‘Big Bang’ Hits 200: Cast and Creators Remember the Path to TV History

'The Big Bang Theory''s 200th Episode: Cast, Creators' Oral History
Courtesy of CBS

“Big Bang’s” 200th episode, titled “The Celebration Experimentation,” will feature a cameo by original “Batman” star Adam West, along with the returns of Wil Wheaton, Sara Gilbert, John Ross Bowie and Christine Baranski. But the element that keeps millions tuning in to “The Big Bang Theory” is the heartfelt bond shared by Raj, Howard, Bernadette, Amy, Penny, Leonard and Sheldon — one solidified over the take-out dinners eaten on that weathered couch.

To appreciate “The Big Bang Theory’s” evolution, Variety asked all involved to take us back to the creative initial singularity that would one day explode into a phenomenon delighting TV audiences around the globe.

Bill Prady, co-creator and executive producer: “I was very unhappy at a job. I called Chuck and asked him if he wanted to do a pilot. I started talking about the guys that I knew back in my first career as a computer programmer … you know, really, really smart guys who sort of move through the world a little differently.”

Chuck Lorre, co-creator and executive producer: “It started over a kitchen table, knocking around ideas and talking about people who were truly remarkable. We never discussed them as nerds, or any of the words that became commonplace associated with the show. We talked about them as these great minds that were incompetent in mundane matters.”

“We never discussed them as nerds, or any of the words that became commonplace where associated with the show. We talked about them as these great minds that were incompetent in mundane matters.”
Chuck Lorre

December 2005
The first incarnation of “The Big Bang Theory” reaches the pitch stage.
Prady: “If your partner is Chuck Lorre, you have the ability to do things a little differently. But one of the things Chuck said is, ‘I don’t think we’re going to be able to explain this by pitching it. It’s just different.’ ”

Lorre: “It was really kind of audacious. We wrote a scene and had a couple of friends come in and perform [it] for Les Moonves and Nina [Tassler]. We actually had them act out the scene as part of the pitch. I really wanted them to see it rather than read it.”

Peter Roth, president and chief content officer, Warner Bros. Television Group: “Chuck called me up and he said, ‘Bill Prady and I have written a script.’ We loved it, and we went about the task of selling the show to CBS.”

Johnny Galecki: “When Chuck and Bill first called me, they were telling me about two characters. They didn’t have anything on paper yet. But they faxed me some pages at the theater I was working at in New York at the time. It was just a couple of scenes and I said that I was much more interested in the Leonard role. Thank God, because then the world got to meet Jim Parsons and how amazing he is in it.”

The original pilot featured Galecki as Leonard and Jim Parsons as Sheldon, with Canadian actress Amanda Walsh as Katie, a street-hardened, down-on-her-luck woman who becomes their roommate. It was developed for the 2006-07 television season, but did not get picked up.

Lorre: “The most vivid lesson from the ill-fated first attempt was, as brilliant as the men were, they were very naive and childlike. We didn’t understand how vulnerable they were, and how the audience instinctively felt protective of them.”

Roth: “To her credit Nina Tassler called and said, ‘We’d like to do it again. … We’d like Chuck to make a couple of adjustments.’ ”
Lorre: “We took that young woman trying to find her way in the world, and that became Penny.”

Kaley Cuoco: “I read for the original pilot. Going to network, doing the whole thing. [I] didn’t get it. When this came back around, Chuck said, ‘Please come.’ He knew, I just was not right for that original show. The second time was a lot easier and not as stressful.”

Prady: “And the other thing that we said was, ‘Well, if they like Leonard and Sheldon, let’s have more of their friends.’”

Kaley Cuoco was cast as Penny, a Cheesecake Factory waitress with big Hollywood dreams. Rounding out the ensemble are Simon Helberg as Howard Wolowitz — named after Prady’s partner at his old software company — and Kunal Nayyar as Raj Koothrappali.

Lorre: “That woman who came into their world … she didn’t have to be interested in them in any kind of romantic way, but she had to be kind. That was the brilliance of Kaley Cuoco … she’s just a very nice lady. She brought that into the ensemble, and that relationship got infinitely better.

Monster Ratings
Even in these days of declining ratings, “Big Bang” remains a beast in total viewers. Here are its five most-watched episodes in “live plus same-day” numbers.
20.4m Sept. 26, 2013: Ep. 137, “The Deception Verification”
20.3m Jan. 9, 2014: Ep. 148, “The Occupation Recalibration”
20.0m Jan. 10, 2013: Ep. 124, “The Bakersfield Expedition”
19.3m Jan. 3, 2013: Ep. 123, “The Egg Salad Equivalency”
19.2m Jan. 2, 2014: Ep. 147, “The Hesitation Ramification”

Cuoco: “She was written as the cute girl next door, [but] there was always something deeper. She was real people’s eyes looking at Sheldon and Leonard and all these funny characters that didn’t speak our language. It was just extremely natural and they became very close friends. I think the audience loved that. They love that she loved them so much.”

Prady: “Our casting process was very much looking for people who would bring the characters to life as we imagined them. That’s what [they] did amazingly.”

Kunal Nayyar: “If I didn’t do this show, then right now, I’d be living back home in Delhi and doing movies in India. So my future was hanging in the balance, literally. I mean, my bags were packed, and I was like on the last few days of my visa trying to figure out if this thing is going to happen, and it did.”

Simon Helberg: “The night we shot the pilot … I remember being in my room and hearing the laughter, and I thought that something terribly wrong had gone on. Like something fell on someone’s head in a hilarious way that they had to stop. Because it sounded like chaos. And I looked at the monitor, and I saw the audience was just laughing. And [pilot director] Jim Burrows ran out. I remember he said to Jim and Johnny, ‘You got to start over. The laugh went on too long. We got to back up. Go out the door again, come in.’ And then it happened to us when Kunal and I came in.”

Nayyar: “They applauded.”

Helberg: “Yeah, we got like entrance applause as new characters that have never been seen, which is weird. And I remember, I think Chuck said, ‘They were so happy there were more of them.’ ”
Nayyar: “There were more of these guys!”

Helberg: “There’s more nerds coming in!”

Lorre: “When we eventually got the pilot figured out and got it right, there was a wonderful moment I remember standing on the stage next to Jimmy Burrows, and we looked at each other. Some connection was being made that I don’t think we had anticipated.”

Kaley Cuoco, Melissa Rauch and Mayim Bialik have been praised for breakout performances.

Sept. 24, 2007

“The Big Bang Theory” premieres at 8:30 p.m. Eight episodes out of its initial 13-episode order aired before the 2007-08 Writers Guild strike halted production.
Prady: “I personally have always credited the Writers Guild strike [for building the show’s audience]. CBS reran those eight episodes, I think, three times. But what they were observing was that they were holding steady in the ratings.”

Lorre: “When the strike ended, I was frightened that we wouldn’t even come back, that we wouldn’t get a second season. We certainly hadn’t had a chance to really land as a series yet. But we came back and kind of relentlessly and maniacally wrote and shot nine more shows in, like, two months. We so much wanted to do anything we could to get the show grounded and create some kind of body of work for the first season.”

February 2008

CBS renews the show for a second season and moves it to 8 p.m. when it returns in March. The show finishes its 17-episode first season ranked No. 68 in the ratings.

Lorre: “The first step that was immediately apparent to us after season one … [was] we hadn’t done a very good job of enlarging the character of Penny and giving her the depth she deserved. Step one was working on that character. People, places and things didn’t baffle her the way they did them. She has an intelligence they didn’t have and it’s an equally necessary kind of intelligence to get by.”

Steven Molaro, executive producer and showrunner: “I remember feeling a real turning point with Penny and the show. It was the first time that she sat in Sheldon’s spot [on the couch] and he asked her to get out. And she said, ‘And what happens if I don’t?’ Penny, I felt, turned a corner in that moment of not being afraid to stand up to Sheldon, where everybody usually around Sheldon just caves.”

Lorre: “That summer we went to Comic-Con for the first time. I was totally against it … I thought 11 people would show up.”

Galecki: “I had never been and I didn’t think anybody was going to show up. I asked somebody to give me the schedule, and we were up against sci-fi shows.”

Lorre: “There was standing room only in a 4,000-seat room. People went berserk when the cast walked out on stage.”

March 2009

CBS picks up “Big Bang” for two more seasons.

Galecki: “The cast got together and it kind of became apparent to us that we were family now. We’re going to have experienced together births and deaths and marriages and divorces.”

Oct. 19, 2009

Melissa Rauch and Wil Wheaton both make their first appearances on the show in “The Creepy Candy Coating Corollary.” Rauch, playing Wolowitz’s love interest Bernadette, is elevated to a series regular in 2010.

“The cast got together and it kind of became apparent to us that we were family now. We’re going to have experienced together births and deaths and marriages and divorces.”
Johnny Galecki

May 24, 2010

Mayim Bialik makes her first appearance as Sheldon’s eventual girlfriend, Amy Farrah Fowler, in the third-season finale, “The Lunar Excitation.” She, too, would be made a series regular later that year.

Lorre: “Mayim and Melissa were very purposely created to challenge these characters. By putting them into the lives of Wolowitz and Sheldon, they purposely force those characters to grow. What better way to force a character to grow or to collapse than put them in relationships? Again, we got extremely lucky. Mayim and Melissa were just godsends.”

Molaro: “It opened up so many more stories, and so many new dynamics with all the characters, not just necessarily who they’re paired with.”

Melissa Rauch: “What’s really neat is the fact that you have two female scientists on a show, and they’re so vastly different. On a lot of shows, it’d be like, ‘That’s the girl scientist, and that’s that.’ The fact that you have two women of the same profession, and you show these layered, nuanced characters is such a testament to the architects behind the show.”

Mayim Bialik: “What’s especially nice is though we haven’t left behind our former selves … we do still have those snippets of what we used to be. So I don’t know that it’s that we’ve changed, but that we’ve evolved. To me, change implies that we’ve become something different. But evolving means that we’ve added to the characters we are, and I think that’s how it is in life.”

May 2010

CBS announces its intent to move “The Big Bang Theory” to the highly competitive 8 p.m. Thursday timeslot, where it will eventually hit series highs of 20 million viewers. Initially, however, insiders were skeptical of the shift.

Roth: “That was a scary move for us. I was very trepidatious about it. But [CBS] had complete confidence, and marketed it beautifully so the audience migrated from Monday night, in that very, very safe and secure position, to an anchor slot on a night in which there was a habit of drama on CBS. To their credit they were right, they were absolutely right.”

January 2011

“The Big Bang Theory” is renewed for three seasons and receives its first Emmy nomination for comedy series. It will be nominated again in 2012, 2013 and 2014, but has yet to win. Parsons has won four Emmys for his portrayal of Sheldon.

Molaro: “There’s been so much joy and so much success with the show, and such an incredible fan base and an incredible audience. To me, we’ve already won everything we could win, just based on that.”

Galecki: “I don’t pay too much attention to that stuff, but that would be nice before we finish up. Not that I’m predicting when that might be.”

Cast members celebrate at a taping of season five’s “The Wiggly Finger Catalyst”

Sept. 27, 2012

The sixth season premieres, marking the beginning of Molaro’s era as showrunner.

Lorre: “There’s really a formula that can creep into a show that’s been on this long. We still have to protect these characters and keep them honest to what they are, but at the same time, allow them to grow. Steve’s taking over as the showrunner and head writer has been a godsend. He’s breathing new life into these characters and enlarging their worlds in ways I would never have anticipated.”

Prady: “The biggest thing that we’ve learned is how much movement is available in these characters. I have been very reticent to make the characters make progress in their lives, and Steve Molaro has been the one who’s said, ‘No, they can go. Sheldon and Amy, she can become his girlfriend,’ — up to Sheldon and Amy sleeping together. All of those things.”

Jim Parsons: “I will say the writers are very actor-friendly … I thought the sex episode was a good example of both making a monumentous thing happen and making very little out of it at the same time. The way it was completely evenly dispersed between the boys’ reaction to the ‘Star Wars’ film coming out, and even the way they had each of us personally look at it, where she was kind of more nervous than Sheldon was by that point, which I didn’t see coming in the script.”

Molaro: “My, and all the writers’, goal is to let these characters evolve, but still essentially be who they are. I like to think that we’ve done a pretty good job. You look at how far Wolowitz has come, and how far Sheldon has come, but it doesn’t feel like they’re not Wolowitz and Sheldon anymore. I think that’s really important, because that’s what the show is.”

Jan. 30, 2014

“The Convention Conundrum” airs, the production of which makes “Star Wars” history.

Molaro: “The first time that James Earl Jones and Carrie Fisher had ever met in real life was on our stage. They were walking toward each other on stage for the first time, and Carrie Fisher said to James Earl Jones, ‘Dad!’ ”

March 2014

CBS renews “The Big Bang Theory” for three more seasons, taking it through May 2017, the end of season 10. It remains the highest-rated comedy on U.S. TV today.
Lorre: “We have two couples now that are married … Sheldon has consummated [his relationship] when, in the beginning of the series, he couldn’t touch another human being. He couldn’t stand physical contact. We’ve had a character that was in outer space for several months! The show has made some moves that, in the beginning, you would never have dreamed of. But it’s all for the good.”

Rauch: “It’s remarkable when young girls come up and say that they want to be a scientist because of this show. Being someone who has absolutely no science knowledge other than what they write me on this show, and seeing that it inspires a generation of kids to do that is amazing.”

Galecki: “It’s really at its core a show about friends and relationships. It took us probably four or five years to really earn that. The writers were patient with it and took their time. Those are some of my favorite episodes now that I look back and go, ‘We couldn’t have done this season two. We had to earn this.’”

Feb. 9, 2015

“The Big Bang Theory” pays tribute to the actress who voiced Howard’s boisterous mother, Mrs. Wolowitz, Carol Ann Susi, who passed away on Nov. 11, 2014, after a long battle with cancer. Howard’s mom, who was never seen on camera, died in her sleep in “The Comic Book Store Regeneration.”

Rauch: “She was just an incredible woman with an incredible comedic timing. And equal to her talent, her heart was equal. It was such a loss for all of us and I think the writers did such a beautiful job with handling that. It was such a raw, emotional time for all of us in general because it was such a loss for the family here and getting to honor her in that way was special for all of us.”

Feb. 25, 2016

The 200th episode airs, cementing the show’s legacy as a multicamera triumph.

Lorre: “I don’t think audiences care how many cameras you use. I don’t think they’re counting cameras. They’re either connecting with the characters and the relationships and laughing or they’re not. What we’ve attempted to do every week, without fail, is a show that has laughter in it, that provokes laughter. Honest, real laughter that’s coming from characters that you can care about. That seems like a little thing, but it’s everything.”

Cuoco: “Life goes on and life is being lived around us. And it’s just another moment to take it in and be like, ‘I am so frickin’ grateful for this show.’”