5:30pm PT by Lesley Goldberg
'Big Bang Theory' Boss Explains That Season 11 Premiere Double Shocker
[This story contains spoilers from The Big Bang Theory's season 11 premiere, "The Proposal Proposal."]
Wedding bells are going to be ringing (again!) on CBS' The Big Bang Theory.
CBS' nerdy comedy opened its 11th season Monday with Amy's (Mayim Bialik) almost immediate response to Sheldon's (Jim Parsons) marriage proposal, a resounding "yes" — setting the stage for the fan-favorite couple to officially tie the knot.
And while the gang celebrated their friends' engagement, there was another reason to rejoice: Bernadette (Melissa Rauch) stunned husband Howard (Simon Helberg) with the news that she's expecting their second child. The storyline comes after star Rauch revealed her own pregnancy (in an emotional essay) earlier this year. To hear new showrunner Steve Holland tell it, the producers then decided to write Rauch's pregnancy into the show, as it set up a nice storyline for the on-screen couple.
With Big Bang Theory renewed through season 12 (presumably its last), Holland talked with THR about whether Amy and Sheldon's wedding is fodder for a potential series finale — or if it could happen this season — as well as what's next for Howard, Bernadette, Leonard (Johnny Galecki), Penny (Kaley Cuoco) and Raj (Kunal Nayyar).
Amy said yes — obviously! Have you plotted out how quickly the engagement and wedding build-up will happen?
That's one of the things we've talked about. It's not going to be super quick; there are certainly fun stories to play with this couple planning their wedding. Specifically, Sheldon, who has ideas about everything, is going to have ideas about their wedding. One of the episodes is Sheldon, who is so excited, wants to make the wedding so perfect that he starts to drive himself crazy trying to pick a wedding date. Because he can't just pick a date — he has to analyze every date; he's sure that there's a best one out there. And he can be like that with every decision for this wedding.
Exactly! But in a sweet way, where he wants it to be perfect. So Amy has to love that he's doing that but also be frustrated by it.
You presumably have about 40 episodes left in the remainder of the series. Is this wedding the endgame, or could it happen this season?
Nothing is set in stone. It's possible to see it this season. Like a lot of things we do, we'll mine it for as many stories as we can. But we don't want it to drag on past its end date. I wouldn't be surprised if you saw it this season, although there's no promises to that.
Wow. If the wedding were to happen this year, what kind of stories does that open you up to explore in season 12?
One of the things that's been interesting going into season 11 is what stories are left to tell. Coming into this season, it feels like we've had lots of stories to tell, and that's because these characters have taken some big steps and have changed. I don't know what it means for next season, but part of the fear of that is also that things have changed. And that's going to open up different stories to tell as well.
What are some of the larger subjects that their engagement allows you to explore?
In episode two, there's this thing we were reading about in the science world and talking to our science consultant about: physics hasn't had the big, exciting breakthrough that they thought it was going to have. And neuroscience is a super-exciting field right now that's getting a lot of funding thrown at it. There's a little mini-arc to play through the season that Amy's career is going much better than Sheldon's. And Sheldon loves her and is proud of her, but that's a hard thing for his ego to deal with — not just as a scientist, but to him, physics is by far the better field. As they're negotiating this engagement, that's a thing that plays in the background, too — it's another thing that Sheldon is going to have to figure out: how to come to terms with that in a relationship. We talk a little about that in the season 11 premiere when he's talking to Dr. Hawking.
Sheldon mentions that he spoke with Amy's father. But viewers haven't met much of Amy's family yet. How much more will we get to know her family as their engagement continues — especially as Young Sheldon is exploring so much of his?
Moving forward on a wedding and finding a real way to do it, there's a good possibility that will include her family. We haven't gotten that far in the writing, so I can't say concretely, but it's certainly a thing that we're talking about: How to do that and who they are. We've seen her mom, very briefly, and have never seen her dad. It was interesting when we did Leonard and Penny's wedding last season; we brought in her whole family, which was fun. But it's a lot of other characters you have to write for and figure out how to squeeze into the show.
Do you have dream casting for Amy's father?
We always have a wish list of people that we would love to have come in, and that's the kind of role that would be really exciting if you could get somebody great. There's no one we've gone out to yet, because we don't have a story yet.
Was there any doubt or even discussion that Amy would say no?
There was discussion, just because we like to talk about every possibility and just see what's interesting. In the back of our minds, it was hard to believe that she would say no. Does she hear about the kiss and that gives her pause? As we were talking about the story, all those reasons felt like we were manufacturing them as writers to tease the audience and not a believable thing that the character would do. We decided pretty early on that she was going to say yes. Then it was how long can we put off the yes — until the middle or end of the episode? — and even as we were talking about those versions, it felt like we were forcing that to happen just to tease. I'm really proud of what we settled on. You get a little bit of a tease — you think you're getting an answer and then the phone rings — but ultimately you get that answer pretty early on.
Surprise! Bernadette is pregnant! How much did Melissa's pregnancy impact this storyline? Or was that always the plan?
It was like their pregnancy, it was never the plan. But when Melissa told us that she and her husband were expecting, we started talking about what we wanted to do in the show. Our first thought was that Howard and Bernadette just had a baby, and we can do the regular sitcom thing of having her sitting down a lot and putting things in her lap to hide her belly. Then we started talking about it and realized that it's really interesting that they wouldn't be expecting to get pregnant again so quickly, and nobody in the audience would be expecting them to do so, either. It seemed like a really interesting story to tell. One of my favorite scenes in the premiere is when Bernadette tells Howard and shows him the pregnancy test — their scene saying yes and no back and forth feels super real. They're shell-shocked; they'll come around to the idea of it, but in that moment — when you have a nine-month-old at home — the last thing you're thinking about is being pregnant again.
Will they continue to have doubts throughout her pregnancy, or was that just played for comedic value in the premiere?
They're still going to be processing. They're not unhappy about having a second baby, but it definitely changes things. Bernadette, who is very driven at work and just got back to her job, is now going to have to step away again. There's certain things about it that they're still going to struggle with.
How will this pregnancy differ from their first child, Halley?
Without getting into specifics, one of the things we talked about is if we're going to do it, we have to figure out a way to make it different from the first pregnancy. We have some extra little things in there that separate it. Examples would be a spoiler. But we're really conscious of not repeating ourselves. Halley was such a great nod to Carol Ann Susi and Mrs. Wolowitz, who is always heard loudly but never seen. We're really happy about Halley being a nice nod to that, but I don't think we can do that again with a second baby, so we're going to have to find something new and fun about the birth.
Will Pamela Adlon voice the second baby, too?
She'll definitely be back voicing Halley as she moves into starting to say words instead of just screaming. But I don't know if she'll voice the second baby or not; we're not that far along yet. But we love her, and I love her show Better Things, too.
Howard and Bernadette mention having children to Leonard and Penny. Is that on the table for them? What will you be exploring with them this season?
I don't think babies are on table for them in the near future. Babies are always tricky on sitcoms, and we already have a couple babies and a Sheldon, so that might be enough for us! But that brings up the discussion and the fact that their friends are all taking these big relationship leaps, and Leonard and Penny are comfortable and happy. When you see your friends going through this sort of stuff, you start to think — "Should we be doing that? Do we want to do that? What's next for us?" — and those are going to be interesting stories to play out for Leonard and Penny.
Raj is struggling with being single amid all his friends moving forward. What's his journey this season, and how is it different from what we've seen in the past for him?
At the end of last season, Raj gave up his family's money and struck out on his own — which wasn't always easy for him. This season, that decision is going to start to give him a little more confidence. The reason to do a journey like that is to have it affect and change the character a bit, and that change is going to affect his dating life as well.
Young Sheldon is being paired with Big Bang Theory. Have you discussed how the two shows will coexist? Will events that happen on Young Sheldon correlate to Big Bang, and vice versa?
Chuck and Steve are still involved in Big Bang Theory, and I'm aware of what they're doing on Young Sheldon. Right now, for the first part of this season, their goal is getting Young Sheldon up and making it great and its own unique thing. Early on, there will be some things that can happen on Young Sheldon that you might hear referenced in our show as a sort of throw-away joke if you pick it up. And maybe down the road there might be more of a crossover, where someone from Sheldon's past can come back. But that will be in the future.
Chuck has said that you could "presume" season 12 the end of the show. For a show that doesn't plan things out too far along, have you thought about what the end looks like?
We're certainly closer to the end than we are to the beginning. We've always — not just this season — had causal discussions about where we would like to leave these characters at the end and what might make a good [series] finale. Stepping in as showrunner for season 11, truthfully the only thing I can focus on is getting through this season and trying to make it great. Luckily, it's not up to me if there's a season beyond season 12; that decision lies with other people.
You've been there pretty much from the start. Do you feel pressure taking over?
Absolutely! Luckily, it's a room I feel very comfortable with because I've worked with these people for the last 10 years. But I certainly feel pressure; it's a big responsibility to take over from Steve Molaro, who has done such an amazing job running the show. The bar is really high. And coming back from the cliffhanger we ended last season with, there was a lot of pressure to deliver a great episode. I absolutely felt pressure; you'd be crazy not to.
Would you say there are big differences to your approach versus Steve's?
I hope not. Going into season 11, these characters have almost taken on a life of their own. The thing I was least interested in was coming in and putting any sort of stamp on the show — "It's going to feel like my show now!" I don't think it should. If I was a fan, I wouldn't want it to. Hopefully what I can do is honor and protect these characters. The one piece of advice Chuck Lorre gave me when we were talking at the beginning was, "Don't be afraid to try new things." Going into a show in season 11, the most dangerous thing you can probably do is fall back on old habits or things that worked in the past. But he said to not be afraid of pushing these characters forward and letting them grow.
Is there something you've already done as part of that advice?
I don't know that there's a big story thing. In the writing, and we've tried to do this in the past when we're approaching a scene, sometimes it's easy to go to, "Well, Sheldon is going to be a pain in the ass about this," and it's always good to stop and think, "Maybe there's a different way to handle it." Sheldon being a pain is a lovable part of his character, so it's not going to stop entirely, but you want to be careful about not just going to that all the time. You have to find new ways to attack those scenes.
Big Bang has a history of not plotting out entire seasons — which Molaro would always say is not an ideal way to produce a television show. Are you still taking things week by week and following where the characters take you? Or has that changed?
It's still the case. We really don't have a plan for where this season is going to land. There's things that are in the air, and the way it's always worked is we tend to not go into it having no idea. We'll have some ideas, but we're always open to things changing. That's been a Chuck thing from early on, too. He always said that you have to let these characters go where they want to go. If you write to an ending, you sometimes force these characters to do things they wouldn't do. Sometimes if you feel like you're forcing it, you have to step back and think, "Maybe there's a different way to go." It's true in each episode, and it's true this season. There are certainly some things in play and some thoughts about where we could land this season, but nothing is set in stone.