Big Bang Theory's Chuck Lorre Reveals The Biggest Creative Fights Of His Career

chuck lorre smiling cbs this morning
(Image credit: screenshot)

Even if the only claim to fame under his belt was co-creating CBS' soon-to-end The Big Bang Theory, Chuck Lorre would still be one of the most successful producers in television right now. However, he'd definitely had massive success in years previous, and even followed Big Bang's own success with other highly popular projects. By most measures, Lorre's life and career are easy to be envious of, but only when one forgets the many, many hardships that he's also faced over the years.

Once labeled as the "angriest man in television," Chuck Lorre is currently more known for making headlines for politically motivated vanity cards than for any on-set skirmishes with big-named stars. Lorre has learned how to now "be adamant without being angry," but that wasn't always the case, and he recently spoke about his biggest Hollywood battles and his low points within the industry. Here, he discusses what he considers the biggest fight he's had for a TV project.

There was a lot of pushback when I was doing Two and a Half Men. They didn't want Jon Cryer. He'd been in a series of pilots that didn't get on the air — or, if they did, they got canceled — and he got pinned with that label, 'show killer.'

Jon Cryer, who first broke into TV through the cultish comedy The Famous Teddy Z, only had a handful of TV lead roles between that show's 1990 end and Two and a Half Men's 2003 debut, and not on any series that remain memorable to this day. Sure, he appeared on Mr. Show and The Outer Limits, but his TV career clearly wasn't very noteworthy to CBS' execs during the casting process.

It seems silly to doubt Jon Cryer's abilities as a TV star now, of course. To the point where he's literally starring as Lex Luthor for The CW's Supergirl, so he's got something going for him.

Chuck Lorre also talked with THR about how the network producers who were putting Mike & Molly together were not sold on bringing Melissa McCarthy in as the female lead. It was just a year later when Bridesmaids blew up the box office and turned her into a megastar, and her movie career largely continued to overshadowed her time on CBS' Mike & Molly. That said, the show was a super-dependable winner for CBS, and many were pissed when its cancellation finally got announced.

Speaking about the last time he really had to buckle down and fight a network over a show's content, Chuck Lorre turned things right back to Two and a Half Men. (Though the Charlie Sheen-related stuff isn't until later.)

The nature of Two and a Half Men became 'What can we get away with?' It got really risqué. In a way, that became what the show was — a four-camera sitcom that was continually driving the broadcast standards people crazy. It was not done to shock; we honestly believed it was truly funny. Those arguments were negotiations. 'We'll take out two fellatio jokes but we'll leave in the cunnilingus joke. And we'll split the three-way bestiality thing in half, so everybody is happy.'

To be fair, any TV series that features Charlie Sheen, and then later Ashton Kutcher, as morally stunted womanizers is going to deal with moments where low-brow humor is nearly a necessity. Considering CBS is to risqué humor what McDonald's is to haute cuisine, it's easy to grasp how much of an uphill battle Chuck Lorre and the writers faced when trying to slip Two and a Half Men's most lewd jokes by the censors.

As news-friendly viewers will remember, Charlie Sheen and Chuck Lorre had one of the most heavily reported feuds of any in TV history. It's one that hasn't exactly warmed over so much, with Sheen reigniting the flames as recently as 2017. Of course, it was Sheen himself who was mostly to blame, displaying some insanely erratic behavior during his final days on Two and a Half Men's production.

Here, Chuck Lorre reveals that his highly publicized battle with Charlie Sheen remains a low point in his career, as was his short-ish-term stint on Cybill, another sitcom he created.

The whole experience with Charlie Sheen was heartbreaking. What do you learn from it? That ridicule will not kill me. Everybody was, for the best of all reasons, trying to be helpful — and all we were doing was causing harm by trying to be helpful. Getting fired by Cybill [Shepherd] was another low. If I recall correctly, there was a disagreement about whether the second act worked for an episode. I dug my heels in and wouldn't change it — and I was told not to come back. Don't pick a fight with the star. (Laughs.) Lesson learned.

One can argue that it takes a certain amount of talent for a person to get fired from a TV show that he or she created. It wasn't the first time Lorre got canned, though. A relatively similar situation had happened during his time on Roseanne during its early seasons. (To be fair, Roseanne had its own reputation for shedding showrunners.)

To be expected within a career like Chuck Lorre's, getting booted from Cybil wasn't the first time he'd faced issues on that show in particular. Here, he shared a story that shares similarities to the Jon Cryer situation. Apparently, the idea of adding Christine Baranski was balked at by certain execs before she was officially cast. Lorre also told THR this:

Marcy Carsey and Tom Werner were familiar with Christine from Broadway, so they flew her out to read. Christine Baranski auditioning, can you imagine that? She was brilliant. CBS didn't want her. I believe the head of comedy development, who I won't name, used the words "death of comedy" when discussing her. I was sitting next to Marcy, and I could feel every muscle in her body tense up. She just went, "Well, we're going with Christine Baranski." I realized [then] the extraordinary leverage that comes when you have shows like Roseanne on the air. So, we got Christine. And I got about 18 episodes before I was fired.

Chuck Lorre will be saying goodbye to the biggest comedy on TV this week when The Big Bang Theory airs its final episodes, and he's got two more Top 10 network comedies in CBS' Young Sheldon and Mom. What's more, he's also going hard on Season 2 of Netflix's The Kominsky Method, which was a big winner at this year's Golden Globe awards, taking home the Best Actor and Best Comedy trophies. (The former went to Michael Douglas.)

So even though Chuck Lorre's career had some deep valleys carved into it over the years, the creative TV superstar is now one of the most successful minds in the business. Now if only we could get a sitcom co-starring Charlie Sheen and Cybil Shepherd...

The Big Bang Theory's doubled-up series finale airs on CBS on Thursday, May 16, at 8:00 p.m. ET.

Nick Venable
Assistant Managing Editor

Nick is a Cajun Country native, and is often asked why he doesn't sound like that's the case. His love for his wife and daughters is almost equaled by his love of gasp-for-breath laughter and gasp-for-breath horror. A lifetime spent in the vicinity of a television screen led to his current dream job, as well as his knowledge of too many TV themes and ad jingles.