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CBS Close to Two-Season Pickup for ‘The Big Bang Theory’

CBS is closing in on a two-season pickup for Warner Bros. Television’s “The Big Bang Theory,” primetime’s top-rated comedy series.

CBS Corp. chairman-CEO Leslie Moonves confirmed Wednesday during the company’s fourth-quarter earnings call that that the network is “very, very close” to a two-season deal. Warner Bros. reps declined to comment.

The news of the final talks in the series deal talks between CBS and Warner Bros. indicates that the studio is coming to terms on new contracts with the show’s five core cast members: Jim Parsons, Johnny Galecki, Kaley Cuoco, Kunal Nayyar and Simon Helberg. The current contracts expire at the end of this season, the show’s 10th, along with Warner Bros.’ license agreement with CBS.

The deal is expected to encompass a full 24 episodes per season. There had been speculation that the episode order would be trimmed for a renewal, given that the cast members are increasingly branching out into other projects outside the show.

Deadline reported that the five stars were closing in on deals that would pay them about $1 million per episode, on par with the fees they received for the most recent seasons. Nayyar and Helberg had earned lower salaries than Parsons, Galecki and Cuoco for most of the series run, but both reached just under the seven-figure mark in the current season. Parsons, Galecki and Cuoco have small but valuable back-end participation stakes as well.

Warner Bros. is also believed to be in the process of signing new deals with co-stars Mayim Bialik and Melissa Rauch, whose roles have blossomed during the past few seasons.

The deal also comes as CBS and Warner Bros. TV are developing a prequel project focusing on the formative years of the Sheldon Cooper character played by Parsons. Parsons is on board that project as an executive producer along with “Big Bang” showrunner Steven Molaro, who is writing the script.

The prospect of a two-season deal would extend “Big Bang’s” run through at least a 12th season, which would make it one of TV’s longest-running sitcoms. The series, created by Bill Prady and Chuck Lorre, has reigned as primetime’s most-watched comedy for most of its run. It also ranks as the most profitable comedy series of the past decade in syndication, raking in more than $1 billion in revenue from local TV stations and cabler TBS. Warner Bros. is also believed to be eyeing an SVOD sale of the property at long last.

The fact that the contract renewal talks extended well into the final season of the deal raised the specter of a salary standoff between the studio and the actors. While “Big Bang” has been a whopping success for the studio, the upside potential for the additional episodes to come in seasons 11 and season 12 is limited, given the nature of syndication contracts and the ability of TV stations and TBS to opt out of acquiring those new episodes. Also, CBS’ license fee deal no longer covers all of the show’s production costs, as it did in earlier seasons. All of this meant that there was not much incentive for Warner Bros. to give the five actors big salary hikes beyond their current $1 million paychecks.

That said, “Big Bang” is high-wattage part of Warner Bros. TV’s roster. It’s also important for the studio to maintain good relations with Lorre, Prady and Molaro.

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