'Big Bang Theory': 'We didn't anticipate how protective the audience would feel about our guys'
“The Big Bang Theory” co-creator/executive producer Bill Prady answered every one of the questions that was submitted before the deadline. He even addressed the questions that Jim Parsons’ couldn’t answer.
Before "TBBT," Prady (far left in the picture to the right, flanking the cast with Chuck Lorre) wrote for shows such as "Dharma and Greg" "Gilmore Girls" and began his Hollywood career working for Jim Henson Productions. He is a fan of many things the characters on the show like, particularly "Star Trek." He was previously a computer programmer and said he worked with people who were very bright but couldn’t fit in well in the world and that this was the genesis for the characters we’ve come to love
- The original working title of the show was “Lenny, Penny and Kenny.”
- The show was not “pitched” in the traditional way. Normally a writer would go to the network with an outline of the premise, the characters and a vision for where the show would go in the future. For what eventually became “The Big Bang Theory,” Prady and Chuck Lorre wrote a script, hired some actor friends and “put on a show” for CBS honcho Leslie Moonves. “It was crazy,” Lorre said. But it worked.
- Kaley got teary-eyed every time someone on the panel or a guest in the audience gave her a compliment. It was really quite endearing. My favorite line of the whole panel — from Jim Parsons to Cuoco — “Did you think these people were going to throw fruit at us?”
- Asked why the show works so well, Lorre and Prady agreed that everyone, no matter how confident they may seem, at some point feels as if they are on the outside looking in and so the audience can easily identify with the characters.
- The staff calls the scenes between Penny and Sheldon “Peldon" or “Shenny" scenes
- Parsons, told by his manager that he was being asked to audition for a Chuck Lorre pilot, thought it was a Chuck Woolery pilot.
- Musing about how difficult it is to find the perfect actor for even one role in a pilot, Lorre said he felt they'd captured "lightning in a bottle five times" with the "Big Bang" gang. We couldn't agree more.
And now, on to your questions. I’ve chosen the elevator question as my favorite because it made me giggle. Nicola, I will contact you about your prize.
Q. As much as I love the awkward staircase conversations in “TBBT” I want to know if the elevator will EVER be fixed? It would be so funny to watch someone get trapped in there with Sheldon. (Nicola)
A. Our broken elevator does two wonderful things for us. First, it eliminates the traditional sitcom L-shaped apartment building hallway and second, it allows us to do “walk and talk” scenes without having to create a city street or similar set. We’re proud of the set, which required we jackhammer a hole in the floor of Stage 25 (to make room for the stairs going down). I can’t tell you whether it will ever get fixed, but if it does, I’m sure things won’t go well.
there been any thought of possibly stretching out a storyline over the
course of multiple episodes? The Sheldon worshiper story was very
clever but it was wrapped up way too quickly; I would’ve loved to see
it continue for a few weeks. (Anthony)
A. We may. The way television is watched these days doesn’t lend itself to long arcs, and we want our series to always invite new viewers to it. It’s a tricky balance to strike.
Q. Do you think Sheldon will ever win the Nobel prize? If so, do you think he’d bring Penny as his date? (Sarah)
A. Sheldon certainly does. I don’t think he’d bring Penny. My money would be on his mother.
Q. Will Sheldon and Penny ever have a romantic connection? The have such amazing chemistry together. Hopefully not soon because their bickering is so much fun. (Mega, Laura C. Sophie, Fran)
A. I have a hard time imagining Sheldon with anyone in a romantic connection! Even his friends aren’t sure what his “deal” is! The fact that he and Penny have any kind of social relationship is pretty significant for Sheldon. In the second season opener, Penny casually noted that she felt that she and Sheldon were “friends,” a comment Sheldon examined carefully. I’m not sure how many friends Sheldon’s made in his life — that Penny is one of them is noteworthy.
Q. “The Big Bang Theory” draws energy from a well-crafted underlying structure. So it was cool to hear your interview (with Bob Andelman) last year, in which you explicitly described your sense of that structure:
Did you already conceive of the show in these clear terms, in the months leading up to the 2007 pilot (or even leading up to the first pilot)? Was the collaborative creative process rather smooth, or did the show’s concept evolve more dynamically, around 2006, with different creative viewpoints tugging toward opposite poles? And how does the development process compare with the creative atmosphere on the series now? (Tony)
A. OK, Tony, this question felt a bit like an essay question on a film school exam, but I’ll give it a try. The basic dynamic between Leonard and Sheldon — that Leonard wanted to participate more in the world and that Sheldon didn’t — was a component of the original (unaired) pilot. I’d be hard pressed to say whether there were detailed, conscious discussions about it, or if it naturally fell into place.
I’d describe the creative process of the show’s development as rather herky-jerky. The 2006 pilot, while including the basic Leonard/Sheldon dynamic, had huge conceptual mistakes that we steered away from when we made the second pilot.
Finally, the key difference between development and production is speed and pressure. Remember, you have a year to make the first episode and two weeks to make every one after that!
Q. Elaborating on what Tony just asked, can you tell us more about the original pilot that was shot and then scrapped? How did it differ in tone and how different were the characters? Do you think you’d be as happy with the show if the original version had been picked up to series? (Kathy)
A. The key difference in the original pilot was the conception of the female lead. The original character (called “Katie” in that version) was envisioned as a street-hardened, tough-as-nails woman with a vulnerable interior. The idea was for the guys, who would approach her with honesty, to draw the real, sensitive Katie out. What we didn’t anticipate, though, is how protective the audience would feel about our guys. Early screenings of that version of the pilot led audiences to beg that the “mean lady” would stay away from the “sweet guys.”
We also added Wolowitz and Koothrappali in the second pilot. The idea was, if they like these first two guys, let’s give them two more. I also like the way Wolowitz and Koothrappali “bracket” Leonard and Sheldon by being more withdrawn (Koothrappali) and more socially confident — albeit in a deluded way (Wolowitz).
And no, I like the show we’re doing now and can’t imagine anything else.
Q. What are your parameters for choosing a guest star? Do you write guest characters with an actor in mind? Since you had a Battlestar Galactica actor on one episode (and Summer Glau from “The Sarah Connor Chronicles” in another), I was wondering if you’d ever get any “Stargate” actors. David Hewlett would be fantastic on “TBBT” as he’s the king of the sci-fi geeks. (Elyse)
A. We generally look for the best actor for the part. For example, we cast Michael Trucco not because of his Galacta cred (which, we agree, is awesome), but because we knew he’d do a great job. The same is true of actors like Laurie Metcalf and Christine Baranski.
In the case of Summer Glau, we had a specific story in mind involving the guys meeting an attractive actress from the world of science fiction. Narrowing it down to those who were available and who were willing to have a sense of humor about themselves led us to Summer — fortunate, because she was also our first choice!
Q. Do you guys have any plans on ever making an episode about how Sheldon, Leonard, Raj and Howard met or a flashback featuring kid versions of the gang. (Wendy, Claudia, Dairy, Stephanie)
A. I’m not a big fan of flashbacks, but I’d never rule anything out.
Btw, Chuck Lorre actually sparked to this idea at the panel and said he thought it was a good idea.
Q. Though I’m sure it won’t be ending for a very long time, at this point, how would you envision the show ending? Where would you like to leave our favorite four geeks and a girl by the end of their run? Have you mapped out the overall development for each of the characters or are you winging it or both? Are there long-term goals for any of the characters on the show? Even if you can’t give details, I’d love to know if there’s anything big in store for our favorite nerds. (Trevor and Shannon)
A. We don’t map out things ahead like that. We try to follow the natural progression of the characters — i.e. if that just happened, what might happen next? Locking yourself into big pre-planned season or series arcs can result in trying to force the characters to go where they don’t want to go.
That being said, the final episode will absolutely involve the characters developing super-powers and joining the Justice League. Or the X-Men.
Q. Are Sheldon and Leonard named after the brilliant (producer) Sheldon Leonard of “The Andy Griffith Show,” “The Danny Thomas Show,” “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” “My Favorite Martian” and “I Spy?” (Binnie)
A. Yep. Chuck and I are both fans. Chuck’s idea.
Q. Will we ever meet Penny’s family? Come to think of it, will you ever tell us her last name? (Stephanie)
A. Yes, and yes.
Q. Sheldon appeared far more human and sexualized in the pilot compared to the Sheldon we see today. Do you feel that Sheldon is asexual, like a lot of people claim, or is it more that Sheldon hasn’t met the right person yet who can cope with all his idiosyncrasies? (Kirsty)
A. We’re as mystified as Sheldon’s friends about his “deal” (see above).
Q. I was wondering if Raj is ever going to be able to speak to women? He seems like such a smooth talker (even when drunk) and I think it’s hilarious how he manages to get the attention of girls. (Dairy)
A. Raj may someday seek treatment for his selective mutism. The fellow I knew whose malady we based Raj’s on, never did.
Q. You’ve written for many TV shows, with characters who have wildly different “voices” and personalities. Somehow each character’s personality and voice is consistent across many episodes and seasons. Could you share some insights or advice on the process? When different writers script episodes, the characters stay consistent. Do some writers or crew sort of shepherd some characters as the filming day approaches? Does someone oversee the scripts for consistency? Do the writers do it entirely on their own? It’s remarkable. (John)
A. The final word on every script is the “showrunner” or head writer. Scripts are constantly rewritten to ensure a consistent voice, but the job of a good television writer is to be able to write in all the voices that comprise a series’ ensemble.
Q. I was wondering what made you choose Jim and Johnny as your main (actors)? What about them appealed to you? (Sara)
A. We knew Johnny, and felt his sweet — often self-effacing — nature would be a perfect fit. Jim just came in and auditioned and the rest is history.
Q. Being a self-proclaimed “Queen of the Nerds,” I find the gaming/comic/sci-fi jokes and references on “TBBT” to be well thought out, well placed, and absolutely hilarious. That said … when will the guys introduce Penny to the wonderful world of table-top gaming? Warhammer or D&D? Who do you feel would make the best GM? Congrats on the success of BBT, thanks, and keep up the excellent work! (Nikki)
A. Short answers in the order asked:
That Talisman game is available anytime she wants to try it.
D & D (I’m old school)
Sheldon (according to Sheldon)
Q. Where has Stephanie gone? She just disappeared and never ever came back. I loved her character. She kept Leonard away from Penny. She and Leonard are great together … Leonard is kind if chasing a hopeless dream in Penny. (Jennifer and Fran)
A. Stephanie was a chance for Leonard to learn that just because someone loves you, doesn’t mean you’ll love them back. It’s a big piece of growth for the Leonards of the world to make the decision to wait for the person you want instead of going with the person who will have you. I hope he’s making the right choice.
Q. Will there be a resolution with the situation with “The Nemesis,” Leslie? It bothers me a bit that she seems to often get the better of Sheldon. (Emodius)
A. Don’t you think that someone should get the better of Sheldon from time to time?
Will we ever see a reference to “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”
series?! Raj’s cap in the pilot was a nice touch, but Douglas Adams
deserves much more, don’t you think? (Anita)
A. OK, we’ll try. One of my very first jobs was working as a researcher on a television program the Muppets were going to do called “The Muppets Look at the World of Technology.” The program was never produced, but I got to spend a lot of time with the writers — including Douglas Adams. He was one of the tallest and nicest men I’d ever met and was very generous with advice for a young, aspiring writer. So long and thanks for all the fish, Anita.
Q. Hi Bill, I’m from Czech republic. Even though in “Big Bang” was reference about “Czechoslovakia” I do hope you know that we aren’t Czechoslovakia no more. But only Czech republic. ;-) Have a nice life! I like you. Bye Veronika
A. Promiòte, Veronika — Bill