The Big Bang Theory showrunner Steve Holland answers burning questions about the series finale
So many surprises were packed into Thursday’s series finale of The Big Bang Theory, so we asked showrunner Steve Holland to explain the meaning and intent behind all of those great moments. But first, a SPOILER ALERT! Don’t read unless you watched the hour-long series finale of the CBS sitcom.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: When you sat down to finally write this finale, did you go in with a specific objective?
STEVE HOLLAND: We had a few specific objectives. We had a lot of big pieces we knew we were driving toward. It was really important for all of us to give everybody a moment. We have always thought of the show as an ensemble and we really wanted to make sure that everyone got their last moment in the spotlight.
How did everybody get through taping the final episode?
The whole week was emotional, starting at the table read where there were lots and lots of tears and it carried through finale night. But they were happy tears. It’s a place we love, that’s why it’s hard to say goodbye. But there was a beautiful moment with the playback of the last scene. It was something that we shot the previous day, so the cast came and sat with us. With the audience there, we all watched that playback together. That’s a special moment that I will take with me.
There was a tag added to the end of the episode that wasn’t shared on finale night to the studio audience. Why not?
We thought it would be nice to save something fun for air, one little special thing that they haven’t gotten to see yet. It was always the script.
Did you think a lot about how you wanted to address the elevator?
We did. We thought about it a lot and we had a couple of different ideas. There was a moment going into breaking the finale that we thought it would be deeper in the episode, closer to the end. And then it seemed as we were breaking it, that it played in so well to Sheldon’s breakdown, that everything was changing for him. The elevator could be one final straw. It was also going to be more of a surprise. We didn’t expect it to happen that early in the first part of the two-parter. It was really exciting to watch that scene live in front of the whole audience for the first time. The first time those doors opened, I think it took about 42 seconds for the audience to calm down so Kaley Cuoco could get her line out. On TV it will be shorter than that.
When did you change your mind about having Penny want kids?
We had talked a lot earlier this season about honoring the pilot, how “our babies will be smart and beautiful.” It was a special moment to us. To bring that back around in the finale felt important. It also felt a little bit like people were expecting it, so to write against it all season felt like a way to make that moment play as more of a surprise.
You got a little dark there when Sheldon was acting like a real butthead. Why did you go there?
It felt earned. Twelve years of him being self-centered and people tiptoeing around it, they even talk about it at the end of episode 23. They are done with tiptoeing around him. So having Amy really go at him and not let him off the hook felt right. The way she played it was so raw and real. There were originally more jokes in that scene, but as the week went on we just cut them out. It didn’t seem to be necessary. We don’t ever do that. But it felt right for this moment and right for his turn at the end.
Who came up with the idea of casting Sarah Michelle Gellar as herself?
It was Chuck Lorre’s idea to find a fun moment for Raj, so she could be next to him in the plane. It felt like a really fun get. We talked about who it should be, and different names were tossed about, but there is something really cool about Sarah Michelle. A lot of the writers are huge Buffy fans. It felt like a nerdier [choice] than going for whoever is the flashiest movie star. It felt real to the show and the characters.
Having Jim ask, “Is that Buffy the Vampire Slayer?” was magical.
It was fun to watch that during the playback. It got such a huge response from the studio audience, you didn’t even hear Sarah’s line. The audience was still cheering for her. That felt good. It made us feel like we made the right choice. She said, “Just so you know, this is not a date.” Raj replied, “I know.” Then she says, “So why are you holding my hand?” I don’t think the audience heard any of that.
We met the Wolowitz kids! When was that decision made?
That was also Chuck’s idea. That wasn’t even in the original breaking of the finale. When we got to the scene, Chuck said, “Why don’t we just do it? Why don’t we put them in?” We didn’t need to make a big deal of it. It was intentional to leave them out before so we didn’t have to deal with working with small children on set for all these years. It seemed like a fun little easter egg to put them in at the end.
Did you go back and forth about whether to invite more former guest stars?
Not really. We knew we wanted Kevin Sussman (Stuart Bloom) to be part of the finale because he’s such a part of the show. But we really wanted it to be focused on the main cast. This was our chance to say goodbye. It’s the audience’s chance to say goodbye. We didn’t want to fill it up with a bunch of returning guest stars.
It didn’t seem like you made any changes to the script on finale night.
I think we changed a couple of lines here and there. This was one of the few episodes that we actually shot everything already and did it once again in front of the audience because the cast was emotional, we were emotional. We wanted to make sure we didn’t put them in the position of having to melt down in front of the audience. A lot of the stuff that went into the cut is actually from the audience show. A different energy comes from when the audience is there.
How did you all feel about the final product?
Incredibly proud of it. This has been a thing we have been thinking about for a long time. It’s been weighing heavy on all of us. We really wanted to do the end of this show justice, and the end of these characters justice. So that certainly has been a bit of stress for the last few months. To watch it all come together as well as it did is really rewarding.
So when are you going back in to pick apart the set and take what you want?
I think Warner Bros. security is there. They have been tagging everything. They have plans to put it into the Warner Bros. museum so they were really trying to be careful to make sure it didn’t get looted at the end. I did slip the whole couch under my jacket, though.
So will we see another iteration of these characters someday?
Um, I don’t know. That probably is slightly above my pay grade. For me personally, it’s hard to think of any of these characters without the others. To me, they live together as a family. It’s hard for me to imagine them operating independently.