Bill Prady, THE BIG BANG THEORY, TV sitcom co-creator: Mr. Media Interview Transcript, Pt. 2
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BOB ANDELMAN/Mr. MEDIA: Let’s talk about Leonard, Johnny Galecki’s character. He obviously has an interest in girls, unlike his roommate. What else do we need to know about him?
BILL PRADY: I think Johnny, to me, is the emotional center of the show. I personally find that he’s the character I most comfortably, personally identify with, that he’s the guy who’s sort of nerd by breeding but aspires to something else. He’s open to Penny telling him how to dress better or what’s there beyond this world. I’m a big musical comedy fan, and Leonard in my mind is always Cornelius in “Hello Dolly” who sings to Barnaby that there’s a world out there beyond Yonkers. And there’s a world out there beyond science that he sees more, that he aspires to, and of the characters, he’s the character most in motion in his life, and that’s very interesting to me. He also, like many characters who find themselves in the center, is the Mary Tyler Moore or the Kermit the Frog paradigm, the sort of sane center in the middle of craziness at times, and at times, he’s crazy himself.
ANDELMAN: And let’s talk about the supporting cast, Raj and Howard. What purpose do they serve in there?
PRADY: In the pilot, you’ve met Leonard and Sheldon, and you evaluate them. You decide who they are, and then here come their two friends, and you say, “Oh, look at that!” In their world, Leonard and Sheldon are near the middle, not the extremes, and Koothrappali and Wolowitz bracket them on either side. If Sheldon is withdrawn, Koothrappali withdraws to the point where he can’t speak to half the world. And if Leonard wants to be outgoing, there’s Wolowitz outgoing to a fault, the notion that he doesn’t need to figure out how to deal with women in the world, that he’s got it made. But the other thing that they do, and I remember this so, so clearly from the time that I spent working with people like this, is that idiosyncrasies are acknowledged, and no one pushes anyone to change. I worked with a fellow who could not speak to women. He would simply shut up when they walked into the room. And we all said, “Well, that’s his nature.” Would you send him to go talk to that woman over there? No, you wouldn’t any more than you would ask a deaf man to conduct an orchestra. It’s just his nature. And I think that that’s one of the great things about these kind of characters is that they are accepting of each other’s idiosyncrasies.
ANDELMAN: Bill, Johnny Galecki was a known quantity before this show, thanks to his run on “Roseanne,” and Kaley spent several seasons on “8 Simple Rules.” Where on earth did you find Jim Parsons?
PRADY: He came in and auditioned.
ANDELMAN: Was he what you had imagined?
PRADY: Yeah. Yes, absolutely. There were a number of people who came in who were terrific, but Jim came in and was astonishing. Every now and then you buy a lottery ticket, and you win, and this was exactly that. It was the most ordinary of processes to find someone. It was having a casting director who put out the call to agents and described the character, and he came in, and he did it. And then he came back to a callback, and he did it again. And we took him to the studio, and he did it again, and we took him to the network, and he did it again. And he does it every week.
ANDELMAN: Wow! Is it unfair to say that he plays Niles to Johnny’s Frasier at times?
PRADY: There are so many comedy teams that you can look at and make comparisons to. I actually find that he comes closer to playing Kramden to Johnny’s Norton.
PRADY: Or Stan to Johnny’s Ollie. I think that sometimes we say that these are the smartest dumb guys in the world. In terms of archetypes, I think, to a great extent, we go to “The Honeymooners” and to Laurel & Hardy. And I think that so does everybody. I think the great comedy teams wind up owing so much to that kind of comedy structure, which, my goodness, goes all the way back. It’s a Vaudeville structure. It’s very, very old. It’s the one person with the plan and his sidekick who, by his very nature, obstructs him.
ANDELMAN: I know it’s early in the run; you’re just completing your first season, but you have been renewed. Do you worry about it being too easy to focus on Sheldon and turn him into kind of the anti-Fonz, so uncool that he’s cool?
PRADY: We just sort of follow the stories where they take us, and I don’t know if we think that sort of thing through.
ANDELMAN: Personally, I’d like to see Sheldon crossover onto some other CBS shows. I was thinking about this like maybe we’d see Sheldon on “Survivor” or maybe “Big Brother.”
PRADY: I think Sheldon wouldn’t survive, and I think Sheldon walks into the Big Brother house, takes a look, and says, “Well, this won’t do.”
ANDELMAN: Along that line, though, what about having him walk through “CSI” and explaining how improbable the show’s science is?
PRADY: There you go. My partner is involved right now…”CSI” and “Two and a Half Men” swapped writing staffs.
ANDELMAN: That’s what made me think of it. Exactly.
PRADY: And so they’ve been doing that. I think that might take care of swapping over here in this neighborhood for a while.
ANDELMAN: We were talking about crossover, but one of the places where there is crossover is between the show and the web where, for example, the video of Sheldon and Leonard tussling at a scientific presentation shows up on YouTube the very same night that it airs.
PRADY: It was actually up before. It was up a week before just to see if anyone might find it, and I think a couple hundred people actually did find it. And it’s also not the same footage that was used in the show. What we put up on the web was what we assumed Howard shot. And it’s longer than what was in the show, and I think cut a little differently.
ANDELMAN: There are frequent web references where one of the characters will give out a URL. Are those always valid URLs?
PRADY: No, they’re not. It’s an extraordinary amount of work given how fast we work here and how much stuff changes and then the difficulty of getting stuff up on the web. One of the things I really hope that we can do in the second season is coordinate the Internet material better with the show, and I think we will. One of the things, actually, that was a result of the new Writers’ Guild contract is we now have the ability to pay writers to create material for the Internet, so it makes it a lot easier to generate material when it’s not being done on a volunteer basis. So, hopefully, we’ll have better coordination next season.
ANDELMAN: We’ve got a call here on the line for you. Hi, do you have a question for Bill Prady?
COLLEEN: Do you think your show will ever be as popular as “Friends”?
PRADY: Oh, our show?
PRADY: Wouldn’t that be a nice thing to aspire to? I think “Friends” had a terrific run and was very popular. I think that it succeeded by having respect for its characters by believing in its characters as real people. I think one of the things that contributes to the longevity of a sitcom or any show is consistence in character, the notion that when you come back next week, the people are who you’ve come to know them to be. And I think shows that fail often fail because the characters change. They’re whatever the writers needed them to be that week. And one of the things that we have here is an almost obsessive need to protect who these characters are, not to say well, this is a funny joke, let’s use it if it flies in the face of who these characters are and what they would really do. Could we wind up that popular? I would certainly hope so. And what do we do to achieve that? We make the characters real, and we try to have the comedy come out of real situations, and we want the situations to be relatable emotionally even if they’re not relatable in detail. With the exception of physicists, you can’t relate to the notion of presenting a paper at a conference on physics, but you can relate emotionally to an argument with somebody you’ve done work with as to how you should proceed, as to how partners should proceed in something. So that’s the goal is to create an emotional connection.
COLLEEN: I also read that you worked with The Muppets. I love The Muppets.
PRADY: I’m glad you’re a Muppet fan. I was a big Muppet fan growing up, and I had the astonishing privilege of working for Jim Henson for six years, the last six years of his life.
COLLEEN: That’s really good. I wish I had that opportunity.
PRADY: It was an amazing time. That’s where I first began writing, and I did so many different things there. Among my favorite things that I did there was there’s a short 3-D movie called Muppet Vision 3-D, which plays at the Disney theme parks in the United States, in Florida and in California. And I remember when we did this walking out with the producer of the movie, and she commented to me that this will last and someday our children will come to see this, and it was just last year that I took my then 7-year-old daughter to see it and completed that circle and a remarkable experience.
COLLEEN: Oh, that’s brilliant. So how was it like to actually be on “The Muppet Show” with…
PRADY: I wasn’t there on “The Muppet Show.” I came after “The Muppet Show” had been completed, and there were a number of projects that the Muppets at that point were doing, and there were new series that Jim was sort of in the beginning stages of creating, so I wound up involved in a hodge-podge of Muppet projects from comic books to a short-lived series called “The Jim Henson Hour” and a few other things.
Jim was an amazing creative energy. Jim had the ability to have an idea or hear an idea and say let’s go try that. The first thing that I ever wrote was because I started working at the Muppets in consumer products and that had to do with my transition from the world of computers, and the very first thing that I ever wrote that was ever performed that wasn’t produced was that year the United States Post Office had issued a stamp with Jim’s character Rowlf the Dog from “The Muppet Show.” They weren’t going to do it because it needed to be written, and I remember saying, “If nobody’s going to try to write this, can I take a shot at it?” And I sat down, and I thought, “Dogs and mailmen, there’s a story to tell about dogs and mailmen.” And so I had Rowlf the Dog give a speech introducing the stamp in which he took the opportunity to clear up a few misconceptions about dogs and mailmen. He explained that the animosity that’s perceived to exist is completely untrue. In fact, “Dogs love mailmen. And we love when they come to the door and we bark a greeting. And then when the mailman goes to leave, we’re so sad that he’s leaving. We understand he has his rounds to complete, but we might follow after him, begging him to stay, but he has to go. So maybe we’ll gently tug on his pant leg a little bit, but, of course, he really has to go so he might struggle to get away. So we might get a better purchase by sinking our teeth into the flesh of his calf and pulling him back.” And then Rowlf said, “… but I digress.”
I remember writing that piece, and I had a little office in the basement of the Muppet offices on the Upper East Side of New York. I was sitting there, and Jim, who was a very tall man, about 6’6”, was standing in the doorway before he said anything, and I looked up, and he said -- and you have to remember that Jim and Kermit shared a voice, which was an odd thing because Kermit was talking to you. And he said, “Did you write this Rowlf piece about the mailmen?” I said, “Yeah.” He said, “I think we’re gonna produce that.” I said, “Do you want to have any notes or want to make any changes.” “No, I think we’ll go with it the way it is.” And that was that.
Then I wrote a whole bunch of very odd things for the Muppets and some very silly things. And the last thing that I wrote when I was there was the tribute to Jim after his death, the network special, and from time to time, I’ve gone back and done projects with them. I’ll get a call for some odd little thing, and I’ll go back and work with the guys for a couple of days, and it’s always an amazing treat. All the performers are just the coolest people, and I miss them everyday. They’re just remarkable.
ANDELMAN: Colleen, you got a very good story there for that question.
COLLEEN: I know. It’s excellent. I’m so pleased.
PRADY: Good to talk to you, Colleen.
COLLEEN: Yes, it was very good to talk to you, Bill.
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© 2008 by Bob Andelman. All rights reserved.
All stories and interviews (c) 2008 by Bob Andelman. All rights reserved. Some stories may appear in unedited versions that are different from their print counterparts.