11:23pm PT by Lesley Goldberg
'Big Bang Theory's' Chuck Lorre: 'We've Grown Up'
The cast and creators of CBS' The Big Bang Theory played host to members of the TV Academy on Thursday during a panel for Emmy voters held on the Burbank soundstage where the Warner Bros. Television comedy is filmed.
The evening opened with a 15-minute clip showcasing how the show's central characters -- Sheldon (Jim Parsons), Leonard (Johnny Galecki), Penny (Kaley Cuoco), Howard (Simon Helberg), Raj (Kunal Nayyar), Bernadette (Melissa Rauch) and Amy (Mayim Bialik) -- have progressed over six seasons before the creators, cast and guest star Bob Newhart used the 45-minute panel discussion to praise showrunner Steve Molaro and how the series has found its groove in its sixth season.
In its recently concluded season, Big Bang toppled Modern Family to become TV's No. 1 scripted comedy with an average of 18.6 million total viewers and a 6.2 rating among the advertiser-coveted adults 18-49 demographic.
"We never imagined when we started that we'd have anything like what's happening; the last couple years have been beyond our wildest dreams," co-creator Chuck Lorre said in his opening remarks, acknowledging the show's eight Emmy nominations this year, including for best comedy. "You never imagine that you can reach that many people who care about the show so deeply. … We all feel as a group we're doing our best work now; we've grown up and the show has matured, and we're doing a much better job of putting on the show every week."
Lorre attributed the ratings growth -- a rarity for an aging series in today's fragmented viewership era -- to syndicated repeats airing on TBS helping to hook new viewers to the comedy about a lovable group of nerds navigating life and love and the show's steadfast commitment to producing the best product possible.
"We can't control where it is or when it is, but we can control what we do and I think we've become a more consistent show this year. The relationship with the audience today on television is so fragile -- there are so many things to watch -- people could conceivably read," he said to laughs. "So for us to have a relationship with the audience that has some kind of sustained relationship over time, we have to make a great show every week. You go into a restaurant and get a bad meal, you don't go back -- that's how we feel about The Big Bang Theory: Every week has to be a show that we're proud of, and we did everything we possibly could to make it a great show. Year six really has been the best example of that."
The season's high points also included a seminal moment between on-again, off-again couple Leonard and Penny, with the latter professing her love for the guy across the hall for the first time.
Co-creator Bill Prady gave credit for the scene -- which was filmed in one take -- to Molaro and used it as an example of the realness the longtime writer/EP and first-year showrunner brings to the series.
"It's one of the amazing things I find about the way Steve writes: They say, 'I love you' by accident in the middle of an argument. … If there's a way to encapsulate the way Steve writes, that scene did it for me; it has an incredible realness and a naturalness," Prady said. "The reason it was possible to lose yourself in the acting of the scene is because when you read scenes like that you get the sense that the writer has lost himself in the writing of it."
Molaro stressed that the Big Bang writers typically don't plot the season out too far in advance -- they've currently mapped out the first six episodes of season seven -- but that moment was a long time coming for the characters.
"We're not the kind of show that thinks too far ahead; we go episode by episode, but I don't mind saying that I love and care about all the characters very much," he said. "I'm very protective of Leonard and Penny. That particular 'I love you' moment was something that meant a lot to all the writers and I share the credit for that moment with them as well. It was something Leonard deserved and I hope they get to have more wonderful moments."
The cast also shared stories about working with the Emmy-nominated Newhart -- who reiterated that he'd be back to reprise his role as Professor Proton at some point in the series' future -- and acknowledged that they all realize they're a part of something special.
When the cast and creators were asked if they realized people in 50 years would be talking about Big Bang the way others talk about Newhart or I Love Lucy today, Lorre revealed a very grounded approach to the series that recently earned its third straight best comedy Emmy nomination.
"If you actually thought that way, you'd have a nervous breakdown," he said with a laugh. "It'd be petrifying to think on a macro-scale like that. It's, 'What can we do right now to make this scene the best scene? This story the best story? This joke work.' If you look out there at what's happening, it's staggering. It's extremely, unbelievably, overwhelmingly gratifying but you have to put it down. It's just too much."
Added Cuoco: "We have an understanding of how special this is and we know it doesn't come a million times in your lifetime. Each one of us sitting here knows that and feels that way. We talk about that, and we're very aware that this is something extremely special and we take it really seriously and appreciate it."
Galecki, for whom Big Bang marks his second long-running comedy (Roseanne), had the most poignant response of the night when the discussion turned to the show's future (it's been renewed through season seven).
"When you hear something like season seven, that puts it in a very surreal perspective. Shows that get that opportunity are those iconic, legendary shows," he said. "Not to make any predictions whatsoever, but as far as the lifeline of most shows, the seventh year, you're past the halfway mark. I personally don't feel like we've told half the stories that these characters have to tell. It doesn't feel to me like we're halfway through. I'm certainly not done working with all of these people."
The Big Bang Theory returns on Thursday, Sept. 26 at 8 p.m. on CBS.