The show's pilot episode premiered on September 24, 2007. This was the second pilot produced for the show. A different pilot was produced for the 2006–07 television season but never aired. The structure of the original unaired pilot was substantially different from the series' current form. The only main characters retained in both pilots were Leonard (Johnny Galecki) and Sheldon (Jim Parsons), who are named after Sheldon Leonard, a longtime figure in episodic television as producer, director and actor. A minor character, Althea (Vernee Watson), appeared in the first scene of both pilots that was retained generally as-is. The first pilot included two female lead characters - Katie, "a street-hardened, tough-as-nails woman with a vulnerable interior" (played by Canadian actress Amanda Walsh) and Gilda, a scientist colleague and friend of the male characters (played by Iris Bahr). Sheldon and Leonard meet Katie after she breaks up with a boyfriend and they invite her to share their apartment. Gilda is threatened by Katie's presence. Test audiences reacted negatively to Katie, but they liked Sheldon and Leonard. The original pilot used Thomas Dolby's hit "She Blinded Me with Science" as its theme song.
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.
Mayim Bialik as Amy Farrah Fowler (guest star season 3, starring seasons 4–12): A woman selected by an online dating site as Sheldon's perfect mate. Amy is from Glendale, CA. While she and Sheldon initially share social cluelessness, after befriending Penny and Bernadette she eventually becomes more interested in social and romantic interaction. Her relationship with Sheldon slowly progresses to the point at which Sheldon considers her his girlfriend, eventually they get married. Amy believes she and Penny are best friends, a sentiment that Penny does not initially share. Amy has a Ph.D. in neurobiology.
Sheldon's mother Mary refuses to attend his wedding unless he invites his older brother George, with whom he is no longer speaking. Sheldon and Leonard fly to Texas to talk to George, who now owns a chain of tire stores. He refuses to attend and later explains to Leonard and Sheldon that the family sacrificed a lot to fund Sheldon's education, and he was stuck caring for their mother and sister Missy after their father died while Sheldon was in college. Sheldon never thanked him for this. Leonard takes George back to the hotel room where Sheldon apologizes for what he did and the brothers reconcile. George agrees to attend the wedding. Meanwhile, Howard and Bernadette's children contract pinkeye, infecting everyone except Penny, much to Amy's fury.
In May 2010, it was reported that the show had been picked up for syndication, mainly among Fox's owned and operated stations and other local stations, with Warner Bros. Television's sister cable network TBS holding the show's cable syndication rights. Broadcast of old shows began airing in September 2011. TBS now airs the series in primetime on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, with evening broadcasts on Saturdays (TBS's former local sister station in Atlanta also holds local weeknight rights to the series). Although details of the syndication deal have not been revealed, it was reported the deal "set a record price for a cable off-network sitcom purchase". CTV holds national broadcast syndication rights in Canada, while sister cable network The Comedy Network holds cable rights.
In the episode "The Launch Acceleration", Amy tries to use her "neurobiology bag of tricks" to increase the attraction between herself and Sheldon. In the final fifth-season episode "The Countdown Reflection", Sheldon takes Amy's hand as Howard is launched into space. In the sixth season first episode "The Date Night Variable", after a dinner in which Sheldon fails to live up to this expectation, Amy gives Sheldon an ultimatum that their relationship is over unless he tells her something from his heart. Amy accepts Sheldon's romantic speech even after learning that it is a line from the first Spider-Man movie. In "The Cooper/Kripke Inversion" Sheldon states that he has been working on his discomfort about physical contact and admits that "it's a possibility" that he could one day have sex with Amy. Amy is revealed to have similar feelings in "The Love Spell Potential". Sheldon explains that he never thought about intimacy with anyone before Amy.
The Big Bang Theory started off slowly in the ratings, failing to make the top 50 in its first season (ranking 68th), and ranking 40th in its second season. When the third season premiered on September 21, 2009, however, The Big Bang Theory ranked as CBS's highest-rated show of that evening in the adults 18–49 demographic (4.6/10) along with a then-series-high 12.83 million viewers. After the first three seasons aired at different times on Monday nights, CBS moved the show to Thursdays at 8:00 ET for the 2010–2011 schedule, to be in direct competition with NBC's Comedy Block and Fox's American Idol (then the longest reigning leading primetime show on U.S. television from 2004 to 2011). During its fourth season, it became television's highest rated comedy, just barely beating out eight-year champ Two and a Half Men. However, in the age 18–49 demographic (the show's target age range), it was the second highest rated comedy, behind ABC's Modern Family. The fifth season opened with viewing figures of over 14 million.
Penny and Bernadette attend a pharmaceuticals conference, where Bernadette's business rival Danny tries to recruit Penny. Bernadette is offended that Penny is considering the offer. At the meeting with Danny, Bernadette steps in to say Penny is the best saleswoman she knows and Penny agrees to keep working for Bernadette. Meanwhile, the rest of the gang does simple behavioral experiments on the Wolowitz children using a book Sheldon found. Leonard is shocked that his childhood was filled with these experiments; although his mother remembers that time with him fondly, she admits the experiment with him is not over. Raj figures Amy planted the book to get Sheldon to like babies, though Sheldon later states he would be open to having kids.
They are also fans of Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, and Doctor Who. In the episode "The Ornithophobia Diffusion", when there is a delay in watching Star Wars on Blu-ray, Howard complains, "If we don't start soon, George Lucas is going to change it again" (referring to Lucas' controversial alterations to the films) and in "The Hot Troll Deviation", Katee Sackhoff of Battlestar Galactica appeared as Howard's fantasy dream girl. The characters have different tastes in franchises with Sheldon praising Firefly but disapproving of Leonard's enjoyment of Babylon 5.[n 1] With regard to fantasy, the four make frequent references to The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter novels and movies. Additionally, Howard can speak Sindarin, one of the two Elvish languages from The Lord of the Rings.
The episode opens with a short montage of clips from the series' twelve seasons, then segues to Sheldon and Amy, who are up late waiting for a call from the Nobel Committee. Following a prank call from Kripke, they are told they've won the Nobel Prize in Physics for their super-asymmetry work. The attention from the media and the university bothers Sheldon. Amy is saddened by an unflattering picture of her in a news report, so Raj convinces her to get a makeover. She loves her new look but Sheldon demands she change it back. Leonard calls him out for being rude, but Sheldon flees when he sees Penny emerge from the newly repaired elevator. Sheldon and Penny go to the Cheesecake Factory and Penny tells Sheldon that change is the only constant thing in life. On a TV, they see Bernadette and Howard take credit as Sheldon and Amy's best friends. Raj and Leonard defend Amy, with Leonard accidentally breaking Sheldon's DNA molecule model in Apartment 4A. Penny convinces Sheldon to ride in the elevator.
Howard and Bernadette's new neighbor Andy begins using floodlights mounted on his balcony that encroaches on their rear deck and hot tub. Investigating whether the lights comply with city code, they enlist Sheldon to help them with the paperwork, but Sheldon finds out Howard and Bernadette's own deck is also not code-compliant. He considers turning them in, but ultimately chooses friendship over the rules. He does report Andy though for violating property lines, allowing Howard and Bernadette to enjoy their deck again. Meanwhile, Bert wants to cut into a meteorite with Raj's help, rejecting Leonard's idea to use his laser to do so. Leonard dreams that he opens the meteorite with his laser, becomes possessed by an alien intelligence and eats Bert, Raj and Penny. He later apologizes to Raj and Bert, admitting he was jealous. The possibility of the meteorite unleashing a plague scares Stuart and Denise, who use it as foreplay for procreation, Stuart closing the store on Sheldon when he tries to browse.
Initial reception for the series was mixed. The review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes reported a 52% approval rating for the first season based on reviews from 23 critics, with an average rating of 5.18/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "The Big Bang Theory brings a new class of character to mainstream television, but much of the comedy feels formulaic and stiff." On Metacritic, the season holds a score of 57 out of 100, based on reviews from 23 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews". Later seasons received more acclaim and in 2013, TV Guide ranked the series #52 on its list of the 60 Best Series of All Time.
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.
Sheldon and Amy are surprised to find that Wil Wheaton's new Professor Proton show is actually very entertaining and that Wil had Howard on as a guest. On Howard's suggestion, Sheldon apologizes to Wil, mending their friendship, and tells him he wants to be on the show; but Wil asks for Amy. Sheldon tells her to do it, but she says she often doesn't do things to avoid upsetting him. Sheldon is horrified when he realises how selfish he has been, especially when he finds out that the men do the same for him. Sheldon encourages Amy to go on the show to inspire girls to pursue science while trying to control his obvious jealousy for her. Meanwhile, Leonard writes a book about a physicist that solves a murder, the protagonist Logan Dean is based on himself. Bernadette points out Logan's mean boss Illsa is similar to Penny, who thinks it is based on Bernadette, though Leonard does not correct her. However, Bernadette tells Penny the truth, upsetting her and making her mad at Leonard. After calling his mother for advice, Leonard learns that Illsa is actually like her; but abandons the book when he realizes he wrote romantic tension into the relationship between the characters.