The new CBS’s spinoff of “Big Bang”, “Young Sheldon,” should be definitely a hit. It centers around Sheldon Cooper on the age of 9, growing up in East Texas in 1989.
Although “Big Bang” barely spawns cultural catchphrases or lands on critics’ top 10 lists anymore, it stays a juggernaut. The show in its 10th season averaged 19 million viewers per episode and ended as the country’s highest-rated shows.
And having in mind this plus Chuck Lorre’s hits like “Big Bang” and “Two and a Half Men,” what could go wrong?
Well, for “Young Sheldon,” plenty.
For the first time, Chuck is leaving the formula that has made him one of the most successful producers. He is not using a studio audience. Moreover, he is relying only on a single camera instead of the multicamera format that he has been using. Also, there is a voice-over narration, from Jim Parsons and he’s working with a child in main role.
“Young Sheldon” is unusual considering “Big Bang .” And with such a different show the producers are really risking alienating the millions of viewers that made “Big Bang” a hit?
“It’s got to hold its own. It’s got to live or die on its own merits,” Chuck Lorre said.
“Young Sheldon” premiers on September 25. Whereas, “Big Bang” will start in November.
Anyway, the producers of “Big Bang” spinoff are very hopeful.
“It was the quickest pitch and the quickest yes in the history of television,” said Leslie Moonves, the chief executive of CBS. “Chuck said, ‘Sheldon, East Texas, 9 years old.’ I said, ‘Done!’”
‘Young Sheldon’ will go back 28 years to show Sheldon as a wide-eyed, brilliant and slightly irritating kid. Iain Armitage will play the role. He lives outside Houston with his parents, older brother and twin sister. Young Sheldon starts high school earlier than any other kid and is under the severely misguided impression that is this will be a haven of higher learning.
And when he appears for his first day, and sees many sleeveless shirts, tattoos and punk haircuts, he sums it up this way: “Oh dear.”
The only thing that is missing every scene is the roar from a studio audience.
“When I first heard it, I was like, ‘Oh no! Why!’” said Mr. Parsons, who is an executive producer of the show. “I just thought, ‘But y’all are so gifted at that multicam format.”
At first they didn’t consider dropping a studio audience. However, later it was concluded that the audience will put too much pressure on the kids that play.
Dropping from four cameras to one also contributed the show to differ from the “Big Bang.”
“Take the dinner scene from the pilot,” Mr. Lorre said on the set here, referring to a scene that takes a couple of minutes. “We could have shot two episodes of ‘Big Bang’ in the time to do the dinner scene. It took six hours. You’re getting every possible shot — reaction shots — and different performances. You’re getting all these options, so in editing you have choices.”
“This is apparently common knowledge,” Steven Molaro chimed in.
“It’s new to us!” said Mr. Lorre.
However, some things are still the same. There is an episode where Sheldon starts choking on a piece of sausage, and his parents trying to help him. They had to take several shots like Sheldon’s sister looking on with some concern, Sheldon witnessing his brother, unbothered, licking some jelly off a knife before putting it back in the jar.
By time the sausage is dislodged, Sheldon says, “You have to throw away that jelly.”
The joke worked fine. However, it needed more of a flourish. Chuck walked over to his director and explained that Armitage should inhale deeply after saying “have to” and “throw away.”
“Two inhales and three beats, right?” Mr. Lorre said. “Three beats. Maybe it’ll be funny. Let’s see.”
After several takes, Lorre was satisfied.
“They’re really good at writing rhythms, and Chuck’s a master at knowing when to end a scene when a scene’s not ending right,” Parsons share.
Even though Chuck disliked spinoffs — “Why cannibalize a show?” he shared — he reconsidered when he got an email from Jim last year.
“I just thought it seemed like a perfect idea,” Lorre said. “We’ve already done a lot of the heavy lifting. We knew about his family, we knew about his twin sister, his older brother, his meemaw and his relationship with his mother.” (Meemaw, for the uninitiated, is what Sheldon calls his grandmother — Annie Potts plays her in “Young Sheldon.”)
Moonves signed off straightaway. After that, they went to find the young actor who could play Young Sheldon. They wrote on purpose long, difficult monologue and that’s when they came across a video from Armitage.
“I have a pretty good memory so I could do most of it easily,” Armitage, 9, said. “Well not easily, you can’t memorize a three-page dialogue easily. More like, we did it and we did it and we did it to the point where it seemed natural.”
“Eventually, bazinga!” he continued, referring to one of Sheldon Cooper’s trademark lines.
Anyway, another issue remained.
“Jim Parsons has a magical ability to be abrasive and annoying and still be loved for it,” Molaro said. “But when we’re doing it with a 9-year-old it can come off as precocious and bratty and less appealing.”
And then at Jon Favreau’s suggestion they brought in a voice-over narration. That way, Armitage will be relieved from the pressure to deliver all the withering jokes. And then they brought in Jim.
“I know how hard it will be to end this job of playing this character, and this is going to be a nice way for me to deal with it,” Jim said. “Hopefully it won’t feel as much deathlike when that day comes.”