Jessica Radloff talks The Big Bang Theory

(Michael Yarish/Warner Bros. Entertainment)

Jessica Radloff spoke with Solzy at the Movies about her new book, The Big Bang Theory: The Definitive, Inside Story of the Epic Hit Series.

Radloff, a senior West Coast editor for Glamour, interviewed the key cast members (Jim Parsons, Johnny Galecki, Kaley Cuoco, Simon Helberg, Kunal Nayyar, Mayim Bialik, Melissa Rauch, Kevin Sussman), guest stars, and a number of creators/producers/writers, etc.  throughout the twelve-season run. It’s fair to say that this book would not happen without the blessing of Chuck Lorre, Bill Prady, Steve Molaro, or Steve Holland. It is probably one of the few times that the core cast and crew will open up in such a way about their time working on the show.

One of the amazing things in reading this book is seeing how the series evolved from its first pilot to the second pilot. Beyond this, the cast opens up in a way that other cast members only learned something happened throughout the interviews in this book. I’m not going to give away the particulars but there’s so much inside information and I highly recommend it for fans of the series.

Grand Central Publishing will release The Big Bang Theory on October 11, 2022.

Jessica Radloff
Jessica Radloff. Photo by Julie A. Merkle.

What was the genesis behind writing the inside story of The Big Bang Theory?

Jessica Radloff: In May of 2020, I was doing an interview with Steve Molaro and Steve Holland, two of the executive producers/showrunners for Big Bang, about the 12 best episodes that we were running on Glamour for the launch of HBO Max. We were only going to do a 30-minute conversation and we just had so much fun just going back down memory lane that it ended up going three times as long as that. By the end of it, we were like, we gotta try to do more of these, we should do the most emotional moments on Big Bang and we should do the most surprising moments on Big Bang. We were trying to devise more ways that we could continue to talk about the show even though brand new episodes had ended a year prior.

Fate kind of intervened, because in late August 2020, I got a call from a friend of mine, Lesley Goldberg, at the Hollywood Reporter who said, Hey, there’s a literary agent in New York who’s interested in perhaps shopping around the idea of a Big Bang oral history. She said, I think you’d be the perfect person for that. I was shocked because never I did think of writing a book on Big Bang, even though I covered it for years. It just wasn’t something that I ever thought of even though I wanted to do more with the show. That led to meeting my now agent and then I had to make sure Glamour was on board with me taking this so-called side project on.

After that, I went to Steve Molaro and co-creator Chuck Lorre to ask for their blessing and participation because I wasn’t going to do this without them. If they had said no, then this was dead in the water. But they were really enthusiastic and wonderful. From there, I did a proposal and sold the book and then looped in the rest of the cast. That’s how it all came to be. I decided I wanted to time it for the 15th anniversary, which was just a couple weeks ago. It’s been a nonstop grind of doing the interviews and writing the book to make it timed for the 15th and we did it.

It’s hard to believe it’s been 15 years!

Jessica Radloff: I know. It’s so crazy and hard to believe it’s been over three years since it went off the air.

Yeah, I know. I had moved without a DVR so I did a massive binge in late 2020 after Roku finally came to their senses.

Jessica Radloff: Oh wow. That’s impressive. I rewatched all 279 episodes plus the original pilot as soon as I knew I was going to embark on this. I took over 200 pages of notes because even though I seen the episodes, I really wanted to go back, rewatch, and just make sure I could fully follow the timeline of things and have my questions ready and just—I over prepare so that is what I did.

What surprised you the most from all of the interviews?

Jessica Radloff: What surprised me the most, truthfully, was how much the cast and the producers were willing to give up their time to tell these stories. I knew they were all going to participate but I didn’t know how much time I would get with them. That was really scary at first because I had over 20 pages of questions for Jim Parsons and I was thinking, how am I going to get through all of this in our first session, as we call them? Jim and I spoke for almost two hours. I was so nervous, like, how are we going to cover all this. Jim was wonderful, giving me over 20 hours, in the end, of his time, and he would have kept going if it wasn’t for me saying, I got to put this book together. That was the most surprising thing is how much they made available of themselves to go down memory lane because I wouldn’t have blamed any of them if they felt like it’s too soon or I’m not getting paid for this so I’ll give you an hour here or there. And no, they recognize the power and the importance of this show, what it meant to people, and what it meant to them. To me, that just shows how much they cared about The Big Bang Theory and how they view it, even now, because I think it’s unheard of to find a cast of this caliber who’s willing to do that. That surprised me the most.

The other thing was just the stories. They were telling me that—I thought I knew most of what happened on this show and it turns out that I didn’t know a lot of things, which they kept to themselves for years and only now are they opening up about it. There was so much from casting stories to all of the details of Kaley and Johnny’s romance to contract negotiations to just anxiety and depression and their mental health struggles of what it was really like kind of becoming actors in a fishbowl. They were so vulnerable, which is something I’m really so grateful for.

The Big Bang Theory by Jessica Radloff
The Big Bang Theory by Jessica Radloff. (Grand Central Publishing)

Yeah. It was fascinating to read how the series evolved from the first pilot to the second.

Jessica Radloff: Chuck and Bill Prady, the other co-creator, talked about how they didn’t realize in the first incarnation of the pilot, that the audience was going to be so protective over Sheldon and Leonard. They didn’t want a female character to come in and take advantage of these guys. They wanted somebody that would really kind of look after them and be protective of them. We hadn’t really seen that dynamic before on television. These were all characters that were relatively new. I really believe that the reason the show succeeded for as long as it did was because people saw themselves in Leonard, Sheldon, Amy, Bernadette, Penny, Raj, and Howard. They saw themselves, whether it’s sometimes feeling like an outsider or just thinking nobody else shares your same interests or wanting to stay home and play video games and watch Star Wars instead of going out—they saw themselves in these people and that really resonated and it speaks volumes, because this show was one of the most watched shows in the history of television. What does that say when—there’s something to be said for when you have that kind of reception to characters like this.

I remember reading about that first appearance at Comic Con, how they’re like, they should just turn back because no one’s gonna be at their panel.

Jessica Radloff: Yeah, they really did not think—listen, to be fair, at the end of season one, it was number 68 in the ratings so it wasn’t like it was doing gangbusters. They were worried and I understand that. At that point, Comic Con was not typically known for bringing in TV shows. It just was a different time. Because of that, yeah, I understand why they were thinking, I don’t know about this. It was a really pleasant and fun surprise, especially when Chuck Lorre talks about seeing grown men just crying over these people. He said to his agent, This would never be happening with the cast of Two and a Half Men. Like something special is happening here.

Wil Wheaton in Big Bang Theory
Wil Wheaton in Big Bang Theory. Courtesy of CBS.

One of the other things that I found so hard to believe is that Wil Wheaton initially turned down a role on the series! In fact, his comment from the comment that John Rogers told him—as I was reading that, I was laughing so hard and almost fell out of my bed.

Jessica Radloff: (Laughs) Yeah, Wil Wheaton did not want to play himself on the show. He didn’t have the best view of the show when he first heard about it because he thought it was going to be a show making fun of so-called nerds and he wasn’t into that, rightfully so. But then he said, he actually watched it and thought it was hilarious and that’s when he tweeted about it and came to set and everything but did not want to play himself, which you can understand. As an actor, you want to play somebody that’s not you so he was very much against it at first until he was convinced otherwise. He’s like, I’m so glad that I said yes, because this isn’t Wil Wheaton. I mean, yes, it is Wil Wheaton but it’s not Wil Wheaton. In some way, it’s not exactly Mark Hamill even though it was probably closer to Mark Hamill than Wil Wheaton’s evil Wil Wheaton on the show but you understand why people are concerned. They think no, I want to play somebody else.

The way that someone recognized him from the show but didn’t realize it was Wil Wheaton in real life.

Jessica Radloff: Isn’t that amazing? I loved that story. I thought that was so great.

I think that’s right up there with the couple cosplaying in the elevator and didn’t even recognize Melissa Rauch.

Jessica Radloff: Right. I know. I thought that was just so funny. She’s like, they just said, can you please hit lobby? And she’s like, that’s what forever, I’ll think about. It really is funny when you hear some of these stories and everything.

It was interesting to see Kaley Cuoco bring up Covid-19 when discussing the WGA strike because I remember thinking about the same thing back in 2020, when you had every series shutting down at just about the same time. In fact, I had forgotten that both Big Bang and Chuck were among the few shows to air new episodes after the strike ended.

Jessica Radloff: Yeah, it’s so true. Nobody knew it was going to become what it did. It’s funny, because even Steve Holland and Steve Molaro were talking about that back in May 2020, thinking, thank goodness, Big Bang didn’t go an extra season in a way because they would not have been able to film their finale. They would have been shut down. In a way, it was really fate that the show ended in season 12 because they were able to do it all. Otherwise, they would have really run into a problem if it happened during the pandemic. But yeah, with the writers strike, nobody knew that it was gonna last as long as it did or shut production down that long. Just like for Kaley with The Flight Attendant, she had no idea that it was going to turn into this months-long kind of hiatus until they could start up again so yeah, there’s definite parallels there.

With the rise of streaming in recent years, is it fair to say that The Big Bang Theory is one of the last of its kind?

Jessica Radloff: I think so, absolutely. I don’t know if we’re ever going to see numbers like that, again, on a broadcast network that Big Bang brought in. It’s truly incredible especially since people’s viewing habits have totally changed. We certainly won’t see it like that, as far as I’m concerned, on broadcast where people were just collectively watching something on a weekly basis and that’s just because TV changes. It’s not a bad thing, necessarily, because we’ve got great TV that’s happening now on streaming services, but there was something really special to look forward to each week and to have it be the kind of programming that you’re all going to tune into. I think it was one of the last of its kind, especially for a multi-cam as well.

In interviewing legends like Bob Newhart and Mark Hamill for the book, how hard is it to not geek out during the interviews?

Jessica Radloff: I’ve been doing this for so long that I keep it all in perspective. I don’t want to ever get to a point where I’m just like, oh, who cares, because I shouldn’t be in this business if that’s the case. I care so much. Like you said, legends like Bob Newhart and Mark Hamill, it really is such a gift to get to do that. Bob, or Mr. Newhart as I called him—I could not bring myself to call him Bob, He deserves the respect of Mr. Newhart. He was basically doing a whole comedy act for me the entire time you’re on the phone. I was doing his interview when I was home in St. Louis and my parents and my sister were around the living room table just listening to him. He was just so funny and so sharp. It was just hilarious. The thing that I tried to do with Mr. Newhart and with Mark Hamill and the entire cast is it’s so important to humanize these people. They are legends, they are amazing performers, but I also really want to get to the heart of who they are, and really feel like you know them and understand them. That was so refreshing about doing my interview with Mark Hamill. He and I were going to talk for just 20 minutes or so because he was only in the one episode. But we ended up talking for almost an hour and a half because he just loved Big Bang. He didn’t have the appreciation he has for it now when he first guest starred on the show in season 11. He hadn’t seen all the episodes, he’d seen about 40 but he hadn’t seen all of them. He began to watch them and he loved them. We just had a great conversation talking about old episodes and he’s so interested also in hearing about the origin stories of great sitcoms and the pilot stage. We talked a lot about that. After a while, you’re not talking to the Mark Hamill, you’re just talking to Mark Hamill, a guy who just happens to be known by a lot of people and it’s a great conversation and to me, that’s the key to really connecting with someone—when you can find that common ground and just have a conversation. It was so easy with Mark and with Mr. Newhart and all the other guest stars that I spoke with, whether it was Christine Baranski or Laurie Metcalf or James Burrows, the director. It’s so much fun as a fan of this medium to get to go deep with them.

One-non book question: how are the St. Louis Cardinals going to do in the postseason? (This interview was conducted prior to the start of the 2022 NLWC series between the Cardinals and Phillies.)

Jessica Radloff: It feels like they have to go all the way because this is such a magical season with Albert Pujols and Yadier’s last season and maybe even Adam Wainwright. It feels like it would just be the icing on the cake and the magical story a la The Natural or something if they can win at all, but I don’t know. I truly believe if it’s in the cards, no pun intended, then they will do it. I just hope to get as many baseball games out of them as possible in the playoffs because it’s just so much fun to watch them right now.

There were definitely a few nights, especially after coming back from Toronto, where I wasn’t watching any movies in the evening. I was just watching the games to see if he could hit 700.

Jessica Radloff: I know. I know. You can’t script it any better than this. It’s just really cool. Obviously, I know people want Albert to come back for another season because he’s playing so well but I think the reason he is playing so well is because he knows this is it. Hopefully, we’ll get a lot more in the playoffs to see that.

Grand Central Publishing will release the book on October 11, 2022.

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.