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'Big Bang Theory' Boss Previews New Pairings in Season 7

"You're going to be surprised with how Leonard's handling the distance with Penny," Steve Molaro tells THR.

The Big Bang Theory Bon Voyage Reaction Cuoco Nayyar - P 2013
Robert Voets/Warner Bros.
"The Big Bang Theory's" Kaley Cuoco and Kunal Nayyar

CBS' The Big Bang Theory will expand its core circle of friendships to further explore new pairings among the show's central group when season seven of TV's No. 1 comedy returns in the fall.

While Leonard is at sea on an expedition for Stephen Hawking, the friends and neighbors will explore more of their friendship. Penny and Sheldon will be thrown together out of necessity, while Amy and Bernadette hit the road together for the first time without their blond "bestie."

Meanwhile, Raj will use his newfound ability to talk to women without the assistance of alcohol in a renewed quest for love that (shockingly!) won't be as easy as he thinks.

The Hollywood Reporter caught up with showrunner Steve Molaro for an early look at the upcoming seventh season of the series -- and to find out whether Emmy nominee Bob Newhart (as well as Raj's love interest, Kate Micucci) will be back.

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THR: How will we see Raj (Kunal Nayyar) navigate his new skill of talking to women?

Molaro: He can speak to women without the aid of alcohol, but that does not mean he's any good at it. So, lest anybody think he's about to be a player, I don't think that's the case. We hit it in the first episode back, and he's out looking to try to meet a new woman.

THR: Could Kate Micucci return?

Molaro: We're still figuring everything out, but we love Kate and we would certainly love to see her again at some point when the time is right.

THR: With Raj on a newfound hunt for love, could his parents pay him a visit in Pasadena?

Molaro: We've talked about having his parents come to the states and visit, but we just need to find the right story to make that happen, and we haven't quite cracked that yet.

THR: Will we see Leonard (Johnny Galecki) at sea?

Molaro: The first scene back is a really big, fun scene. It's been three or four months since he's been gone, and we will see him on a boat. He will come back fairly early on, and we will see him out there. The expedition is to try to prove one of Stephen Hawking's theories, but he will not be rolling around on the boat.

THR: How will Leonard and Penny (Kaley Cuoco) handle the distance between them?

Molaro: You're going to be surprised with how Leonard's handling the distance with Penny, and we will go right into the face of that on the first episode back. He's having a really good time on that boat. Johnny is going to get a little wet and there will be some Skype/satellite calls.

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THR: How will Penny and Sheldon (Jim Parsons) fare during Leonard's absence?

Molaro: You will see that Penny and Sheldon are both missing Leonard and are spending some quality time together and getting closer than ever -- which I love.

THR: There's a large contingent of fans interested in seeing romance between Penny and Sheldon. Is that something we'll see?

Molaro: Probably not. But I love that people root for that. I love the Penny-Sheldon relationship as much as I love anything on this show. I think her love for him is very real, as is Kaley and Jim's relationship in real life. I think that translates. She is like the big sister who is taking care of him -- or sort of a mother figure. I go back and watch the pilot where she meets them and it took a while, but she really loves these guys; it's very tangible and my favorite thing. As annoying as he is, she cares so much and would never go there. She's always there for him; they may have fights, but she's there and you can feel it. The love is real between all seven characters.

THR: Might Sheldon begin crashing Penny, Amy (Mayim Bialik) and Bernadette's (Melissa Rauch) ladies' nights?

Molaro: I don't know how interested he is in that, but he's got a special spot in his heart for Penny because he knows he can count on her and she's on his side.

THR: Last season we learned that Penny is a decent actress. What's in store for her professionally this season?

Molaro: She's actually a pretty good actress, but that doesn't mean she'll necessarily have a great career. I think it's pretty realistic. She's got a commercial, little things here and there, she's taking her acting classes, but realistically the odds of her being a superstar are not great. So there are no plans for her to breakout in some giant career at the moment.

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THR: Could we see her get something more substantial than a play?

Molaro: Nothing is ruled out, and it's nice that she can actually act when she needs to.

THR: How will Amy handle Sheldon's reliance on Penny in Leonard's absence?

Molaro: We don't hit that too hard. I don't think Amy sees Penny as a threat. She loves Penny.

THR: Where do Amy and Sheldon go from the Dungeons & Dragons game?

Molaro: They continue to move along very slowly. We listen to the characters and let them go where they want to go, but she's going to keep pulling him in some direction. And he will keep resisting it, and we'll see how far she can get him to go that we're all comfortable with.

THR: What do Bernadette and Howard (Simon Helberg) have coming? Will we see them go back to the subject of children? Maybe shopping for a home?

Molaro: I don't think there are any children in the offing at the moment. It's possible [they could shop for a home]. We've talked about that, but then his mom is always a factor and will continue to be. It's all to be determined. We're just digging in; we're only figuring out episode three right now.

THR: Any dream guest stars for this season?

Molaro: Nothing is set yet, but Zachary Quinto has said publicly he would very much like to do the show, and we would very much like to have him. So if that could work out, we would be very happy.

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THR: What about William Shatner, especially now that he's working with Kaley?

Molaro: Kaley is his daughter, technically. (Laughs.) It would be fun, and we just need to find a new, fun take on how to use him in a way that would be special. And if we could do that, absolutely yes.

THR: Bob Newhart has said he'd like to return -- will he be back?

Molaro: I think so. We just have to find the right way to use him, the right story. But that was a treat for all of us -- and he got the Emmy nomination for it.

THR: You said at Comic-Con that you'll be exploring some new pairings this season. How will we see that with Amy and Bernadette?

Molaro: That's going to happen in the first episode back, and it's the first time they hang out without Penny, ever. They're going to a science conference in Sacramento and hang out in the hotel bar. Things happen. (Laughs.)

The Big Bang Theory returns Thursday, Sept. 26, at 8 p.m. with back-to-back episodes on CBS. Hit the comments with your hopes for season seven.

E-mail: Lesley.Goldberg@THR.com
Twitter: @Snoodit