Saturday, February 14, 2009


Must-Geek TV

I'm over in Slate with a piece on whether the sitcom The Big Bang Theory is built around a character with Asperger's.

TBBT took a while for me to warm up to -- to even consider watching, actually -- because it's hidden beneath conventional production, the kind of multi-camera configuration and laugh-trackish studio audience that usually warns you that spherical cow jokes need not apply. In other words, TBBT exists in Sitcom World: a place where all events take place indoors at an elevation of four to seven feet in a left-to-right band across a soundstage. (Think I Love Lucy and its many descendants, versus roving single-camera shows like 30 Rock.)

But the writing is what caught me, because -- as Discover columnist Phil Plait told me -- "Whoever wrote The Big Bang Theory understand geeks."

And when I called series co-creator and head writer Bill Prady -- guess what?.....

"I had a short-lived career as a computer programmer," admits co-creator Bill Prady on the phone from Warner Bros. Television. "I was a college dropout in New York City, working at a RadioShack, and I got involved creating the FilePro software for the TRS-80 at my friend Howie's place in Brooklyn." That would be Howard Wolowitz—whose name is now immortalized as one of the show's main characters...

"I just think of his actions as 'Sheldony.' Some things feel instinctively correct for his character," says Prady, who recalls one software colleague who couldn't go anywhere alone that he hadn't been to before. "He'd say, 'I can't go to 47th Street Photo by myself.' And it was maybe three blocks away. It was never questioned. Quirks were never challenged—they were simply accepted as a quality of the person."

"Are these things Asperger's?" he asks. "I don't know."

One interesting thing from talking with Prady that didn't make it into the piece was that originally he and producer Chuck Lorre were developing two separate shows -- one about Sheldon and Leonard, and another about an aspiring actress named Penny moving to the big city -- and both ideas seemed to be missing something, until one afternoon they went... "Say, what if...?"

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