Two nerdy physicists share an apartment and an unlikely friendship with their beautiful neighbor with whom one of them is infatuated. Like the universe after the big bang, the show's popularity expanded, thanks to breakout star Jim Parsons, along with the chemistry among the friends and the developing romance between Leonard and Penny. The addition of Melissa Rauch and Mayim Bialik in later seasons also enhanced the stories and relationships of the leads.
Showrunner Steve Molaro, who took over from Bill Prady with the sixth season, credits some of the show's success to the sitcom's exposure in off-network syndication, particularly on TBS, while Michael Schneider of TV Guide attributes it to the timeslot move two seasons earlier. Chuck Lorre and CBS Entertainment president Nina Tassler also credit the success to the influence of Molaro, in particular the deepening exploration of the firmly established regular characters and their interpersonal relationships, such as the on-again, off-again relationship between Leonard and Penny. Throughout much of the 2012–13 season, The Big Bang Theory placed first in all of syndication ratings, receiving formidable competition from only Judge Judy and Wheel of Fortune (first-run syndication programs). By the end of the 2012–13 television season, The Big Bang Theory had dethroned Judge Judy as the ratings leader in all of syndicated programming with 7.1, Judy descending to second place for that season with a 7.0. The Big Bang Theory did not place first in syndication ratings for the 2013–14 television season, beaten out by Judge Judy.
Raj hooks up with a recently separated woman, Nell, after one of his lectures at the planetarium. Her husband, Oliver, confronts Raj at the planetarium and then breaks down over the end of his marriage. After comforting Oliver, Raj talks to Nell and convinces her to give her husband another chance. Meanwhile, after diving once again into string theory and sprawling his work across his and Amy's apartment, Sheldon approaches a reluctant Leonard and Penny and convinces them to let him use his old room to study for a three-day trial period with an agreement to be quiet and stay out of their way. Sheldon surprisingly sticks to this agreement, being a reasonably good guest, which shockingly frustrates Leonard to no end. After Leonard lets out his frustrations, Sheldon then renegotiates the guest tenancy agreement for an extra few days and resumes being his normal demanding self, much to Leonard's relief.
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Simon Helberg as Howard Wolowitz: An aerospace engineer who got his Masters at MIT. Howard is Jewish and lived with his mother, Debbie (Carol Ann Susi). Unlike Sheldon, Leonard, Raj, Bernadette and Amy, Howard does not hold a doctorate. He goes into space, training as an astronaut and serving as a payload specialist. Howard initially fancies himself as a womanizer, but he later starts dating Bernadette, and they get engaged and married. Howard also has a tendency to waste money on toys and argues with Bernadette because of his oddly low income as an engineer and her high income as a pharmaceutical biochemist.
David Saltzberg, a professor of physics and astronomy at the University of California, Los Angeles, checks scripts and provides dialogue, mathematics equations, and diagrams used as props. According to executive producer/co-creator Bill Prady, "We're working on giving Sheldon an actual problem that he's going to be working on throughout the [first] season so there's actual progress to the boards ... . We worked hard to get all the science right." David Saltzberg, who has a Ph.D. in physics, has served as the science consultant for the show for six seasons and attends every taping. He sees early versions of scripts which need scientific information added to them, and he also points out where the writers, despite their knowledge of science, have made a mistake. He is usually not needed during a taping unless a lot of science, and especially the whiteboard, is involved.
Raj meets with the woman his father set up for him, Anu. Her commanding personality and practical approach to marriage startle Raj but he agrees to go ahead with it. Howard criticizes him but apologizes; he just never expected Raj to give up on romance. Raj admits this to Anu so she proposes to him, and he says yes. Raj also sends out a relationship questionnaire to Leonard and Penny, which soon reveals that Penny does not think she ever wants kids, upsetting Leonard, who would like to have kids someday, and their friends selfishly badger them on the issue. After telling her father Wyatt who is also upset, Leonard tells Penny that he'll be okay with it, as he never thought he'd have her in his life. To get his mind off of it, Penny rents Leonard a Batmobile to drive in and have fun with for the day. Meanwhile, Stuart starts bringing home Denise at night, which is very uncomfortable for Howard and Bernadette. When they also try to have time to themselves, they wake up their kids.
After Neil Gaiman tweets about Stuart's comic book store, it becomes very popular, and the crowds upset Sheldon. Stuart hires an assistant manager named Denise and she impresses Sheldon with her comic recommendations. Amy goes to her for information on comics to connect to Sheldon but when she tries to tell him, he says he's talked enough about comics with Denise. The store's popularity causes Stuart to be unable to babysit for Howard and Bernadette's date night. They try to have another at home, but Stuart shows up so they hurriedly go out. Meanwhile, as Raj sets up a telescope, Penny sees a new comet. Raj takes sole credit for the discovery, angering Penny. Leonard tries to defend her but feels sorry for hurting Raj's career. Penny confronts Raj herself and he agrees to share credit after Penny doesn't give in like Leonard.
Kevin Sussman as Stuart Bloom (recurring seasons 2–5, 7, starring seasons 6, 8–12): A mild-mannered, under-confident owner of a comic book store. A competent artist, Stuart is a graduate of the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design, and though he is socially awkward he possesses slightly better social skills. Stuart implies he is in financial trouble and that the comic book store now also is his home. He is later invited to join the guys' group while Howard is in space. Stuart gets a new job caring for Howard's mother later. After Mrs. Wolowitz's death, Stuart continues to live in her home, along with Howard and Bernadette, until he finds a place of his own.
“I have a very long and somewhat self-centered speech here, but I’d like to set it aside. Because this honor doesn’t just belong to me; I wouldn’t be up here if it weren’t for some very important people in my life,” he says, and thanks his family and his “other family.” “I was under a misapprehension that my accomplishments were mine alone. Nothing could be further from the truth. I have been encouraged, sustained, inspired, and tolerated, not only by my wife, but by the greatest group of friends anyone ever had.”
After the birth of Michael, Howard and Bernadette are unsure who should stay home with the kids. Howard decides to look after the kids one day to show he has what it takes to care for them. While Bernadette falls back in love with her job on a trip to the office, Howard is quickly tired and realizes he might not have what it takes to be a stay-at-home dad. Howard and Bernadette realize neither them is ready to give up their job.
Sheldon cannot find the perfect wedding date and begins talking in his sleep, adopting the persona of a laid-back person who goes with the flow. Amy and Penny believe that his subconscious mind is trying to tell him to be more relaxed; his attempt to be so while wearing flip-flops ends in disaster. He decides to leave all the wedding planning to Amy while he wears a Star Trek uniform underneath his tuxedo. Meanwhile, Raj and Stuart both become interested in Bernadette's new coworker Ruchi. While she likes them both as friends, she does not want a relationship with anyone.
While Johnny Galecki is putting down the comic books for good as he says goodbye to experimental physicist Leonard Hofstadter, he's poised to return to another iconic role one more with the expanded season two order of Roseanne spinoff The Conners coming to ABC this fall. Galecki reprised the role of David Healy, ex-husband to Sara Gilbert's Darlene, for a handful of episodes in the show's first season and the door was definitely left open for more. Despite Galecki telling TV Line in February that he wouldn't consider jumping in full-time—"I think I need a little bit of space from being a series regular again," he said—he's hoping to "visit as much as possible." And Gilbert, who serves as EP on the series, remains hopeful as well. "I know he loves doing the show. I love having him. We have a magical time together," she told the outlet in January. "I would anticipate that he would do some [episodes] but I don't want to speak for him."
"Big Bang" thrived with the addition of new characters, including scientists Amy (Bialik) and Bernadette (Rauch) and comic-book-store owner Stuart (Kevin Sussman), says Helberg, part of the original cast with Galecki, Parsons, Cuoco and Nayyar. (The show eventually spawned a hit prequel spinoff, "Young Sheldon," which heads into its third season in the fall, most likely in the "Big Bang" time slot.)
Professor Proton, Sheldon's favorite childhood show, is being rebooted. After unsuccessfully auditioning for the part, he goes to Wil Wheaton for acting tips for his second audition. However, Sheldon is later dismayed when Wil is offered the role instead. Talking it over with Arthur in his dreams, he is still upset to see his idol replaced and considers Wil an enemy again. Meanwhile, Howard gets a vasectomy while Bernadette is on bed rest. Penny offers to take care of Halley for them, but they insult her by expecting her to be irresponsible. Halley ends up saying her first word by calling Penny "Mama."
After learning Sheldon went behind their backs to work with the military again, Leonard and Howard say Sheldon is like Thomas Edison, taking credit for others' ideas, while they are more like Nikola Tesla. Leonard and Howard bring in Barry Kripke to help create a better idea than Sheldon's, but Kripke goes to the military himself, cutting all three of them out. Meanwhile, Bernadette fears Ruchi is trying to steal her projects at work while she is on maternity leave and enlists Raj to spy on her. Though he finds proof that Ruchi may be stealing from Bernadette, Raj tries to defend Ruchi like a boyfriend would, pointing out Bernadette's hypocrisy as she would most likely have stolen from other people's projects as well. Ruchi is not happy about this and promptly dumps Raj.
Howard dresses as Sheldon for Halloween at work, hurting Sheldon's feelings. When Howard does not apologize, Amy and Sheldon dress as Bernadette and Howard at Penny and Leonard's party, angering Bernadette. Sheldon and Bernadette later bond over their painful childhood memories. Leonard is upset that Penny does not seem to remember that their first kiss was on Halloween. Penny later admits she does remember, but does not like to think of their first kiss as an unromantic drunken hookup. She likes to imagine their first kiss was one they shared on Leonard's birthday, which pleases him.