The Words on the Page

The Big Bang Theory

January 3, 2017

 

 

The Big Bang Theory

Written by Chuck Lorre & Bill Prady

Revised Pilot First Draft - October 2006

Multicam Sitcom, 51 pages

 

"Extreme intelligence is as much of a mutation as the migrating eye of the flounder." - Sheldon

 

The Big Bang Theory is sort of a unicorn in the writing world. It's held up time and time again as the little show that could, a piece whose initial pilot was rejected but was reworked and given a first-season order. Then the 2007/2008 writers' strike hit. With eight episodes shot, CBS reran the episodes several times and noticed that the show's ratings were actually rising. In a sense, the writers' strike helped the show and gave it time it otherwise would not have had to find its audience. We all know how that story ended. The Big Bang Theory became a runaway hit.

 

The script I read is definitely the reworked pilot as Penny, Wolowitz, and Koothrappali are all characters. The only characters kept from the first version are Sheldon and Leonard. Yeah... it would have been a very different show. Reading this script, however, was like visiting with old friends. Some running gags that carry through to today, like Sheldon's spot, were already present, and it was clear from the onset that Leonard had a thing for Penny. The voices of the characters were definitely unique and held the banter we all came to know and love, like:

 

Sheldon - "Do you see your anger fading gradually like a radioactive half-life, or suddenly like a quantum shift: angry, not angry?"

Leonard - "I. Don't. Know."

Sheldon - "Well, for the moment it appears to be holding steady."

 

The only character that felt, overall, different to me is Koothrappali. It's been a while since I've seen the aired pilot, but I don't recall his being afraid of microwave radiation and lining his baseball cap and crotch with aluminum foil. That choice feels a bit stereotypical and positions him as a "freak," something the rest of the script avoids with these nerdy, scientific geniuses. Koothrappali's inability to talk to a woman unless intoxicated is also present in this pilot and is much more specific and unique than his fear of radiation. I'm very glad that the latter characteristic is the one that became his quirk. Something unique and memorable is always the smarter choice.

 

It was fascinating to read the pilot of a hit show, and I clearly saw that the elements that make the show what it is, that make it great, were already embedded in the pages of the pilot. The writers' strike may have helped The Big Bang Theory find its audience, but without the substance already present within its story and characters, it never would have become a hit.

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Writing for film, television, and the stage is, in my opinion, one of the most difficult - and most rewarding - art forms. The language needs to be visual and evocative as each script must achieve two important tasks...
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