After twelve seasons, May 16, 2019 was a day to go down in TV history as we said goodbye to our favorite science, maths and history geeks on The Big Bang Theory. It was a bittersweet goodbye, an even more emotional one if you were there for the show’s taping.
Fans had come from around the world, as they had done for every taping, to share their stories of what the show meant to them and how the characters had inspired them. Speaking to writer and producer Steve Holland as well as Director Mark Cendrowski, you hear from them how far this show really has reached, in the most random of places.
It was only fitting that they give the show and its fans the perfect send-off. How do you do that? A lot of pressure was involved. Sheldon’s speech was one of the many poignant moments and Holland talks about crafting that in the writer’s room.
I caught up with both to talk about its appeal, its inspiration and writing the finale.
The gang have been in our lives for so long. My heart is still breaking from being on Stage 25 and witnessing that ending.
Steve: It was a lovely and emotional night for all of us.
It was such a perfect goodbye. How did you craft that perfect finale?
Steve: When we were first talking about the finale, luckily we knew fairly early on that it was going to be the end, so it really gave us time to figure it out and build to it.
One of the things that really seemed appealing to us and felt right when we hit on it, was that we didn’t need a big final. We didn’t need to put a period on the end of the sentence. We wanted to do an emotional ending, but we loved the fact that the next day these characters were going to get up and that they were going to go to work together and have adventures. Even though we weren’t going to see those stories, they were still happening. That felt really right to us as the writers and for the people who really love these characters. There was a comfort in the thought that it wasn’t an ending that these people were moving away, or the building was getting demolished. It was a big starting place for the tone and feel of the finale.
Mark: That’s something you (Steve) brought up early on. That was always the thought process. It’s not ending. We’re just not going to be able to watch any more episodes and I think a lot of shows miss that mark.
What was it like in the writer’s room?
Steve: I think even as we got closer to the finale, it would get teary. But as we were writing Sheldon’s Nobel prize speech, I think people were getting choked up as they were trying to pitch it. As we were getting ready to write the tag “Fade out. End of Series” one of the writer’s said, “Chuck, you should be the one to write that.” And so, Chuck typed it.
Wow! Stepping on to the set. What was it like that morning going to work on the day of the taping?
Mark: We talked all along about how bittersweet it was going to be. Emotionally, my plan was to try to keep the actors in check. We shot the whole show beforehand and had it in the can. I didn’t know what would happen in front of an audience and if someone would start crying and start losing it and we’d have to re-do their makeup. We had signs of it over the last month. There were episodes here and there where Kaley got choked up and it was the last time they’d be in a comic book store. It affected them. I was very worried that it was not going to be good in front of the audience if we got too emotional.
I knew we had the show. Jim had to do that speech a lot. I had to shoot the action. I had to shoot different people listening. I asked him and told him, “We could do it a different way.” He was so solid and I think it was cathartic for him to keep doing it.
What was it like hearing people tell and share their stories about how the show touched people’s lives? For me, I knew I could watch any episode and get a laugh when I needed it, no matter what was going on. Then you hear stories about how a girl in China had become a scientist.
Steve: At the tapings, Mark Sweet will talk to the audience. We also get letters saying they had an illness in the family and this got them through it. To be a part of something that people love is really special. To be a part of something that really affects people at a deeper level is even more special. We just set out to make a really entertaining show and make the best show that we could. This show and through the actors has really touched people, it’s really hard to fathom. To hear how people have gotten into science because of this show is really incredible.
Mark: It’s really incredible what you say. We’ve had a few proposals at the show. People are really invested in the show. I go back once a year to the University of Michigan and I’ve met with the head of Science. He told me, after our show was on the air, they’ve had an uptick of people applying for physics majors of about 800% because this show made it cool to be a scientist. I couldn’t believe the response I got in China a few years ago. People love this show and couldn’t get enough of it. For a while, they took it off the air and felt it was too Western-y.
Steve: It was the most illegally downloaded show in China for that period of time while it was off the air.
Mark: Then they decided to bring it back. It helps people emotionally. People who were going through chemotherapy were watching the show.
I think it’s safe to say, thank you on behalf of everyone for all the laughs. You can just dip in and out and soon you’ll be laughing.
Steve: It’s on so often that I’ll find myself flipping channels. It’s almost like me watching it as a viewer and you forget you did something.
Mark: It’s totally like that.
You’ve made your mark on TV that will live on forever.
Mark: I know we’ve had an effect on lots of people. I think it’s going to affect the people who worked on the show in twenty years from now. You can really look back at it and realize it was an amazing run. I think we are still too close to it to see the scope of it. It’s going to be something in twenty years when you realize the scope of it.
Steve: There’s a part of it when we’re still in a bubble. We had to come to work and had to do these things. You’re aware of it, but from a distance.
Has there been some really obscure Big Bang theory place?
Steve: It’s big in South America. Also, if you’re on a plane and you look down the rows, you can spot it on some TVs.
I love doing that. Seeing who’s watching what.
Mark: A few years ago, my wife and I were taking a train from Prague to Vienna and we were in this cabin with two other couples. We got talking and when I said I worked on the show, you would have thought I dropped a bomb. They could not believe it. They wanted to ask questions, but they were so excited. They have watched and loved it that much. It was the last place I would have expected to have the conversation.
Steve: I was in Munich with one of the other writer’s. We were talking to some people there and we were trying to ask some locals about Bavaria and what that meant. They said, “Remember when Amy and Sheldon dressed up as giant pretzels?”