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Comic-Con Roundtable with Bill Prady, Co-Creator of The Big Bang Theory: Part One

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On Friday I arrived for my first San Diego Comic-Con and it turns out, thanks to all the people-watching and fun walking through the Exhibit Hall, I only made one event. I was part of the privileged club that got into the press conference for The Big Bang Theory. This was my first press room, and I had no idea what to expect. The experience ended up being rather surreal.

We all rushed in when the doors opened, and the video cameras and TV outlets jockeyed for position in the front row. Print media (aka me) went to three back tables, hoping to get our turn with someone. While the marquee stars of the show never made it to our table, we did get the huge honor of getting 20 whole minutes with Bill Prady, co-creator and executive producer for the show. The conversation was so fascinating and thrilling for someone like me who gravitates more toward the creative minds of a show than the actors that instead of giving highlights I ended up transcribing the entire interview.

Below is part one of that interview. I was a roundtable session where six of us were asking questions. Of course, I’ve pointed out below which questions were mine. In our conversation we learned about some upcoming storylines for season three, Bill’s huge love of Star Trek, and how Sheldon’s character would never work without the other members of the cast.

When will Leonard Nimoy be guesting on the show?

I don’t think that there are any plans for that. It would be lovely. I know he doesn’t do a lot of TV. He did that round on Fringe, I guess he got to be friends with JJ during the making of the Star Trek movie. I don’t know, I think if he actually showed up on the show our characters' heads would explode. It might be the end of everything.

So when do they start debating the merits of the new Star Trek vs. the old Star Trek?

Well this is the interesting thing because they missed Star Trek because they were up north. They were at the North Pole. So they can’t see it until Christmas time. In fact, I think, you know Sheldon starts to have a spoiler alert problem. The more time you go, it starts to be significant, and so I think we’ve been talking about addressing that but yes, they missed the movie.

The guys on the show have acknowledged the existence of Comic-Con. Would it be possible to do sort of a live Comic-Con episode here?

We tried, and it’s not logistically possible. And it turns out to be that our line producer just laughed us, “You’re kidding, right?” You can’t shoot in any direction because of all the copyrights. So, any direction you shoot is copyrighted material. It’s somebody’s logo, trademark. So we would end up with fake Comic-Con with fake costumes. Yeah, it would be awful.

Not to mention it’s hard for our show to go out on location. We’re a four camera stage show and sometimes we go outside — there’s a little park opposite stage 25 on the Warner Brothers lot that we go outside to the little park and we go, “Whoo hoo, we’re on location! We’re 50 feet away from our stage! We’re on location!”

I read recently you’re embracing the Penny/Leonard relationship. Usually these things are stretched out forever. What made you guys decide to [do it now]?

Cause it seemed insane that having been in bed together and you know it would seem crazy that they wouldn’t, what's the barrier, what stops them? I mean you can keep inventing other boyfriends and other girlfriends but you know, the other thing is when we talked about it’s not the end of the story. He’s never been in a relationship like this. We think that very quickly Penny will become the girlfriend of the longest duration. We think for Leonard, we think if you get past five weeks for him that’s it, that’s the record. Joyce Kim was five weeks, and then Stephanie was three, I mean if she lasts five weeks he’s in uncharted territory. And I don’t think he knows to be with her friends, and all these things, so this is a very rich area and there’s nothing that prevents them from then breaking and being awkward, and then awkward living across the hall from each other, things like that. So when we realized that it doesn’t end stories, it begins stories, why not do it?

Also I think it’s sort of the Sam and Diane paradigm. Is the 1970s the last of the 1940s paradigm where getting together and marriage, happily ever after is the end of the story? And I think it's the 21st century way of looking at his notes.

Didn’t Sam and Diane do a twist on that anyway because they kept breaking up.

Yeah, they did, they did. But they kept apart artificially and successfully.

[Alice] Any chance of finding someone for Sheldon? (laughter)

First of all, what the heck is Sheldon’s deal? We think he loves his work, we do, we think he just loves his work. He seems to have given up on human contact. I keep saying maybe every seven years like the Vulcans. Maybe he’s subject to pon farr.

Speaking of copyright issues, does the Cheesecake Factory have the corner on white dress shirts and white pants that you guys can’t have the cheesecake logo?

Well, white strobes on television, although it doesn’t really anymore now with digital television. You never put people in a white shirt because with analog television which just ended, with some TVs it would strobe. Costumers by instinct don’t let people have white shirts so they have yellow tops instead of the white shirts. But you’re the first person to ask.

I was wondering if there was a conspiracy there.

There is no conspiracy.

Is there a challenge of not letting Sheldon take over the show? A a lot of sitcoms have a character that becomes popular and that character really takes over. Is there any danger? Jim is so good in the role and the character is so popular.

The character works in balance and they all do. I think they work best as a group. I think Jim does magnificent work but I also think all the guys do. If you look at those amazing scenes with Kaley that Jim does where you’re watching Jim do that crazy stuff that he does, remember the comic genius of the person who’s holding onto the reins of the horse, and that’s the other person in the scene. And if you go back and watch that you’ll see that the comic success of that big character is based on the timing of the person working with him. Sometimes it’s not as flashy. If you watch what Kaley does with him or Johnny does with him, which is unbelievable, you know the thing is Jim’s character, not Jim himself — Sheldon is insufferable, except that Leonard suffers him. So we accept him as sufferable. And so it takes this amazing piece of performance from Johnny Galecki to be the person that could put up with that. So, I don’t think we’re in danger of that because the characters don’t work in isolation, they work in balance.

So, do you feel that if the character of Leonard was not there that everybody else would not be able to tolerate him?

Absolutely, one hundred percent. Remember, Penny asks Raj and Wolowitz how they came to be friends with Sheldon and they say were friends with Leonard and he sort of came along. We know that Leonard moved in and answered a roommate ad, but absolutely if Leonard weren’t there to love Sheldon, which he clearly does. And I think Penny loves Sheldon more than anybody does. She’s very frustrated by him, I think Penny adores Sheldon. And if they didn’t love him you wouldn’t need him.

Did you expect as much mileage as you’ve gotten out of [knocking] Sheldon?

I cannot believe the comic mileage that one joke has gotten out of two seasons. Except to say this. That every time we look at those moments and we’re smart, and we’re not always smart, we say how does Sheldon do this differently? How does he sleep in a bed, how does he… whatever. You look at how he lies in a bed — Sheldon sleeps precisely in the middle. If he did it one way before, or the other thing we say is he’ll probably do it the same way again.

Or people do it back to him like Penny did.

Yeah, she did that to mess with him.

His Emmy nomination, how excited was the whole cast and crew with that? Because it was a long time coming.

Is it a long time coming. I think he’s done amazing work, I think everybody has, it's so great to be recognized. It’s a wonderful, wonderful cast that’s able to share this with Jim. It’s nice, you know I think we were nominated for a television critics award, you start seeing this kind of recognition it’s very incredible.

[Alice]: How many teams of physicists do you have on staff?

We got the one.

[Alice]: You have a lot of good Internet researchers?

You know, he’s actually pretty good, he’s pretty smart. We do it a couple of different ways. Sometimes we’ll take a moment and put stuff up and put in it and he’ll tell us if we’ve got it right. We’ve got some smart people in the room who remember physics from school and we often know an area. Sometimes we’ll ask him to provide what something Leonard and Sheldon could be out doing now, what’s a problem he might be having and things like that. Sometimes we’ll write a script with “physics to come” or “science to come” in the script and we send it to him and he fills it in. And he’s gotten real good at figuring out what we need to work comedically as well. But yes. Dr. David Saltzburg, Astrophysics at UCLA, wonderful, wonderful man.

Does the time shift change things at all to 9:30?

No way, no way at all. The show has a particular sweetness that we really like that we don’t intend to change.

Now, are you the comic book guy?

You know what, I’m gonna say that there are a couple of other writers that are bigger comic book guys than me. They did a curriculum for me so I could catch up. But you cannot touch me on Star Trek, my friend. Original series, Next Generation, Voyager, can’t touch me.

Deep Space Nine?

Deep Space Nine. Absolutely. If you want to know about The Emissary and you want to know about the Bajoran politics, I’ll get into it with you

Did you like the movie?

I loved the movie. Actually, one of my favorite credits if you look it up, I have a "story by" credit on Voyager which I’m immensely proud of. The episode called “Bliss.” The story is that I was working on Dharma and Greg and I woke up in the middle night and said, “I got a great story idea” and I wrote it down and in the morning I looked at it and it was a great story idea, but it wasn’t a Dharma and Greg story, it was a Star Trek Voyager story. So I called my agent and I wound up talking to Brannon Braga, who I just ran into next door at the 24 panel, and I pitched to him on the phone and he said, “Yes, we’ll do it.” So, that’s one of my proudest credits.

As long as the episode’s name is not “Threshold.”

No. But you know what, here’s what I don’t know. I don’t know Voyager episodes by the titles because they went with those crazy one word titles just like Smallville does, so I don’t know them as well. Original series titles I know very well.

Coming up in part two: the rest of the interview with Bill Prady, plus much shorter interviews from Kunal Nayyar (Raj) and Simon Helberg (Howard Wolowitz).

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About Alice Jester

  • Mary

    Thank you so much for this article! I love everybody who is involved with this show. I loved that Penny and Sheldon’s friendship was addressed as I do think it is the strongest aspect of the show. They have great chemistry, and expect great things to come from these two!

  • Antonia

    Thanks a lot for posting this! Good questions!! I love the show and this sounds very promising for the upcoming season :)