2013 marks the 30th anniversary of PaleyFest, the annual celebration of television by the Paley Center for Media. Several hours before the sold-out panel for The Big Bang Theory began, throngs of devoted fans were already lined up outside the Saban Theater in Beverly Hills, demonstrating just how strongly audiences have connected to the CBS comedy’s socially inept group of loveable overachievers.
NCIS star, and self-proclaimed geek, Pauley Perrette moderated the discussion, which brought together stars Melissa Rauch, Simon Helberg, Kunal Nayyar, Johnny Galecki, Kaley Cuoco, Jim Parsons and Mayim Bialik, Executive Producer Steven Molaro, and creators Chuck Lorre and Bill Prady.
Perrette kicked off the evening by asking Lorre and Prady about the origins of The Big Bang Theory universe and how they arrived at the hypothesis that a pair of hyper-intelligent physicists could be funny. “Well, we’ve all seen A Beautiful Mind – and what a funny movie that was!” Lorre joked, before explaining that he and Prady had actually been looking for something to write together for quite a while.
“You were telling me stories about computer programming in New York in the ‘80s and talking about the guys that you worked with and they were fascinating — deeply troubled, but fascinating,” Lorre recalled.
“We had talked about computer programmers, but Chuck didn’t want them to be in that world because that was a world of commerce,” Prady said. “He kept stressing that they should be really smart, but something that was separate from the money making world.”
Now in its sixth season, a time when most successful shows begin to shed viewers, The Big Bang Theory is defying the law of TV physics, as it’s the highest-rated network sitcom. Prady credited Molaro, who took over the day-to-day running of the show, with the more emotional storylines. “I think it’s the right time because if we’d told those stories sooner, you wouldn’t have known these people and you wouldn’t — their stories wouldn’t have resonated as much as they are now,” he said.
“The more emotional stories are the ones I tend to gravitate towards,” Molaro added.
Further illustrating the heartfelt direction the show has taken, this season saw Cuoco’s Penny finally confessing her love for Galecki’s Leonard. “We only did that in one take,” the actress revealed. “It was a very special take.”
Kunal Nayyar’s eternal third wheel Raj has also found love with the socially awkward Lucy, played by Kate Micucci (half of the comedy-duo band Garfunkel and Oates). “It’s really lovely to see him get to explore that side of himself.” Nayyar said.
The strange love affair of Parsons’ Sheldon and Bialik’s Amy got stranger and kinkier in the infamous spanking episode “The Fish Guts Displacement.” Parsons revealed the spanking was originally written to take place off-camera, but that changed on the night the episode was taped.
“I would say it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do because I found it tremendously amusing,” Parsons said. “Because I thought, ‘Well, damn it! I would have practiced how to control myself, but all week I was slapping that ass off-camera!”
“You have no idea how game this one is for spanking,” he continued, indicating Bialik, who admitted that, following all of the takes, “There was some redness.”
The flash-mob dance performed by the cast and crew to surprise the writers was Cuoco’s brainchild, and the actress enlisted her sister, a dancer and choreographer to pull it off. “I called her and I’m like, ‘OK, I have this idea. I want to do a flash mob with our entire crew in front of a taping in two weeks,” she said. “We all learned it and we did it and it was the best moment.”
From Stephen Hawking to George Takei, the show has had a number of guest stars play themselves, and Prady related how he asked Wil Wheaton (Star Trek: The Next Generation) to join that distinguished list. “As we were writing it, it was Chuck who made the character just a dick,” he laughed. “And I didn’t know this guy, and I had to call up [and say], ‘Hey Wil, it’s Bill again. So, you’re playing yourself, but you’re really a dick’ and Wil said: ‘Oh, I love that!’”
Galecki, who got his start playing Sara Gilbert’s boyfriend on the long-running comedy Roseanne, was glad to work opposite the actress again, but he admitted it wasn’t as easy as he thought it might be. “It’s interesting, when you work with someone for five years as we did, it kind of gets in your muscle memory to behave like the characters you behaved as for those five years,” he said.
When Perrette asked Rauch about her character Bernadette’s peculiar voice, the actress said, “It’s actually similar to my mother’s voice, except without the Jersey accent.”
The writers wouldn’t reveal of what lies ahead for the characters, and Bialik told Spinoff on the red carpet that even she doesn’t know what will happen between Amy and Sheldon. “We’re only a couple of episodes ahead of the public, so it’s kind of hard to tell,” she said. “I think whatever happens, it will probably still be slow.”
Before the panel ended, Lorre thanked the fans, several of whom were wearing “Bazinga” T-shirts or carrying “Soft Kitty” stuffed animals. “Before this night ends, we have to say thank you to everyone here,” he said. “This is so thrilling for us that you care enough to go out and do this, so thank you.”
The Big Bang Theory airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.