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There’s a big question mark looming over the 10th season of CBS’ The Big Bang Theory, and it’s not the cliffhanger from last spring.
Instead, it’s the contract status for the stars of TV’s No. 1 comedy (among the all-important adults 18-49 demographic) that remains up in the air, as none of the series regulars are signed beyond season 10. Sources say the cast — Jim Parsons (Sheldon), Johnny Galecki (Leonard), Kaley Cuoco (Penny), Simon Helberg (Howard), Kunal Nayyar (Raj), Mayim Bialik (Amy) and Melissa Rauch (Bernadette) — are all seeking pay raises from their historic contracts reached two years ago when the show was picked up for a three-season renewal.
One thing that is different from this round of renegotiations, however, is that the contract talks won’t impact production. The stars have already returned to work and have filmed the first three episodes of season 10 of the Chuck Lorre, Bill Prady and Steve Molaro comedy from Warner Bros. Television.
Below, showrunner Molaro talks with The Hollywood Reporter about how he’s approaching season 10 with the cast’s future still up in the air, finally seeing a formal wedding for Leonard and Penny and what’s ahead for the rest of the gang.
The cast’s contracts are up at the end of this season. The last renegotiation impacted production a bit, but that’s not the case here, as you’ve already shot three episodes. How are you approaching this season with the uncertainty of knowing if the whole cast or only some of the cast will return? What’s your philosophy with such a big unknown?
All we can do right now is focus on season 10 and go script by script, which is what we would be doing anyway. As far as I’m concerned, here in the writers’ room, it’s business usual: moving forward with the characters and letting them live their lives day by day and feeling out what happens with them. We don’t really arc out stories too far, and we let things happen organically, and if things catch us by surprise — like Bernadette being pregnant or something like that — if it feels right, we go with it. It’s more of that and if and when we know something that’s actual information that can be helpful [regarding the contracts], we may do something differently, but until then, we’re sticking to the game plan.
Is there a world in which this show goes forward without this original cast or one person missing? For example, if Jim, Johnny or Kaley or one of the core regulars decides not to come back — is there still a show?
I have no idea. I think it would certainly be different and weird. There’s no point in me wondering what it could be when I have 19 scripts staring down at me that need to get written.
How much notice would you need if this was indeed going to be a final season?
The more the better. If I had a couple of episodes of advance warning, I’m confident we could do something meaningful, but hopefully it won’t come to that.
If this is a case where the cast does re-sign, are you looking at another three seasons? In all reality, I’m sure Warner Bros. Television and CBS want TV’s No. 1 comedy (among adults 18-49) to continue for as long as everyone wants to do it. But have you thought about how much more you want to do?
Not really. I wouldn’t put a number on it. There’s so many moving pieces. Every actor will have their own opinion; their agents will have their own opinion; Warner Bros. will have their own opinion; CBS will have their own opinion. It’s not really for me to put a number on it and worry about that stuff.
What about for you personally?
I’m floating it episode by episode and seeing how it’s going. So far, season 10 has been a blast. But catch me on a bad day and I might feel differently! (Laughs)
You’re entering your landmark 10th season. How has the approach to plotting out the series changed over the years? Do you still not plan anything out for the season?
In part, due to Chuck Lorre and how he likes to write, I think our writers’ room has gotten more comfortable with not really knowing what’s going to happen in an entire episode and just start writing it — which can be scary. But we feel like have enough of an idea, and that’s something that we’ve gotten a little more comfortable doing over the years. I don’t recommend it to other shows, but it seems to be working for us.
You’ve got some big guest stars in the premiere: Penny’s mother and brother, played by Katey Sagal and Jack McBrayer. What kind of dynamic will they have with everyone?
The season picks up and it’s the next day after Sheldon’s mom and Leonard’s dad went back to the hotel together. It’s awkward. Leonard’s mom, Beverly (Christine Baranski), feels like her ex-husband is doing this on purpose, and she doesn’t want to stand around and be humiliated and she doesn’t even want to stay for this wedding; she’s ready to leave. They [the gang] talk her into staying and we work our way through this tension leading up to what was supposed to be a fun celebration but has now gotten all wonky.
So there will be a formal wedding for Leonard and Penny in the season premiere? Aside from the in-law awkwardness, what’s the wedding like?
Yes! It’s intimate, it’s small with family and friends. It’s outdoors at an arboretum in Pasadena that’s quite pretty and outdoors on our stage. It’s nice, and despite all the weirdness going on around it, you still have Leonard and Penny, who still love each other, and those pockets of love find a way of bubbling through the tension.
Season nine also started with a wedding for Penny and Leonard — in Vegas. We’ve seen Howard and Bernadette’s wedding before. How does this wedding premiere with the others we’ve seen?
The other weddings have all been extremely charming in their own way, and this one doesn’t disappoint. It’s sweet. Bernadette is officiating it and does an incredible job, and we have a very vocal audience of family and friends making comments from the sidelines. (Laughs)
Any big surprises?
There are moments. But it’s a really fun episode; we’re really proud of it.
Is there only one wedding happening here?
A ceremony takes place. It may not be as conventional as planned, but a ceremony will take place.
So there could be two weddings?
I don’t know! (Laughs)
That leads us to naturally talking about Sheldon and Amy. They’ve grown a lot closer — season nine was so big for them. Is a wedding for them out of the question?
That may be something that we’re not ready to attack right away. But we will, in the near future, start poking at the living arrangements and what makes sense and how that might work.
Could there be a big shift this season? The whole show really takes place in Leonard and Sheldon’s apartment.
Big and not big, it will happen very clearly as an experiment. Any shifts that happen are experimental and could be undone if necessary. Phrased in the show [terms], presenting something to Sheldon that he may not want to do as science and data collection is a good way to try and get him on board.
So no new roommate agreements here.
Dean Norris is set to guest star as an Air Force representative. How big of a story will Howard, Leonard and Sheldon’s guidance system be, especially with the Air Force sniffing around?
Dean is in the first three and that story is featured pretty prominently in those. Dean is great and intimidating and hilarious. You’ve got this common link now between Sheldon, Leonard and Wolowitz. They are going to be in close quarters working a lot — more than they used to — and it’s going to start to take its toll on them. It’s also interesting that Raj is not a part of it and is pushed to the sidelines a bit and feels left out.
For a character who already feels that way, what is that going to do for Raj?
It lets Raj lean on the girls more and become a bit of a second spouse to them and vice versa while the other three are busy trying to focus on this Air Force invention.
What about for Raj in terms of his dating life? The last we saw him, he was dating two women.
We come back and he’s still dating two women. There’s so much going on with the wedding and the Air Force, so it’s going to take us a while to let those storylines settle down. Once they do, we’ll be ready to put the focus back on other stories, including Raj and his relationship status.
Critics have grown a little more vocal over the years about all the Indian jokes with this character. Any plans to tone that down at all?
I don’t think we really do that many of them. If they were that horrible, I don’t think Kunal would want to say them. If they’re funny and they’re not hurting anybody, we’ll play it joke to joke. But I don’t think it’s something we strive to do. We certainly don’t strive to offend people.
With Penny’s family in town and a formal wedding, is there any likelihood that you’ll reveal Penny’s maiden name?
I hope not. We’re all afraid [to do it]! We remain superstitious on that point. We’ve made it to season 10, so I think right now we’re going to stick with Hofstadter.
Career-wise, Penny is still unhappy as a pharmaceutical rep. Are there any plans for her to return to acting or see Serial Apeist again this season?
We’re talking about a story involving Serial Apeist. I don’t know if it’s a return to acting, but the fact that she’s in a cult movie that won’t quite die may bubble back up a little.
I could see that being a Rocky Horror Picture Show-like event with interactive midnight showings.
That sounds very fun. (Laughs)
Ten seasons in, there are still a few benchmarks remaining, including Bernadette’s baby. How are you approaching how you plot those out?
There’s a window when a baby would be born if you look at a calendar, but beyond that, we feel our way episode by episode. It’s like making a playlist: what kind of song would feel good next? That’s how I tend to look at these big moments.
Will the baby arrive this season?
Yes. I Googled Jackie Chan, who claimed to have been inside his pregnant mother for a year. So if it t urns out we need Bernadette to be pregnant longer, I’m going to use the Jackie Chan defense and go with that for a while. But as it stands, sometime this year, something will happen.
As Howard and Bernadette explore the idea of becoming parents, how will we see them struggle with that?
The focus has been on Bernadette’s own emotional struggles with being a successful and career-oriented person who publicly is not fond of kids and didn’t really want one and finding herself pregnant. How is this going to affect her life and career? We’ve been pretty happy digging into the honest emotions behind someone in that situation. I’m not sure how things will shake out once a baby is in the picture, but for now we’ve been enjoying and been occupied with where she is in her head right now.
Are you any closer to introducing Howard’s father?
Howard’s father is something that’s always floating around the ether, but there are no plans at the moment.
CBS is reviving Star Trek with Bryan Fuller for a January premiere on the network before moving to All Access. Do you have any plans to integrate that into the story? A crossover? The gang reacting to their beloved show’s return?
I don’t know enough about it at the moment. I’m aware that it’s coming, and I’ll have to take a look at it. But who knows. It does sound like something the guys would be interested in. If it doesn’t feel too much like a creepy crossover, then maybe we’ll take a look at it.
The Big Bang Theory returns Monday, Sept. 19 at 8 p.m. and moves to its regular day after NFL coverage on Thursdays starting Oct. 27. Sound off in the comments section with your thoughts on season 10.
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