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CBS is expanding the universe of TV’s No. 1 comedy this fall when The Big Bang Theory goes back in time with Young Sheldon to explore the life of a 9-year-old version of Jim Parsons’ Sheldon Cooper.
Young Sheldon revolves around Sheldon (Iain Armitage of Big Little Lies) as he lives with his family in East Texas and attends high school in 1989. Zoe Perry stars as Mary, Sheldon’s mother, and takes on the role from the flagship series that has been played by the actress’ own mother, Laurie Metcalf. Lance Barber is George, Sheldon’s father; Reagan Revord is Missy, Sheldon’s twin sister; and Montana Jordan plays George Jr., Sheldon’s older brother. Annie Potts recently joined the cast as Sheldon’s beloved grandmother Meemaw.
“We’ve been talking about this story on Big Bang Theory for 10 years. The origins of Sheldon have been something we’ve been interested in writing about for a couple hundred episodes of Big Bang,” co-creator Chuck Lorre told reporters Tuesday at the Television Critics Association’s summer press tour.
The idea for the prequel series started with Parsons, who emailed Lorre about the idea. Lorre then brought in Steve Molaro and together, the trio took the idea to Warner Bros. Television president Peter Roth, with CBS Corp. CEO Leslie Moonves also eager to expand the franchise.
Molaro serves as showrunner on Young Sheldon, which is executive produced by Lorre and Parsons, who plays Sheldon on the flagship comedy. Emmy winner Parsons also serves as narrator on the single-camera series. (Steve Holland was tapped to serve as showrunner on Big Bang Theory, allowing Molaro to focus on the spinoff.)
Here are five things to know about Young Sheldon.
1. Canon is canon.
Producers stressed that they will not play fast and loose with character details that have been established on Big Bang Theory. That includes the fact that Sheldon’s father died when Sheldon was 14 and seemed like a terrible person. “This is five years before that date that we discussed in Big Bang. People change and grow and develop and things happen over the course of many years, but we don’t have to follow the exact timeline,” Lorre said. “One season doesn’t have to be a year; it can be over a couple months. We have a lot of freedom with the backstory. There’s a great deal more to George than we were led to know in Sheldon’s anecdotes about his death. And yes, we’re going to show there’s a great deal more to the man than the little pieces discussed on Big Bang.”
2. The single-camera format is intentional.
Unlike Big Bang Theory, Young Sheldon is a single-camera comedy — Lorre’s first time doing a show without an audience. Producers discussed Wonder Years as an influence when they were writing and used that for inspiration, but there’s a real reason that Young Sheldon ditched the multicamera format. “It’s more intimate; the pacing is very different,” Lorre said. “We knew going in we’d be working with a cast of young children and that seemed more appropriate for them to do their best work. We wanted to give them an opportunity to work in a closed setting where they have the time to develop these characters.” The prolific producer, who also has CBS’ Mom and Netflix’s Disjointed currently in the works, confessed he was a “nervous wreck” taking on the single-camera format.
3. Sheldon won’t be a “brat.”
While adult Sheldon can be annoying — Lorre admits the show’s loyal audience forgives him for that — producers had to find a way to avoid having the younger version of the character being a “brat.” “We learned going in that Jim has a magical quality. When he [takes on] the character of Sheldon, he can be despicable — he’s so hard on his best friends — and the audience forgives him. But when you take those same qualities and ask a 9-year-old to bring that, that’s a brat,” Lorre said. “That’s not something that’s very pleasant. Steve and I decided early on that we’d enter his life when he’s very naive. He’s not yet become cynical and overly controlling. He has his idiosyncrasies but he’s much more vulnerable and naive when we enter the story in 1989.” Added Molaro: “We’re not writing adult Sheldon. At age 9 he’s a more innocent and hopeful version of Sheldon. We still have Jim narrating as adult Sheldon to take on those lines and jokes that he can get away with.”
4. This is really an origin story.
How did Sheldon fall in love with comic books? That’s among the topics that Young Sheldon will explore as the series effectively is an origin story about how Sheldon became the man he is on Big Bang Theory. “We have the opportunity to look at Sheldon as an adult and think about the origins of how he came to be,” Molaro said. “He doesn’t like comics yet; he likes church with his mom even though he doesn’t share her views. There’s a joy of discovery with Sheldon.” Added Lorre: “The fun of writing this series is seeing how his family has to adapt. Everybody in the family is impacted by having a child that’s remarkable. Their lives have to change to accommodate him. We touch a little on the pilot but we’ll explore that more.”
5. Crossovers are likely — though they may not be in the traditional fashion.
Lorre told reporters that producers have discussed the “possibility” that the stories they tell on Young Sheldon can echo on Big Bang Theory. “People come into his life in 1989 and impact him and we might meet them on Big Bang Theory 30 years later,” he said. “We’re discussing the ripple effect that the shows can have going forward in time.” Pressed for details after the panel, producers explained that it would be highly unlikely to see Perry on Big Bang Theory, meaning the Young Sheldon stars probably won’t be on the mothership. And the same rules apply vice versa, with events that Sheldon has described on Big Bang Theory likely to be seen on Young Sheldon — including the time he attempted to get uranium to build his own nuclear reactor to power the town and the time he dressed as Stephen Hawking for Halloween (when everyone thought he was R2D2).
Young Sheldon premieres Monday, Sept. 25, at 8:30 p.m. following the return of The Big Bang Theory at 8 p.m. Both shows move to their regular slots on Thursdays at 8 p.m. and 8:30 p.m., respectively, starting Nov. 2.
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