“The Big Bang Theory” calls it a career

A photo of the cast from Jim Parsons’ Instagram account.

The long-running CBS sitcom to end in May after twelve seasons

It won’t be remembered for its quality, but Sheldon and Co. have left their mark on pop culture, one “Bazinga” at a time.

Chuck Lorre and CBS announced the conclusion of The Big Bang Theory last Wednesday after twelve seasons and ending its quest to becoming the longest-running live-action sitcom of all time, a 53-year old record still held by The Adventures Of Ozzie and Harriet, which ran on ABC for fourteen seasons between 1952 and 1966.

According to reports, Jim Parsons declined to continue in his role as Sheldon Cooper after next season. Had he continued, he would have made more than $50 million in his next contract. Parsons thanked fans, cast, and crew on Instagram Thursday.

Parsons is continuing in his voice-over role on Young Sheldon, a spin-off of Big Bang which debuted last September. Big Bang’s twelfth and final season begins on September 24 and ends in May 2019. With 279 episodes at season’s end, Big Bang will be tied for the second longest running live-action sitcom of all-time (with My Three Sons), and third longest-running sitcom overall, behind The Simpsons and Ozzie.

Beginning in 2007, The Big Bang Theory debuted at a time when there were no streaming services and before the words “Peak TV” were coined. Like Cheers and The Dick Van Dyke Show, the show started slow in the ratings but by the third season, began producing blockbuster ratings and really took off in its fourth season when it moved to Thursday nights where it often drew twenty million viewers a week on average to become the top-rated sitcom on television – a position it still holds today. Initially centered around four geeks and the female who lived across the hall from Leonard and Sheldon, Big Bang has become a strong ensemble comedy, with the addition of Mayam Bialik and Melissa Raunch to the cast in recent years as the love interests of Sheldon and Howard, respectively.

Big Bang Theory was sold in syndication to the Fox-owned stations and TBS and brought in nearly $4 million per episode as the series has been syndication’s top-rated sitcom since it debuted in 2011. In Chicago, Big Bang has often shifted in and out of access and late-night time slots on Fox’s WFLD and WPWR, in part because the series has never really been a big local hit here. It currently is double run in access (6 p.m.) on WFLD and airs in prime-time Sundays on WPWR, and with the series ending, Warner will likely begin second-cycle syndication sales of the sitcom soon.

The series has been praised for its real-life portrayal of the science and technology community. Many real-life scientists have guest-starred on the show, including Stephen Hawking and Neil deGresse Tyson. Other figures from the tech world include Bill Gates and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak. Three years ago, UCLA established a scholarship program for undergraduate financial aid students, established in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields known as The Big Bang Theory scholarship.

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On the other hand, Big Bang has had its share of detractors as well. The series has been singled-out for what’s wrong with the multi-cam sitcom and its format, though the success of the Roseanne reboot (until it was canceled) and to a lesser extent Will & Grace, rendered the point kind of moot. The show has also been accused of mocking nerd culture.

Many viewers have called the series out for its racism, notably regarding Sheldon and how he interacts with African-Americans and the way Raj is portrayed, though the same people who complain about The Simpsons’ Apu being an Indian stereotype seem to have no problem with his character. It’s no surprise the series has never really caught on with black viewers.

The show also was never a critical favorite – think of it as a modern day Happy Days or Three’s Company (or worse, Gilligan’s Island), whose popularity can’t possibly be explained. While TV critics fawned way too much over New Girl, Community, and The Mindy Project, they’ve ignored Sheldon & Co. for the most part.

From this person’s view, The Big Bang Theory was not able to maintain the momentum it had in some of the earlier seasons, despite evolving into a strong ensemble show. In later seasons, Big Bang degenerated to a bunch of put-downs and delved into unoriginal humor, similar to other sitcoms later in their runs including Married..With Children, Family Guy, and Everybody Loves Raymond, or the entire runs of Gilligan’s Island and Too Close For Comfort. Big Bang often over-relied on the “butt-monkey” trope, with Raj usually being the Bud Bundy-Meg Griffin-Robert Barone-Monroe Ficius-Gilligan victim of jokes. Believe me, no one would ever confuse The Big Bang Theory with Seinfeld or even Friends.

Another turning point was the continued services of Wil Wheaton on the show, who added nothing to the program once he buried his “feud” with Sheldon (and if you’ve guessed, he is also a total dick in real life, as I pointed out here years ago) as his continued presence turned me off of the show altogether. Finally, a cliffhanger from May 2016 on whether Amy was going to propose to Sheldon was so fucking predictable and lame, you can see it coming a mile away.

While a lot of people will be happy to see Big Bang go – including myself, the industry is not – especially CBS, given the series was one of the few left who drew a significant amount of viewers each week at a time when there are more than 500 television shows in the marketplace. As the sun sets on Sheldon and the gang, so does the last big-tent program on broadcast network television.