The Big Bang Theory
The Big Bang Theory is a comedy about two physicists Leonard Hofstadter and Sheldon Cooper who live and work together in Pasadena, California. They live a comfortable geeky existence until attractive wannabe actress Penny moves in across the hall. CBS 2007-???
UK: Channel 4
Producers Chuck Lorre and Bill Prady began working on a pilot in 2006. Their first attempt was not to CBS' liking and they had to rewrite and cast it before it was picked up and made its debut in September 2007. Both men are very experienced sit com writers and producers. Lorre was already running Two and a Half Men for CBS and The Big Bang Theory was soon filming on the neighbouring lot. The two did consult with UCLA Professor David Saltzberg on the science they used in the first season.
The first season received solid ratings (with between eight and nine million viewers) but was affected by the 2007-08 Writers Guild of America strike. The ratings grew quietly during season two. As a reward the show was given the chance to follow Two and a Half Men, the most watched sit com in America at the time for its third season. Ratings increased from around nine million to fourteen. CBS showed faith in the show and moved it to Thursdays for its fourth season to help launch other shows. The ratings have held steady since and in the 2010-11 season the show threatened to steal the title of highest rated comedy on television.
Following firmly in the footsteps of Two and a Half Men the show is made on a sound stage with a live studio audience. The first season saw a fairly traditional approach to the plot. Leonard was the one geek amongst the group with the nerve and ambition to try to win Penny over and abandon their social isolation. However Leonard was rewritten in subsequent seasons to abandon this growth and become more frightened and pathetic. Sheldon's role was then increased from quirky sidekick to dominating presence within the group.
The Big Bang Theory appeared just as I began to look around for shows to cover at The TV Critic. I was delighted to find a proper studio-based sit com with a modern look and loads of potential. The show had a real flavour of Frasier about it. Whereas Frasier and Niles would talk about the opera, theatre and literature, Sheldon and Leonard would talk Star Wars, Star Trek and Marvel Comics. Most viewers would more instantly see the similarities to Two and a Half Men but I feel the writing has done a better job of avoiding the repetitious nature of that show.
The Big Bang Theory has been tantalisingly close to becoming a really good show on many occasions. However the writers have stubbornly refused to develop the characters. The show has no natural hero and the writers often forget the importance of morality in wrapping up a story satisfactorily.
The elevation of Sheldon to, essentially, leading man status is understandable given Jim Parsons' wonderful performance. However Sheldon remains a deeply selfish character and the writers have never found a satisfying way to balance the negative aspects of his character with his dominant role in the show. The comedy is often predictable but is enlivened greatly by the actors' ability to perform in front of a responsive crowd.
The Big Bang Theory is one of the most static shows I have ever seen. Despite its success the producers come off as cheap by refusing to venture beyond the shows basic sets very often.
The success of The Big Bang Theory and How I Met Your Mother gave CBS a massively successful Monday night comedy block towards the end of the 2000s. The success of The Big Bang Theory in particular undoubtedly encouraged CBS to commission Chuck Lorre to create Mike and Molly in 2010.