While relationship chemistry is at the center of “The Big Bang Theory,” it was having Howard Wolowitz float aboard the Intl. Space Station that proved to be one of the biggest production challenges up to this point in the six-year run of TV’s top-rated comedy.
“A concern of ours always was whether we could send him into space and not have it look ridiculous and cheesy,” says showrunner and exec producer Steve Molaro.
Of course, Howard (Simon Helberg) never actually made it to the Final Frontier for the season premiere, but production designer John Shaffner, set decorator Ann Shea and their teams made it appear as though he did. They scavenged parts from an aerospace junkyard, had a see-saw type rig support the “astronauts” and their movements, and worked computer magic in post to complete the illusion of weightlessness.
“It looked cool enough that people weren’t really quite sure how we pulled it off,” Molaro says. “Some were thinking we achieved a sort of anti-gravity.”
Back on terra firma, it was the comedic interactions between the various combinations of the characters that once again proved to be fertile ground for laughs. The writers enjoy giving each of them time to shine, including Sheldon (Jim Parsons) and Amy (Mayim Bialik) who went on their first date two seasons ago.
Since then, their relationship has been moving at a snail’s pace, but this season Molaro says the writers found ways for them to have it advance while still being true to their characters: Sheldon spanked Amy because she lied to him about being sick so he would need to take care of her, and during another episode they engaged in simulated sex in the fantasy world of Dungeons & Dragons.
“It’s tricky to find those moments and pull them off and still have it work within what would be an appropriate pace for those two,” he says.
The episode that perhaps generated the most headlines was “The Proton Resurgence,” featuring guest star Bob Newhart as a down-on-his-luck former TV science show host and a childhood hero of Sheldon and Leonard (Johnny Galecki), who hire him for a personal appearance.
Chuck Lorre, series co-creator and executive producer, asked the 83-year-old comedy legend to take the role, which landed Newhart his seventh Emmy nomination. Coincidentally, with the comedy series nod for “Big Bang Theory,” Lorre also has seven — and neither has ever won.
Molaro would like to see both streaks come to an end.
“It means the world to us that we’ve touched so many people with this show, and at the end of the day that’s really more important than an award,” he says. “I’m not saying it wouldn’t be wonderful to get it, and I do hope that we can one day, but our real focus is on keeping this show as great as it possibly can be for as long as it’s on television.”