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As "The Big Bang Theory" taped its final episode April 30, co-creator and sitcom king Chuck Lorre had the honor of handling the slate identifying the last scene to be filmed.
It's an everyday task, holding a "clapper" board that numerically marks each scene for editing purposes, but he felt the weight of punctuating the end of the top-rated CBS comedy, a one-hour finale that reveals whether Sheldon and Amy win a Nobel Prize (Thursday, 8 EDT/PDT).
"I almost couldn't do it. I didn't really think that it would be difficult, but as soon as they put that thing in my hands, I started to choke," says Lorre, who created the series with Bill Prady. "It was loaded with significance. It was the last take of 'The Big Bang Theory.'"
Lorre understands sitcom significance. For the past 25 years, he has been the master of the kind filmed in front of a studio audience, producing such shows as "Two and a Half Men," "Mom," "Mike & Molly," "Dharma & Greg," "Cybill" and "Grace Under Fire." Lorre's latest, "Bob Hearts Abishola," was just picked up by CBS for the 2019-20 season, and he's had success branching out to comedies in other formats, including "Big Bang" prequel "Young Sheldon" and Netflix's "The Kominsky Method."
With that TV history in mind, Lorre discusses the success of "Big Bang," why it was special to him and his feelings as it ends after 12 seasons and 279 episodes, making it TV's longest-running sitcom taped in front of a studio audience.
Question: How did "The Big Bang Theory," which had two pilots and an inauspicious start, connect with viewers?
Chuck Lorre: We stumbled out of the gate pretty hard in the beginning, and it took a while to find the voice of the show. Remarkably, we came along at a time when the audience wanted to see a show about characters that were outliers. Despite the fact that they were Caltech scientists, these were people who weren't fitting in. And that sense of estrangement is something I think people identified with. You don't have to be a prodigy to feel left out.
Q: What allowed "Big Bang" to remain so popular for so long?
Lorre: It begins with this remarkable cast. Each one of these characters as played by the actors is so endearing and remarkable and specific in their own way. The relationships changed, and I think that breathes a lot of life into it. … Turning the show over to (executive producers) Steve Molaro and Steve Holland expanded it greatly because their sensibilities were different than mine, and that was really good. The Steves had the creative freedom to move the show in different directions that kept it fresh.
Q: What stands out about your "Big Bang" experience?
Lorre: For 12 years, there was no drama. It was people coming to work every day, having a good time and looking out for each other. It was wonderful. I looked forward to going to table reads, rehearsals and shoot nights and I think everyone involved felt the same way. We were lucky. It was a gift to be part of something like that for so long and to enjoy it and feel grateful the whole time. It just doesn't happen very often in his business.
Q: Did you want the show to continue past this season?
Lorre: I would have supported it had it gone either way. At a certain point, I kind of felt that decision was not mine to make.
Q: How significant was Jim Parsons' decision not to go beyond this season?
Lorre: When Jim announced this would be his last year – that's an obvious decision as an artist, to try other things, play other characters – then we had to make a decision: Do we want to do the show without him? The real thing is: Do we want to do the show without any of the principal characters? I was of the mind that the ensemble was perfect the way it was, and I didn't want to continue with a major absence.
Q: Would you have been happy to continue a couple more seasons?
Lorre: Absolutely. We're still having a good time, and I'm really proud of the work. And a lot of people had gainful employment. … There are many reasons to keep it going, so when you ask: Am I OK with it ending? No. I'm grief-stricken that it ended, but at the same time, I'm proud of what we did. I'm grateful that we get to do it.
Q: Is there any chance of a spinoff featuring "Big Bang" characters?
Lorre: There was lots of talk about it. CBS and (producing studio) Warner Bros. were very vocal about wanting to find a way. I wasn't against the idea, and I'm not against it, but it has to be because it's creatively an exciting idea, not because it's economically important. … At the moment, we're not discussing anything going forward, but if I've learned anything, it's that I cannot see the big picture. I don't know what's coming next.
Q: How important is the show's connection to fans?
Lorre: When you go to Comic-Con and people respond to seeing the cast, you go, "Oh, this means something. This is not a frivolous exercise." When I was growing up, there were shows that were deeply important to me, like "Star Trek," "The Smothers Brothers," "Laugh-In" and "Get Smart." To be involved in a show that means something to people, it's special. It's a rare thing.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Chuck Lorre on ending 'The Big Bang Theory': 'I'm grief-stricken ... and grateful'