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‘The Big Bang Theory’ Prop Master and Set Decorator Look Back on the Show’s 12 Seasons

Just like the lead actors on CBS comedy “The Big Bang Theory,” many of the show’s crew members have been part of the hit series from its beginning, 12 seasons ago — including prop master Scott London and set decorator Ann Shea. 

In anticipation of the program’s upcoming finale on May 16, London and Shea shared some behind-the-scenes secrets from Stage 25 on the Warner Bros. lot, where “Big Bang” is shot.

For instance, over the years, the characters have eaten a lot of food on camera. London, who nearly became a chef, makes everything the actors eat. “Johnny [Galecki, who plays Leonard] used to eat homemade ramen that I prepared with vegetable bouillon and Sriracha,” London says of the food that was always in Galecki’s Chinese takeout cartons. “Early on, I didn’t have my Sriracha-soy sauce ratio down yet. When Johnny took a big drink of it, he started coughing on set during the scene.”  

One of London’s biggest prop challenges came during a storyline that sent Howard (Simon Helberg) into space with an exploding toilet. “We designed the toilet based on a [space shuttle] model at the Smithsonian,” recalls London. “Special effects built it with air canisters to shoot meatloaf into the air at the right time. My assistant and I came in on the weekend to paint each individual piece [of the toilet] before putting it back together again.”

An ongoing puzzle for fans has been what Helberg used to repair the toilet. The item was never named in the script, and viewers could only see a small, white object on-screen. While London initially calls the object a behind-the-scenes mystery, he eventually relents, revealing it to be a pizza saver — one of those three-legged plastic supports that goes in the center of a takeout pie.

Another London reveal: Leonard and Bernadette (Melissa Rauch) don’t have lenses in the frames of their glasses. Typically, prop lenses have layers of anti-
reflective coating on them because of all the lights onstage. However, the height disparity between Sheldon (Jim Parsons) and his co-stars led to ongoing challenges with reflections, so the DP requested that the lenses be removed. It was something the actors had to get used to. “During one of the early seasons, all of a sudden Johnny reached in through the glasses and rubbed his eyes,” says London. “I [said to] the producer, ‘Did you see that? He just scratched his eye through the lens!’ They wound up reshooting the scene.”

While London works closely with the actors, Shea’s job takes place before they even arrive at work, since she and her team decorate the sets. Eagle-eyed fans can spot touches of her personality. A proponent of environmentally friendly products and practices, she incorporates them into the show whenever it fits; recycling bins have appeared regularly over the years.

Viewers also would be impressed to see just how clean everything is on set, with bedding freshly laundered and silverware and dishes sparkling. Things are kept sanitary, even if they’re not scripted for a particular episode, just in case someone wants to use them at a moment’s notice. This also extends to the kitchens. Appliances are all real, and every drawer, cabinet and shelf is filled. “Everything’s there that you need,” explains Shea, a multiple Emmy nominee. “The actors have the freedom to spontaneously go into any drawer and look to get something.”

London and Shea clearly enjoyed their time with “Big Bang.” “The show made my job seem like it wasn’t even work,” Shea says. 

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