THE BIG BANG THEORY Creators Chuck Lorre and Bill Prady Interviewed

     August 1, 2008

Written by Matt Goldberg

“Watchmen” wasn’t the only packed panel Friday morning at this year’s Comic-Con. Making its first appearance at the Con, the CBS sitcom “The Big Bang Theory” managed to fill every seat in 6CDEF, signaling a loyal following and excitement over the show’s upcoming season, premiering September 22nd. I sat down with show-runners Chuck Lorre and Bill Prady to talk about the show’s conception, development, and most importantly, Sheldon’s Chinese dining woes.

During the panel, you made a comment about the show, calling the characters “Not geeks but remarkable people.” Is that something you were worried about getting a backlash about or did you get some backlash about it?

Chuck Lorre: I was always kind of struggling with labeling the characters in a demeaning way because they’re brilliant characters. But I guess “brilliant” isn’t as good a word for the media as “geek” and “nerd” but they’re geniuses.

Bill Prady: Well I think there are two ways those words are used; one as a self-identification and of pride and then there’s a derogatory aspect of it and we never approach the characters with labels. We said let’s do a show about these people.

Lorre: They’re dimensionalized people. You can’t simply say they’re a “geek” or a “nerd” and be done with it.

Bringing in the science aspect of the show, how do you balance that with the comedy so that it’s not obscure but also accurate enough not to offend those that would be able to spot the inaccuracy?

Lorre: It’s a balancing act. There has to be science but there has to be comedy. You don’t get the science, you’ll still get the comedy. It’s like if the show is in Portuguese, you should still be able to laugh. That’s the bar you have to jump over as writers.

Prady: In the earlier days, we likened it to the “I Love Lucy” moment where Ricky would rant in Cuban-Spanish and it didn’t affect your ability to watch the show.

Where did the original concept come from?

Lorre: We were discussing two different ideas together. One was about a woman who’s pretty much getting her life started at the beginning of adulthood. And Bill was talking about the 80s and the genius computer programmers that he was one of. And they were such remarkable characters that it kind of took over and then we said “What happens if we put the two ideas together?” and then I think the big move was to get them out of the computer world entirely and make them quantum physicists. They’re not entrepreneurs. They’re scientists. That freed us up from a lot of clichés. No pocket protectors!

What did you learn from season one that you’re bringing to season two?

Lorre: Penny’s a far more formidable character than we gave her credit for when we began the series. The depths of Sheldon’s neuroses are endless.

Pardy: But I think we found ways to stay true to the characters we established. We learned great things about our performers. To discover that Kunal had the range that he had and that we could build stories around Kuthrappali and Wolowitz; that we have some strength on the bench. We don’t write away from any performer which is rare in television. We can write for any of them and get great stuff. We learned to listen to the characters. When we got off track and had weeks where he had to do some repair, it’s because we had stopped listening to the characters.

Lorre: They’re not slackers. This is not “Friends”. These are very, very remarkable characters and if we stay true to that then it’s quite a joy to be a part of.

Chuck, because you do “Two and a Half Men” as well, do you have to put a different head on to do that show since it’s so different?

Lorre: Oh yeah. I have to leave my “Raunch” hat in that office before going to over to the “Big Bang” office. “Two and a Half” is a very different show. It’s much more…carnal. It has its own voice. I love that the shows have different voices. On occasion, when a little “Two and a Half Men” leaks into “Big Bang Theory”, it is so off and we shoot in front of a live audience, and when that happens, that live audience responds viscerally. “Whoooooa.” You know you’ve made a mistake. We’ve re-written stuff in front of the audiences; we do that all the time anyway but it’s very important to keep things separate.

Is that because people see Sheldon and Leonard as being innocents?

Lorre: They’re very protective of them. There was a question about the first pilot and that was the biggest lesson of the first pilot: that Sheldon and Leonard; that the audience felt deeply concerned about their well-being. And that’s wonderful. When you create a show with characters that the audience cares for? That’s special. That was the reason to try and do it again. We didn’t understand that going in.

Did you expect that crowd out there?

Lorre: No. If there had been 400 people out there today, I would have been thrilled. Truly, very exciting.

So you left season one off on a bit of a cliffhanger: Does Sheldon get his Orange Chicken or—[laughter]

Lorre: Well done.

Thank you. But what was a sub-plot in season one between Leonard and Penny, how will that go into season two?

Prady: We talked about nothing else for a while. It seems like the real reality of these situations is that it works, it stops working; Penny’s young. Is she ready for that kind of serious boyfriend? Leonard looked at her almost as an object but now you have to deal with her as a complete person with her own complete set of feelings which to the Leonards of the world is somewhat surprising.

Lorre: Her own problems, her own issues. And I think that’s going to come up more in the second season; that she’s going to become more three dimensional. Her problems are her issues and her insecurities can determine the story as opposed to what one might expect: Oh, he’s going to screw it up. Well, we know that. But wouldn’t it be interesting if she had her own basket of neuroses that could mess up a relationship.

How do you make sure you don’t get too over-the-top with the geekiness? For example, The Time Machine episode could have easily been too geeky, but you kept it balanced.

Lorre: But the episode was about how men get attached to toys and at what point do you put them down? So I think that grounded it and not being one long reference. We were comfortable with that show because it was about a guy who loves the things he collects and then gets called on the carpet by the women he’s deeply enamored with and saying “You’re a child” and it unsettles him and everything turns upside down. That’s what it was all about. It didn’t need the Time Machine. But it was really cool. I hate to use the term “stunt casting” for the Time Machine, but is there going to be anything like that in season two like them going to Comic-Con? We would have loved to have done something with Comic-Con. We just didn’t have the time. We would have loved to come down here and shoot some scenes down here. How exciting would that be? Maybe next year.

If Leonard and Sheldon did come to Comic-Con, who would they come dressed as?

Prady: They have a deep wardrobe. There would be an argument because Leonard would say “Let’s all pick our own costumes,” and Sheldon would want some sort of group theme; he would want it “We’re all either from the same film” or “We all represent the same idea” like different Star Trek uniforms from different shows or “We’re all villains from different things.” His compulsion for order and arrangement and his need to impose that on the group would be problem #1 for picking costumes for Comic-Con.

When making geek references on the show, how much of that is trying to tap into the Zeitgeist and how much of it is just personally showing love for a property you enjoy?

Lorre: All of the stuff comes out of the writer’s room and half the time we’re saying “That’s too obscure,” At some point you start making the experience not inclusive to people who come from outside this world. It comes up very organically.

Prady: It’s tricky because like I’m a big DC Comics fan but it ends at the Silver Age so I’ve been given a reading list so I can stay current. But there are guys in the writers’ room are fiercely current on things like that.

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