Variety to Forgo Annual Emmy Party for Donation to Planned Parenthood

    Variety has decided to make a donation to Planned Parenthood in lieu of hosting this year’s annual Emmy Awards nominees party in partnership with Women In Film. The decision comes in response to Planned Parenthood’s Aug. 19 announcement that it will drop funding over the current administration’s “unethical” rule blocking the organization from discussing its [...]

  • Rebel Wilson Isn't It Romantic

    TV News Roundup: Rebel Wilson to Host First Australian Amazon Original Series

    In today’s TV news roundup, the NFL and Pluto TV announce the launch of a new channel, and Rebel Wilson is named as the host of the first Amazon original series to come out of Australia.  CASTING Rebel Wilson is set to host and executive produce the Australian Amazon original series “LOL: Last One Laughing,” the [...]

  • Moffatt Family with the Himba tribe

    U.K.’s Channel 4 Takes British Family to Africa in New Reality Show

    U.K. broadcaster Channel 4 has greenlit new factual entertainment format “The British Tribe Next Door,” which will see a British family spend four weeks with a remote tribe in Namibia. The twist in this format is that, unlike most adventurers, the participants don’t say goodbye to the comforts of their home — instead, they take them with [...]

  • Christian Serratos as Rosita Espinosa - The

    'Walking Dead' Star Christian Serratos in Talks for Selena Series at Netflix

    Christian Serratos is in negotiations to star in the upcoming Netflix series based on the life of Tejano music star Selena Quintanilla, Variety has confirmed with sources. The series was announced back in December and is described as a coming of age story following Selena (Serratos) as her dreams come true and all the heart-wrenching [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content