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Nerd Herd Turns Out for 'Big Bang' at PaleyFest

April 17, 2009 10:41 PM

It was a nerd-fest Thursday at the Arclight Hollywood as the Paley Center for Media celebrated CBS’ sitcom “The Big Bang Theory.” Audience members sported T-shirts with clever scientific sayings (“Schroedinger’s Cat Is Dead”) and a higher-than-usual percentage of the crowd appeared to be of South Asian descent.

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'BIG' MINDS Co-creators Chuck Lorre, left, and Bill Prady.

Moderator Cynthia Littleton introduced the show’s co-creator, Chuck Lorre, who in turn introduced an upcoming episode called “The Vegas Normalization.” It opened with another of the geeky quartet’s oddball games, this one a variation on 20 Questions that produced some major laughs. But far be it from the Daily Blink to spoil anyone’s fun (or jokes). Suffice it to say that the episode found a new and amusing use for the slogan “Yes we can!”

The night really belonged to Kaley Cuoco (Penny), who won the audience’s collective heart with her habit of tearing up every time someone said something complimentary to or about her. (Co-star Jim Parsons, aka Sheldon, finally had to ask, “Did you think they were going to throw fruit at us?”)

But the boys more than held their own. Asked by Littleton why the show has become popular, Kunal Nayyar (Raj) said, “The cast is really good-looking.” Seated next to him, Simon Helberg’s answer was even simpler: “Me.”

Helberg, aka Wolowitz, expounded: “I don’t think there are that many cool people in the world,” he said. “Everyone has their inner nerd. I think the cool people sneak home from school, watch the show, think, ‘That’s so me!’ and then go back to school and beat up the nerds!”

Lorre and co-creator Bill Prady addressed the impact on the show of the Writers Guild of America strike, which hit after “Big Bang” had aired only about half a dozen episodes. “It was during the strike that we noticed the show was catching on,” Prady said. “Ratings went up on the third or fourth airing. The strike kind of helped us.”

Lorre was less sanguine: “The strike was heartbreaking,” he said.

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'BIG BANG' STARS Jim Parsons, left, Kaley Cuoco and Simon Helberg.

Earlier in the evening, the rapt audience learned that the comedy’s original title was “Lenny, Penny and Kenny,” but it didn’t really work in its first incarnation. With input from CBS exec Nina Tassler, it was reworked, with the Penny character transformed from the party animal she had been to the sweetly dim neighbor she has become. Also added were the Raj and Wolowitz characters. That revelation led Littleton to exclaim, “So basically Kaley, Simon and Kunal are the reason it got picked up!”

Parsons’ description of how he got the part was probably the funniest of his many interjections and remarks during the night. His agent called “at the end of the slog of a pilot season,” and told him, “It’s a Chuck Lorre pilot.” “Well, I’m not good with names,” Parsons said. “I thought it was Chuck Woolery!”

He went on from there: “I didn’t know he wrote!” “I figured it was a special or something!” and finally, reducing his co-stars to hysterics, “I wish I was lying.”

Prady said after Parsons read, he told Lorre, “That’s the guy!” “And Chuck, whose outlook on the world can be dark, said, ‘Bring him back and he’ll break your heart,’” meaning it was a fluke. Instead, it was a match made in nerd heaven. “He did it better the second time,” Prady said, and “once he found the performance, it never changed.”

Other tidbits from the evening:

—Names are apparently a big thing on this show. Penny currently has no last name (Cuoco: “She's like Cher”), although it's something frequently discussed on the set and by the writers. “Her mail says 'Penny London,'” explained Parsons, “because our prop guy is Scott London, and he's a narcissist.” Other suggestions along the way have been Penny Blayne (think about it) and, Helberg's idea, Penny Moonves. But Lorre said she'll get a last name when she needs one.

—On the same topic, Nayyar made his co-stars jealous when he said he got to choose his character's first and middle names. Originally envisioned as an American-born Indian, the character's name was Dave Kuthrapali at first. (“I loved Dave Kuthrapali,” said Johnny Galecki (Leonard). “I still laugh over that.”) But when Nayyar landed the part, Prady said, he was asked to come up with a more realistic name for an Indian guy. The middle name didn't come into play until the episode screened at PaleyFest.

—CBS wasn't too enthusiastic about a theme song. As Lorre put it, “It's gonna have to come out of your show time!” He and Prady approached the band Barenaked Ladies because of their song “One Week,” asking if they could tell the whole story of the universe in 15 seconds. Lorre also said he was excited that the band is releasing the show's theme to high school and college marching bands.

—Asked if there is any ad-libbing by the actors, Parsons said, “Why would I ad lib?” “We don't need to,” Cuoco agreed.

—Lorre said they're thinking of asking Ringo Starr to guest star as Wolowitz's father.

—There will be no love interest for Sheldon on the show, Lorre promised. “Sheldon's passion lies elsewhere,” he explained. “He's in love with science. He's opted out. … I don't think we've ever seen a character like that on TV.”

—Audience member: “Who is most like his or her character”? Parsons (to fellow panelists): “Shut up.”

—Another audience member, referring to the “CSI”/“Two and a Half Men” crossover, asked which of the “Big Bang” cast members would be most likely to solve the mystery if the show did a similar “CSI” crossover. Parsons: “Duh.”

Once it was debated, however, it was decided that Penny would solve the crime, since she would realize, obviously, it was the guy holding the gun. Raj wouldn't be able to interview half the suspects, Wolowitz would be too busy hitting on the widow, Sheldon would overthink it and Leonard would be scared.

—Asked if the network has given them any trouble on the show, Lorre said, “I'd love to give you the angry, crazy answer, but CBS has been terrific.” The show's two-season renewal seems to be proof of that.

—Lisa D. Horowitz

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