'Big Bang Theory' Boss Previews New Season of Growth

Steve Molaro talks with THR about what to expect from season eight, which will find new challenges for Leonard and Penny, Stuart and Howard as well as Raj and Emily
Michael Ansell/CBS
"The Big Bang Theory"

CBS' monster ratings hit The Big Bang Theory returns for its eighth season with back-to-back episodes on Monday, kicking off another year of slow but subtle changes and growth for its lovable geeks.

Penny (Kaley Cuoco) will put her acting career on the back burner and segue into a new career as a pharmaceutical rep after finally getting engaged to Leonard at the end of season seven. The career change will create a new set of challenges for Big Bang's central couple, showrunner Steve Molaro tells The Hollywood Reporter. While Leonard (Johnny Galecki) and Penny are in no rush to get to the altar, producers behind TV's No. 1 comedy are still toying with the show's central living arrangements that could be shuffled at some point.

Meanwhile, Sheldon (Jim Parsons) is ready to face the wave of changes in his world after returning from a 45-day train adventure. For Howard (Simon Helberg) and Bernadette (Melissa Rauch), the story focuses on the mama's boy finally learning to let go, though it will be an interesting process now that Stuart (Kevin Sussman) now permanently attached to the hip of Mrs. Wolowitz. For Raj (Kunal Nayyar), season eight will see the gang get to know his new girlfriend, Emily (Laura Spencer).

THR caught up with Molaro to preview what to expect from season eight.

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Penny and Leonard are finally engaged. What kind of conversations have you had about what sort of engagement they're going to have?

I don't think they're in a rush to get to the altar. They're committed to each other and in a happy place. Just by being engaged, it already starts to raise interesting questions and storylines about what their future would be like. Penny is just starting a new career and that's also having an impact on their relationship and their future.

Engagements also mean parties and wedding planning and signal other changes. How soon are you looking for some of these benchmark events? Will the engagement be a central storyline this season?

At least as of now, there isn't a lot of wedding planning as far as stories go. She's really focused on this new career. I don't think they're in a rush. They're happy, they're engaged and, like a lot of people, they may be engaged for a while. But it does raise issues like money, combining money in the future and who has credit card debt and what that all means. Those kind of issues start to come up, which I find more interesting than the actual wedding planning.

There's got to be a fight over whom the best man and maid of honor are, right?

That sounds great and when we get to that bridge, we'll cross it, but for now that seems pretty far down the line.

Penny's career will take center stage this season as a pharmaceutical rep. How might her success impact her relationship with Leonard?

She's just starting off, so it's premature to gauge the amount of success she'll have; we haven't quite figured that out yet, but I think she's very well suited for this job. On some level it will go well and we'll see. Leonard has a significant other that went from depending on him financially quite a bit to finding herself in the position where she will be self-sufficient. That's a new independent place for Penny to be in her head. I'm curious to see how she handles that. It's new chapter for them. She's in a more independent place and that hasn't been their dynamic for seven years. It's going to be interesting for Leonard to take a step forward in commitment and at the same time, the dynamic that you were used to is not what it was anymore. We're locking in more by being engaged on a thing that's now different. They're in a really interesting place.

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You've toyed with the idea that Serial Ape-ist 2 becomes a big hit. Could we see more of that this season? Are you working toward a bigger story there? 

That's pretty far down the line, and we haven't quite figured any of that out yet. No matter what, I don't think that movie will become a big hit, but it could become a cult hit maybe because it's so bad. At that point, if the acting bug comes creeping back in while Penny's career is starting to take off, I think that's a pretty good dilemma as far as storylines go.

Sheldon hasn't responded well to Leonard's major life change. How will his big train adventure have changed him when season eight resumes?

He's gone for 45 days and it doesn't end as well as he'd like with him having all of his belongs stolen while he was asleep in the sleeper car. He's down on himself and he feels like he failed. Leonard and Amy do a pretty good job of bucking him up and realizing that yes, it didn't exactly go his way, but he survived it and he's stronger for it. He feels good about it and is ready to move forward and deal with all the changes that happened in the season seven finale, which were the reason that he got on the train.

At some point, Sheldon is going to have to accept the idea of losing his roommate to Penny. How will we see him struggle? And how will that affect his relationship with Amy? Is there going to be some sort of apartment switch this season?

As of now, Leonard and Penny are not in a rush to get married so the living arrangements as we know them will stay put. We're not interested in making drastic changes to the fabric of the show. Leonard and Sheldon not living together would be a drastic change. At some point down the line we may experiment with it and see how it goes and how it affects Sheldon. Leonard and Penny also don't want to deal with the headache of putting Sheldon out because they know it will only make their lives harder. That may be one of the reasons that they're also not in a rush to the altar.

It's amazing that they're handling their engagement with kit gloves on because of Sheldon. It's so self-sacrificing, but that's got to give at some point.

It shows how weirdly co-dependent Leonard and Sheldon are. I don't think you marry Leonard without kind of marrying Sheldon (laughs).

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Could Penny move in with Leonard and Sheldon or would Leonard move out?

These are all to be determined. These are conversations we keep kicking around and until we have a path that's exciting and fun to us, we're not committed to anything. But it is definitely an interesting area that we keep flirting with. 

Stuart is caring for Mrs. Wolowitz full time. Have there been discussions about actually seeing her onscreen in a larger (see what I did there?) capacity?

Boy is that getting fun. The tension between Wolowitz and Stuart just keeps growing. We're surprised by it. It's really getting interesting. We're managing to keep her offscreen and doing it in a way where it doesn't feel like we're playing games with it. We're not big fans of camera trickery. If it feels manufactured that she's there but you can't see her, it's not our favorite thing. We've been able to get pretty good mileage out of Wolowitz feeling like Stuart is replacing him as a son and questioning exactly what's going on between Stuart and Mrs. Wolowitz. I don't think anyone really knows. Is he like her son? Are they in a relationship? It's a big, glorious question mark that's been really fun to play with.

We really don't know much about Stuart — or Wolowitz's father.  

It's certainly an interesting area. We're getting to see more sides of Stuart. When Wolowitz is going at Stuart because he's upset about his mother, this is a new Stuart who is not backing down and who is slinging right back at Wolowitz. It's a really a really cool dynamic.   

Where do Howard and Bernadette go from here?

I don't know for sure, but I do feel like this is an interesting situation where Bernadette married this guy and wants to have a life with him and since the beginning of the show, Howard has had these attachment issues to his mother. Through Stuart, here's an opportunity for Wolowitz to really move on and have life with his wife and let his mom go a little bit. It's interesting that Wolowitz continues to wrestle with that.  

Raj and Emily did the deed! How will their relationship evolve? And could Lucy (Kate Micucci) return to complicate things?

Raj and Emily are in a really good place right now. Laura has been in a couple of shows and has been great, and we like her a lot. We adored Kate and someplace down the line, I could easily see her come back. There are no plans at the moment. As time goes on, we'll explore the Raj-Emily relationship more and get a better sense of who Emily is as a person. We've seen seen glimmers of it in season seven, where she might be a little darker and weirder than she appears to be on the surface.

I'm sure Howard will have a field day with that!

When they had the double date with Bernadette and Wolowitz, she said she became a dermatologist because she likes cutting people and this is one of the few legal ways where she's allowed to do that, and Bernadette said, "You're kidding, right?" Emily was like, "Mmm, I don't know!" Those little glimmers of her are interesting parts of her personality that we have yet to uncover.

Any talk of bringing Bob Newhart back this season as Obi-Wan?

Not immediately, but I'm completely open to it. As soon as we have a good story to make that happen, we adore Bob. He's part of our family and he has a good time here, and we love having him. The door is open to him constantly. Even without a big Star Wars tie-in, we can bring him back as Obi-Wan living in Sheldon's head. He's just there. That's the nice part of the way that's been set up.

You recently filmed at an Angels game. What can we expect from that episode?

In the third episode, Wolowitz as an astronaut has been asked to throw out the first pitch at an Angels game because what they're having is Space Day in the show. Not surprisingly, he's not a terribly good athlete. So it's him wrestling with doing this and trying to find a way to not humiliate himself. The Angels have been great and really helpful in working with us. We shot in the stadium and went back with Simon before an actual game and an actual crowed to do few more shots of him addressing the audience like he does in the episode. It's really happening at the stadium.  

Big Bang Theory returns on Monday, Sept. 22, before moving back to Thursdays starting on Oct. 30.

Email: Lesley.Goldberg@THR.com
Twitter: @Snoodit

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