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It was a packed house on a windy Tuesday night in mid-April when the cast and creators — and a live audience filled to the rafters — gathered on the Warner Bros. Television lot in Burbank to watch the final episode of The Big Bang Theory‘s sixth season.
Devoted fans clad in Bazinga t-shirts traveled from near and far (Canada! Denmark!) to watch TV’s No. 1 comedy film what would be a game-changing episode as Kunal Nayyar‘s Rajesh Koothrappali had an emotional breakthrough and, for the first time in the CBS comedy’s history, spoke to a woman without the assistance of alcohol.
Getting there, however, wasn’t an easy trip as the lovable metrosexual had just had his heart broken when Lucy (Kate Micucci) is unable move beyond her own social anxieties and breaks poor Raj’s heart via text message.
The Hollywood Reporter was on the set for the spirited taping as the audience laughed, cried and howled words of adoration as the Emmy-nominated cast, led by first-year showrunner Steve Molaro, set their phasers to fun.
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6:03 p.m. Following a screening of the penultimate episode (Sheldon, Amy and the Dungeons and Dragons game!), the cast is introduced to the live audience of 200, where Molaro — whom co-creators/executive producers Chuck Lorre and Bill Prady credit as the beating heart behind Big Bang — takes a bow as the principals are called out one by one to an audience raring to go.
6:13 p.m. Johnny Galecki (Leonard), Jim Parsons (Sheldon), Simon Helberg (Howard) and Nayyar film the opening scene.
6:16 p.m. Big Bang science adviser Dr. David Saltzberg, who attends every taping, watches the production with a guest. He’s known to bring a different science pal each week, with one writer lovingly dubbing the good doctor’s plus one as the “Geek of the Week.” Fun fact: Producers often leave blanks in the script to allow Saltzberg to add the actual science dialog.
6:20 p.m. Sheldon’s Star Trek joke at Raj’s expense draws bigger laughs with each take. Elsewhere, real-life neuroscientist Mayim Bialik (Amy) recommends a Yiddish expert to Saltzberg, who is looking for someone to translate some old letters.
6:23 p.m. Despite a Monday preshoot of the scene between Leonard and Sheldon in the car, the vehicle is moved to center stage and performed live in front of the audience. The laughter from the scene will carry over to the previously recorded take.
6:25 p.m. As Raj compares himself to Frank Sinatra — “I have six friends!” — the live audience eats up every moment of cool between the former sad sack and Lucy. Between takes, warm-up comic Mark Sweet — a Big Bang staple — introduces Miccuci, who is warmly embraced after filming a handful of episodes as Lucy. Meanwhile, director Mark Cendrowski — who has abandoned his typical casual attire in lieu of a sharp gray suit and black tie — offers a quick note to the on-screen duo as they film a date scene in Raj’s apartment. The new take adds more eye contact between the pair, creating a more intimate connection.
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6:35 p.m. The action moves to Penny’s (Kaley Cuoco) apartment where she not only learns that Leonard has been offered a chance to work for Stephen Hawking, but also supports his decision to leave for the four-month voyage. Tonight, Lorre, Prady and Molaro all seem a bit more relaxed, perhaps knowing that a week’s worth of editing is all that stands between them and a hiatus. (Although Lorre will film his CBS pilot Mom just three days later.)
6:41 p.m. Lorre, Molaro, script supervisor Julie Fleischer and first assistant director Anthony Rich — who directs on the rare occasion when Cendrowski doesn’t — have a fast powwow with Galecki ahead of one final take of Leonard and Penny’s dinner date. The couple are at their strongest point thus far in the comedy’s run — a marked change from the last time Leonard left for an out-of-town work gig.
6:59 p.m. As the action shifts to Leonard and Sheldon’s apartment for the first full-cast scene of the episode, Molaro mingles through the scores of crewmembers and handlers present for the taping as he exchanges greetings, laughs and handshakes before returning to his seat in front of a bank of monitors. As the cameras roll, Bernadette’s (Melissa Rauch) suggestion that Penny and Leonard follow what she and Howard did before he left for space — get married! — is met with a collective “Ohhhhh!” from the audience before Penny quickly nixes that notion. After Penny was finally able to profess her love for Leonard this season, she’s now in charge of the marriage proposals.
7:07 p.m. No matter how many times we’ve heard Sweet’s “And napkins for all of you!” joke after he informs the audience that they’re being fed a quick and easy dinner of pizza and water, we still laugh. They’re not the only ones having dinner — Cuoco is feasting on dumplings. Fun fact: When ever a scene calls for Chinese food, Cuoco often skips dinner and opts to eat during her scenes since she loves the Chinese food prepared by prop master Scott London. He’s also prepared the beef stroganoff that Raj serves to Lucy during their date.
7:14 p.m. Nayyar and Bialik enjoy a spirited debate during their scene when Raj berates Amy for putting too much pressure on the socially challenged Lucy. The dialogue is ultimately trimmed back to allow the rhythm of their conversation a bit more room to breathe and Raj — who has a history of fantastic one-liners — ends up with the punch line, a Dr. Phil joke.
7:18 p.m. Molaro, sporting a rare beard, stretches his legs with another walk around the set. He’s pumped to see Nayyar’s big breakthrough scene coming at the end of the taping. “If it’s anything like he did earlier with camera one, get your Kleenex ready,” he tells THR. “He’s been holding back all week but he really brought it.” Molaro, who has been with the series since season one but took over day-to-day showrunning duties this season, is confident he’ll cry during tonight’s episode. “We’re halfway there, we gotta stick the landing!” Molaro says as he returns to his seat.
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7:28 p.m. “Sorry!” Bialik says with a grin after stumbling on the rapid-fire dialogue she has with Nayyar. “Same attitude!” Cendrowski bellows from nearby as the take continues mere seconds later. Micucci dances in her seat to music the in-house DJ plays for the audience ahead of the next take. She’s a natural fit on-set. Bialik, meanwhile, doesn’t miss a beat in the next take as Micucci runs off-stage to watch the scene play out after Lucy excuses herself from the uncomfortable situation. Producers add a line for Nayyar, making it clear that Raj is putting Lucy on the spot as the change scores a bigger laugh. The audience now sounds like a jungle as Sweet has them channeling their favorite farm animals as the production shifts to Sheldon and Penny. Nearby, a B-camera operator is saying farewell to the crew as the group likely won’t be back together until August, when production on season seven resumes.
8:10 p.m. Act two begins with Sheldon and Penny in a new set — a grocery store that isn’t among the show’s typical locations. They’re shopping for the booze for Leonard’s bon voyage party. Cuoco has loads of dialogue as she shares a poignant story to a jealous Sheldon. Her timing is impeccable and there isn’t a script or cue card in sight. Between the handful of takes, Cuoco and Parsons share a playful banter. The audience is now taking a page from the series as Sweet begins playing matchmaker for the handful single men and women as one guy delivers a spot-on Friends-inspired “How you doin'” when asked to deliver his favorite pick-up line. It’s a random yet ironic nod to a former No. 1 comedy that once filmed on the same lot in Burbank. As Parsons and Cuoco tape three takes, members of the crew are setting up the lighting for Raj and Lucy’s final exchange — a Skype date.
8:27 p.m. Galecki and Cuoco head into the audience rafters, a tradition that the on-screen couple started this season. Cuoco is clearly a bit emotional given the last day of school feeling on the set. “Your laughs keep us going,” the actress says as she and Galecki both thank the cast, crew, writers, Sweet and the in-house DJ. Cuoco then introduces the full-length version of the cast’s flash mob — choreographed by her sister, Bri, who is among those on set for the taping.
8:38 p.m. It’s two perfect Skype takes and out between Nayyar and Micucci, marking the latter’s final scene of her season six arc. It’s unclear if she’ll be back, but everyone certainly adores her here. Prady, meanwhile, sings Molaro’s praises. “It’s sweet, it’s very Molaro,” Prady tells THR of the season finale. “Neither Chuck nor I are full-time on the show and Steve’s the one rolling the rock up the hill and it’s been amazing. He’s had these stories he’s wanted to tell for five years and he’s been sitting quietly and patiently waiting. It worked out well, these stories wouldn’t have worked in the second or third season — you don’t know the cast and you don’t know the characters.”
8:45 p.m. Galecki resurfaces, dressed in a suit and tie for Leonard’s farewell party and the cast’s final group scene of the season. Producers tweak Howard’s dialogue and add: “It must have killed you when I went to space,” a fun joke that hits Sheldon when he’s already jealous that his roommate is going to work for Hawking. Moments later, Raj gets the bad news text from Lucy, which hits the audience almost as hard.
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8:56 p.m. Despite a great reception from the audience, something isn’t quite right in the scene and the writers converge around Molaro, Prady and Lorre. Galecki, meanwhile, congratulates Saltzberg on season six. The former will head to London a week from now for a shoot for CBS Watch magazine. With the taping running slightly ahead of schedule, warm-up whiz Sweet introduces the cast for a second time — only this time they receive the first of two standing ovations on the night.
9:06 p.m. The audience is now taking turns expressing what they most enjoy on Big Bang as one begins to chant, “Six more years!” The laughter turns quiet after Cendrowski calls action but erupts again only seconds later when Bernadette gets Leonard to confess to a bout of seasickness on Disneyland’s Small World attraction.
9:23 p.m. The final scene of the season starts. “Very quiet on set!” Cendrowski demands. There’s an audible, “Whoa!” from the audience not long afterward when they realize Raj was able to overcome his selective mutism and talk to Penny without the assistance of alcohol. It’s a game-changing scene for Raj and opens the door to an entirely new world for the character. Nayyar is called for a quick conference with Lorre, Prady and Molaro — a rarity on this night but fitting considering the seminal moment at hand. They add a line for Raj — “I miss her already.” Bialik, who only has the end tag left to film, stands nearby to watch the watercooler moment. After the second take, Lorre sits down next to Nayyar on Raj’s couch. The third and ultimately final take is much slower, allowing for Penny and Raj to truly realize the momentous event that has just transpired. The subtle change makes the scene a much happier one — and there isn’t a dry eye in the house. Realizing that was the winner, Lorre heads out again — offering a bow to both Cuoco and Nayyar.
9:33 p.m. THR asks Molaro if he cried during Raj’s “moment.” “Of course!” he says with an ear-to-ear smile. All that remains to film during season six is the always-hilarious end tag.
9:40 p.m. Nayyar, fired up from the last scene, is now running on pure adrenaline with a long diatribe, which he films with Bialik, Rauch and Cuoco. Each take is almost completely different as the final shots are light, fast and confident. A huge crowed has gathered for the short and final scene of season six as Raj is relishing his newfound freedom. As the girls sip what’s quite possibly real wine in their glasses as Nayyar seemingly ad-libs the reasons why Lucy dumping him has made him a better man, Parsons, Galecki and Helberg look on as Bialik deadpans, “Does he ever shut up?!” for the cameras. The audience eats up each one of Nayyar’s jokes: “I will be the king!” “Silver linings!” “It’s like a thunderstorm on my face!”
9:54 p.m. Cendrowski yells the final “cut” of season six, prompting the entire production to swap hugs and handshakes. As the show’s theme song fires up in the audience, Sweet introduces the Big Bang brains for the third and final time. “You guys are the best cast!” “Have a great summer!” come from the show’s loyal audience members, which in the past have included NASA officials, Nobel Prize winners, politicians, professional athletes and even a couple who got engaged during a taping.
10:03 p.m. The cast and crew pose for their season six photo. It will live on the wall of the set, next to the five previous group shots. As the doors to the soundstage open and the audience, guests and staff are on their way home, Parsons heads for hiatus with a simple wish for the ratings juggernaut that is looking to top off its year with its first best comedy series Emmy win: “Happy six!”
What did you think of The Big Bang Theory season six finale? For more details on attending a taping, head to TVTickets.com.
Email: Lesley.Goldberg@thr.com; Twitter: @Snoodit
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