All photos in this article not tagged with “Credit” were taken by me.
Recognize the characters and show pictured above? It’s The Big Bang Theory, highly touted by its television network CBS as the #1 most-watched comedy on TV. That isn’t actually hyperbole either, as Big Bang has had monumental success; some of its achievements include:
- consistently outranking every other scripted show in weekly ratings (often also in repeats)
- earning its producing arm Warner Bros. TV millions of dollars in syndicated broadcasts and DVD/Blu-ray sales across the world
- received numerous award nominations, including winning four Primetime Emmy Awards for Jim Parsons (“Sheldon Cooper”)
- making its stars among the highest-paid cast on TV
I’ve been watching since the very start back in 2007, and have made so many memories through the show’s 12 seasons. It’s been a dedicated part of my week in every week it’s been on. Through 12 seasons, the show has pretty much explored every angle of its characters’ lives. From Howard’s belief that he’s a total womanizer, to the introduction of Amy Farrah Fowler, to Howard and Bernadette getting married, to Rajesh breaking his selective mutism after a breakup, to Sheldon drinking alcohol for the first time in his life, to Leonard and Penny getting married, and to the most recent major milestone, the marriage between Sheldon and Amy. That summary leaves so much out I feel like I’m doing a disservice to the progression of the series – we’re in a completely different place now than we were at the beginning.
But that’s natural, isn’t it? Our lives don’t stay the same for 12 years, so why should TV series do? I’ve loved seeing these characters grow, with my particular favorite being Penny’s initial distaste for Sheldon (after he organizes her apartment while she is sleeping) in season 1, to her telling him “you are one of my favorite people” (during Sheldon’s birthday party) in season 9.
My experiences attending tapings of The Big Bang Theory
I’ve been extremely fortunate to attend not one, not two, not even three, but four tapings of The Big Bang Theory. I attended in 2013, 2015, 2016, and 2018. I thought I’d share from my experiences, alongside some photos. Smartphones and cameras were not allowed inside, so I didn’t get any personal photos of that, but linked below is a YouTube video from Mayim Bialik (“Amy Farrah Fowler”) from her last day on the set, walking around behind-the-scenes.
Tickets for The Big Bang Theory were free, offered via tvtickets.com. Tickets went by fast, so when they were out, there wasn’t a second to waste. I grabbed the above screenshot showing the available listing for a “STANDBY” ticket after we secured our priority tickets. But the above image gives a sense of how fast things go by – plenty of other shows available, but this screenshot – taken within minutes of initial availability – only shows standby tickets left. Through a combination of multiple computers and quick response, my mother and me (and one year, also my father and sister) were able to obtain priority tickets. They notably didn’t guarantee admission if you’re late to the studio, but as long as you were there on time, you would have reserved spots.
(Click on the above photos to see them enlarged.)
The first time I attended in 2013, I was so excited and amazed at what I was seeing. Pure joy and the unbelievable experience of being inside the studio of my favorite comedy. As we entered the studio, each audience member was given a pamphlet detailing the episode name and some character/actor background.
We sat and looked up at video screens that showed iconic moments from the series thus far, alongside pop music, while waiting for the taping to begin. There were these big movable walls (for lack of a better term) preventing the audience from seeing the actual rooms, so we pretty much talked and listened to music while we waited for the big start. After an unknown amount of time (I wish we brought a watch, ’cause there were no clocks inside), the man responsible for talking to the audience (Mark Sweet, the “audience warm-up”) introduced himself, a fireman talking about exits, and basically detailed a little bit about what was going to happen. He then said the video screens were going to be showing an unaired episode of the series, so we all turned our attention to the screens. Being in the studio with like-minded fans of the show to watch an episode the rest of the world hadn’t seen yet made me feel like I was part of an awesome little club, and I distinctly remember me and the rest of the audience singing along to the theme song.
After the episode finished on the screens, the walls were slightly adjusted to let the actors go through, as they were introduced one by one. It was so awesome to see the actors standing right in front of me! No longer just on a screen, but actually, physically in the same room as me. I got starstruck, even though I know they’re regular people.
After introducing each of the actors, the walls were removed, showing the full glory of the sets. From left to right, separated by walls, we could see each room they would use in that episode. Outside scenes, or scenes requiring more space, were pre-taped. They taped each scene in the order they would appear in the episode, which obviously was a very good thing in order to understand what was going on, hahaha. That may seem obvious, but plenty of shows without studio audiences film out-of-sequence, so I’m thankful they take it scene-by-scene even though efficiency would probably be optimal by taking it room-by-room.
For the cast, whose jobs are to be in front of cameras each week, the feeling of “TV magic” probably isn’t that “magic” anymore. But for me, watching them work was truly unlike anything I’d seen before. The crew, including the director, writers and make-up artists, talked to the cast about each scene, then the crew walked off the set as someone yelled “Quiet, please! Here we go! And… action!” They then filmed the scene. Depending on the seating in the studio audience, some scenes (those shot in the far-left and far-right rooms) may have required audience members to look up at the video screens, which was showing exactly what the cameras were filming, but the sets used the most were in the center, giving pretty much everyone a good view.
There is considerable waiting time between each scene taping – filming one take lasts just a few minutes (sometimes stopping early and re-doing it if someone makes a mistake, which was actually quite rare!). But when they aren’t filming, you’re really just sitting there looking around, taking in the experience. Which is, in and of itself, really cool. Looking at the cast (who occasionally wave to you), looking at the studio (including the light-filled ceiling), looking at the crew, the cameras, and anything else happening. There’s so much to look at, and so much to integrate into the memory since cameras aren’t allowed in.
Often, after successfully filming one take, the crew consults with the cast to use a different joke or standing someplace different for a new taping of the same scene. This is done in order to get a sense of what works best for the cameras or what gets a bigger audience reaction. And you don’t know what that new twist is going to be before they start taping again. So when they re-film a scene, you sometimes get the pleasure and surprise of a completely different line towards the end. I remember thinking “OK Johnny, try to remember the complicated line now” about a difficult line for Johnny Galecki (“Leonard Hofstadter”) only for him to say a completely different joke and me laughing harder than I did at the first take. They don’t tell you which take they are going to use in the episode, so you actually go home with a little sense of impatience and curiosity to see what they wind up using in the final show.
Half-way through the episode, they serve a cold pizza slice and some water. Taping takes a few hours, so although eating beforehand was important for me, it was great to get a refresher. At one point during the episode taping, Kaley Cuoco (“Penny”) and Johnny Galecki also climbed on top of the guardrail to grab a microphone and talk to the audience, letting us know their gratitude for the audience’s continued support. I don’t know anything about how normal of a practice that is for shows with studio audiences, but even if it is a normal practice, having the cast get up-close and personal to thank the audience directly really does make you, as an audience member, feel special.
As the hours go by and the taping progresses through the episode, Mark Sweet, the audience warm-up, talks to members of the audience. That includes letting us know if they are done with a scene or if they will do a re-tape, as well as learning about people’s countries of origin (which really is diverse for such a small crowd). He also comes up with playful activities (such as a dance competition), trying to give everyone a good laugh when they aren’t taping the show. I was largely focused on the sets and the actors, but it was good to have someone there to tell us what’s happening with each scene.
Towards the end, they once again placed walls in front of the studio and we got one final actor-by-actor goodbye before we left the studio.
My experience in 2015, 2016, and 2018 were largely the same as what I have described above. Aside from some obvious differences, such as my seating placement, the guest cast, and episode narrative, they actually had a pretty solid practice on how to do it. Not many mistakes were made, each crew member seemed efficient and skilled at their job, and each cast member really is awesome at their respective performances; Jim Parsons walked around with notes in his hand during the breaks, seemingly practicing his complicated lines when the cameras weren’t rolling.
I can’t really fully express my gratitude for the amazing taping nights and for an amazing show with just words. When The Big Bang Theory concludes on 16 May 2019, it will be the end of a TV era, for me personally and for millions of people around the world, not to mention the cast and crew. And I’m so thankful for every second they’ve spent working on it and every second I’ve enjoyed watching it. Thank you!
A tearful salute to you, The Big Bang Theory, for being a significant part of my life and for making me laugh for the past 12 years. I’m going to miss the feeling of watching new episodes, but thankfully, the show and its characters will forever be a part of TV history.