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During its impressive 12-season run on CBS, The Big Bang Theory was one of the most successful sitcoms not only in its time, but also in the history of the format. Millions of people fell in love with Sheldon, Leonard, Penny, and the rest of the cast over the years, and were sad to see the lovable scientists call it a day in May 2019. With the show being off the air for a year now, what better time to take a look at some of the most interesting behind the scenes facts.
In anticipation of the one-year anniversary of the final episode of The Big Bang Theory, I took a deep dive into the history of Chuck Lorre and Bill Prady's stunning achievement in science-based humor and laughs that everyone can enjoy. From the casting what-ifs to how the catchy theme song came into fruition, I've put together a sampling of some of the best facts I could find about the hit sitcom.
There Is An Unaired Pilot With An Almost Entirely Different Cast
Even though The Big Bang Theory would become a show like none other, getting the sitcom off the ground was no easy task for show creators Chuck Lorre and Bill Prady, who originally filmed a pilot to pitch for big networks in 2006, a year before the show we all know today first aired.
The name of the show and two members of the cast — Jim Parsons as Sheldon Cooper and Johnny Galecki and Leonard Hofstadter — remained the same from the first iteration, but the similarities stop there, at least in regards to characters and the actors behind the roles. Instead of Penny (Kaley Cuoco), Howard Wolowitz (Simon Helberg), and Raj Koothrappali (Kunal Nayyar), the first pilot included two female leads — Amanda Walsh as the tough Katie, and Iris Bahr as Gilda, a scientist friend of Sheldon and Leonard.
During an interview with TV Insider, Warner Bros. Television Group President and Chief Content Officer Peter Roth explained that there were elements of the pilot that didn't do well at test screenings, stating:
In the first pilot, the character of Penny [originally named Katie] was not as appealing as that proverbial girl next door. It was not the actress [Amanda Walsh] but rather the conceit of the character. Fortunately, Nina Tassler, then-president of CBS Entertainment, realized we had something very special and said, "Let's do it again."
Johnny Galecki Was Initially Approached For The Role Of Sheldon Cooper
Long before the show hit the airways, and even before the doomed first pilot, and hell, even before a script had been written, Chuck Lorre and Bill Prady wanted Johnny Galecki to be a part of the project, but in a completely different role. During a 2015 interview with Larry King, the actor who brought Leonard Hofstadter to life revealed the producers' original pitch to him, stating:
Initially, before there was even a script, Chuck Lorre and Bill Prady came to me with the idea of playing Jim Parsons' character, the Sheldon character. This is long before they had met Jim and before anything was even written. They sent me a few pages to the theater I was working at in New York, and I read it, and I thought, 'I'm much more drawn to this Leonard role because of the dynamic of the part.'
Galecki said he was initially worried that Lorre and Prady would turn down his request and tell him to beat it, but the showrunners told him to play the role he thought he was best suited for. Trying to picture anyone but Jim Parsons playing the Sheldon character is next to impossible looking back.
The Producers Were So Impressed With Jim Parsons' Audition They Thought He Couldn't Pull It Off Again
Finding the perfect actor to bring Sheldon Cooper to life was a priority of the upmost importance for Chuck Lorre and Bill Prady in the early days of pre-production. When Johnny Galecki said he would rather play Leonard Hofstadter, the producers looked at Kevin Sussman, who would later play Stuart Bloom in the series, before Jim Parsons came in and changed everything.
In the special features of the complete series Blu-ray set, Lorre and Prady revealed what was going through their minds when they first met Jim Parsons during his audition, with Lorre stating (via the Sun):
He was astonishing, I didn't even believe it when it happened. I never anticipated the character being the way he crafted it. It was funny, it was touching, it was real.
Prady was just as enthusiastic, if not more, when recalling the audition, stating:
I said, filled with inexperience and enthusiasm, I said to Chuck, 'That's the guy, that's the guy!' And Chuck said, 'He's going to break your heart, he's never going to give you that performance again.'
Lucky for the producers, the network, and Jim Parsons himself, he only got better as the show went along and became an international sensation in the process.
Barenaked Ladies Were Asked To Write The Theme Song After A Chance Encounter
You can't have a successful sitcom without a catchy theme song, and that was no different for The Big Bang Theory and its trademark opening theme. The song turns the formation of the universe and the history of civilization into a memorable song that no one can get out of their head, but the story behind how the Canadian rock group Barenaked Ladies got involved with the project is just as fascinating.
During an interview with CBS News, Ed Robertson revealed that he was approached by Chuck Lorre and Bill Prady to write the theme song after the producers attended a Barenaked Ladies concert where Robertson, who just finished reading a book on the Big Bang, performed a freestyle rap about the formation of the universe.
I made up a song in the show about cosmological theory, and these guys were developing the show. They looked at each other in the audience and said 'We have to get these guys to write the theme song.' It was pretty serendipitous.
Scientists Fact-Checked The Show’s Scripts Before Production
With a show that is so heavily based on scientists and included all sorts of theories, equations, and other scientific qualities, it should come as no surprise that the producers brought on consultants to make sure everything checked out on The Big Bang Theory.
In 2011, David Saltzberg, a professor of physics and astronomy at the University of California-Los Angeles told USA Today that he was often asked by the producers to provide feedback on different elements of the show, including the script, which he would tinker to make more accurate as well as include the equations and diagrams that litter the background of the show's set, stating:
Physicists love to nitpick, so for the 100 in the 10 million people who might watch the show, I try to get it as close to 100% accurate as I can.
Mayim Bialik’s Ph.D. Was Put To Good Use On Set
The producers of The Big Bang Theory didn't solely rely on outside consultants to fact-check different theories and equations discussed throughout the show, as Mayim Bialik, who portrayed Sheldon's love interest Amy Farrah Fowler, has a Ph.D. in neuroscience and would often help provide feedback on set.
During a 2012 appearance on Conan, Mayim Bialik revealed that she included that she had a Ph.D. on her résumé when she was first auditioning for a role on the show, which blew the producers, specifically Bill Prady, away, stating:
When they brought me back for the fourth season, [Bill Prady] said they figured why not make her what I am so that I can fix small things when their wrong. Generally, they get pretty much everything right.
Jim Parsons Had The Flu During Sheldon And Amy's First Kiss
Fans on the show anxiously awaited the moment in which Sheldon and Amy finally shared a kiss on the Valentine's Day episode in Season 7 of The Big Bang Theory, and while the tender moment looked great on screen, the truth behind the scene was anything but romantic, but not for a bad reason.
You had the flu. You were sweating. You had a fever. You were very sick.
The Cast Actually Ate The Food Their Characters Nibbled On During All Of Those Take-Out Scenes
Remember all the scenes in Sheldon and Leonard's living room with the cast sitting on couches and chairs taking in heaps of great looking take-out boxes? Not sure how you couldn't as they were a fixture in practically every episode over the course of 12 seasons. Well, those weren't just props. In fact, those containers had some of the best food you could find on a network TV set.
I love all the scenes where we're eating. The food's fantastic. Our guys are so good.
It should come as no surprise as before London got into prop business, he wanted to be a chef and actually cooked all of the food seen in the show, which included everything from Chinese food to pasta and everything in between.
The Show's Original Cast Earned $1 Million Per Episode At One Point
As The Big Bang Theory grew in popularity, so did the salaries of the show's original cast — Jim Parsons, Johnny Galecki, Kaley Cuoco, Kunal Nayyar, and Simon Helberg — who all earned $1 million per episode by the time Season 10 started shooting, according to Variety.
The main cast, however, took a $100,000-per-episode pay cut in 2017 so that Mayim Bialik and Melissa Rauch could receive better compensation for their expanded roles. Thanks to the cuts from the main cast, Bialik and Rauch each received $500,000 per episode, up from the $175,000 to $200,000 per episode they earned before the new deal.
There Was Even A Belarusian Knock-Off Called The Theorists
People like to say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but Chuck Lorre didn't feel that way when he caught wind of a Belarusian knock-off of The Big Bang Theory called The Theorists, which was pretty much a carbon copy of the successful CBS sitcom down the characters and scripts for each episode.
The drama reached a boiling point in 2010, when, according to Entertainment Weekly, Lorre even attempted to get Warner Bros. Television's legal department to seek action against the knock-off's producers. The attempt would be short-lived as it was discovered that the production company responsible for The Theorists was owned and operated by the government of Belarus. The matter, however, took care of itself after the entire cast of the Belarusian knock-off quit the show when they realized that the proper channels had not been followed.