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Tribune News Service
Tribune News Service
Jacqueline Cutler

‘Big Bang Theory’ proved to be equation for unlikely sitcom success

"The Big Bang Theory: The Definitive, Inside Story of the Epic Hit Series" by Jessica Radloff; Grand Central Publishing (528 pages, $30)



Sheldon Cooper used the word when he had a victory.

Jessica Radloff could use it about her book, “The Big Bang Theory: The Definitive, Inside Story of the Epic Hit Series.”

All too often, definitive and inside compendiums are neither. In this case, Radloff delivers an oral history that’s an exhaustive dive into the 279 episodes (and one unaired pilot) of the beloved sitcom that ran on CBS from 2006 to 2019.

“A show like ‘The Big Bang Theory’ is not supposed to be a mainstream success,” Radloff begins. “Not when the two lead characters are a theoretical physicist and an experimental physicist. Or when episodes involved the Born-Oppenheimer approximation and Schrödinger’s Cat. Or when a lot of attention is paid to whiteboards and theorems.”

Over the series’ run, Radloff wrote some 150 articles about it. She’s Glamour’s senior West Coast editor and had all of the actors and executive producers’ cooperation in this. So over two years, Radloff did scores of interviews and wove them into a hefty book.

It may be surprising that there are 528 pages worth of material. Yet, there are enough anecdotes and stories from the cast and the executives to sustain it. This delves into how the show developed and how the characters evolved over the years. The actors who played them had so many wonderful memories they were happy sharing with her.

Radloff includes all of it, including studio bosses’ impressions and a now disgraced former network boss’ machinations over the actors’ salaries. The stars united and held out for a big payoff. They knew they could as the series became a global hit.

“I’ve gone to Comic-Cons all over the world, and it’s one of those things you don’t really understand until you walk into a convention center and get mobbed in a foreign country,” said Kevin Sussman, who played Stuart, the comic book store owner. “That’s when I realized, holy moly, the popularity is insane … And so many people would tell me, ‘Oh, I’m such a Stuart’ or ‘My boyfriend’s such a Stuart.’ I was in Saudi Arabia and a woman in a burqa came over and said, ‘I’m such a Stuart!’”

The book is undeniably a valentine to the show. And, why not? It was the rare sitcom that kept audiences laughing and was smart enough to go out on top.

It’s not surprising but still fun to learn about how Cuoco was forever taking photos of the cast. Like the others, she realized early on this was a special show.

Most TV casts feel compelled to tell everyone that they are family. This cast, which came together young and stayed together, really did become that close.

It’s apparent in the interviews that those relationships deepened and broadened. Johnny Galecki and Kunal Nayyar’s mom “bonded over smoking and drinking and a certain similar sense of humor,” Galecki said.

Chuck Lorre, the co-creator of “The Big Bang Theory,” and a creator of “Two and a Half Men,” “Dharma & Greg,” “Mom,” “The Kominsky Method,” among others, recalls Jim Parsons’ audition to play Sheldon.

“He didn’t just come in and read the lines,” Lorre said. “He had prepared a fully realized character. He had prepared the material so his dialogue had a rhythm, intonation, syntax, the pauses, everything was calculated … I wanted to know if he could create that performance again. And he did it perfectly, as if he had never done it before.”

There are fun asides, as Galecki recounted. “For some reason, Simon and I had this thing where we have rented a lot of boats together, which makes no sense because neither of us are sailors. But every time we went to Comic-Con and we’d rent a boat, he’d buy a captain’s hat, and we’d just endanger everyone’s lives.”

The series, which received 55 Emmy nominations, winning 10, was well known for its accuracy with the equations on the whiteboard, done by a UCLA physics professor. Even throwaway lines, such as when Sheldon rattles off Latin, are correct.

Even the takeout food was real, not craft services that had been out all day.

The book reminds us that the show could easily have faded away during the Writers Guild of America strike from November 2007 until February 2008. Many shows did. Instead, CBS did something very smart.

“CBS began repeating the first eight episodes over and over again, which not only created familiarity for those who had already seen the show, but those who hadn’t had a chance to watch something ‘new,’” Radloff writes. “And without streaming services like Netflix or Hulu at the time, choices were limited.”

That was a boon for the series. Unlike when networks kill off a series quickly because the ratings don’t match the expectations, “The Big Bang Theory” had the chance to sit with people. And people found that they loved it.

It was sweet without being syrupy. It showed someone on the spectrum without making a huge deal out of it. It was funny and kind.

The book recounts the off-screen romance between Galecki and Cuoco, how they tried to be coy about it, and how they remained such close friends when they were no longer involved.

While Penny, Cuoco’s character, was there from the start, the other two main female characters, Melissa Rauch as Bernadette and Mayim Bialik as Amy Farrah Fowler, joined later. They wed, respectively, Howard and Sheldon, and added depth to the show.

It always seemed that the two had a great friendship, and the book reveals that the teenage Rauch had been obsessed with Bialik’s show, “Blossom.”

“I had a Blossom hat collection,” Rauch shared.

One character who the audience never sees receives her due. Mrs. Wolowitz, Howard’s mother, who sounds like Harvey Fierstein only louder, was the actress Carol Ann Susi. She died in 2014, but the cast told terrific anecdotes about her. Remember this was a woman whose whisper was a bellow, and it was usually about brisket.

Co-creator Bill Prady recounted Susi coming to him, all excited, saying: ‘‘’I’m having lunch with my friend at the Farmer’s Market, just having a conversation, when someone comes up and says, ‘Are you the mother from “The Big Bang Theory?” I mean, how did she know?’ She was a lovely lady and I adored her.”

The cast stuck together both on that couch and in negotiations. They made good on the Hollywood trope of being a family. And after all those years, Parsons felt it was time to end. The cast had already signed through the 2019 season.

“I was in New York that summer doing a play on Broadway when my dog, Otis, died at the age of 14,” he said of the summer of 2018.

His husband “and I had him since he was eight weeks old … his passing brought a sense of clarity for me. I don’t think there was a part of me that actually thought I would do more seasons after the 12th, but I was ready to … get out of the security of the show to fully find out what was next for me. I was ready to move back to New York full time.”

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