Johnny Galecki as Leonard Hofstadter: An experimental physicist with an IQ of 173, who received his PhD when he was 24 years old. Leonard is a nerd who loves video games, comic books, and Dungeons & Dragons. Leonard is the straight man of the series, in which he shares an apartment in Pasadena, CA, with Sheldon. Leonard is smitten with his new neighbor Penny when they first meet, and they eventually marry.
Although the original pilot was not picked up, its creators were given an opportunity to retool it and produce a second pilot. They brought in the remaining cast and retooled the show to its final format. Katie was replaced by Penny (Kaley Cuoco). The original unaired pilot has never been officially released, but it has circulated on the Internet. On the evolution of the show, Chuck Lorre said, "We did the 'Big Bang Pilot' about two and a half years ago, and it sucked ... but there were two remarkable things that worked perfectly, and that was Johnny and Jim. We rewrote the thing entirely and then we were blessed with Kaley and Simon and Kunal." As to whether the world will ever see the original pilot on a future DVD release, Lorre said, "Wow, that would be something. We will see. Show your failures..."
With Leonard, Howard, Raj, and Amy accomplishing so much on their respective projects, Sheldon is forced to admit he has nothing important upon which to work. He makes Amy leave the apartment for a few days so he can focus, but cannot come up with any ideas and calls his mother as a distraction. Leonard and Amy have fun recreating experiments from when they were growing up, boring Penny, so she eats with Sheldon as he mulls over his scientific studies. Penny helps him realize that his study of dark matter is his rebound science from string theory, which Sheldon admits he never truly disregarded, but explaining string theory to her inspires Sheldon, helping him discover a potential breakthrough in the field. Meanwhile Howard is too busy with his family to be in the band with Raj, so Raj brings in Bert. But, when Howard annoys Bernadette by writing an astronaut-themed musical while she is on bed-rest, she makes him rejoin the band. The three are poorly received at a Bar mitzvah after singing Bert's original song about the boulder from Indiana Jones .
When Penny tells Leonard he needs to be more assertive in making decisions for himself, he starts standing up to Sheldon over small things. His confidence makes him want to demand the university support his idea for a plasma physics project. He threatens to quit if the university refuses, alarming both Sheldon and Penny, who consider this to be a risky career move. Sheldon is conflicted on whether or not he is being selfish over Leonard's decision, but Amy suggests that the fact that he is worried over Leonard's motivation proves that he does care about him, which he acknowledges. President Seibert refuses the project, but in order not to lose Leonard, gives him co-leadership over a photon entanglement project, leaving Leonard proud of himself and Penny impressed. Meanwhile, Raj shows Anu his lab, and suggests one possible answer for something he's seen in space might be alien life. When someone mentions this at his observatory presentation, the scientific community starts mocking him as a conspiracy theorist. Raj points out scientists should consider all possibilities when seeking the truth, though this causes people to think he believes in the Loch Ness Monster.
The fourth season's second half began on June 30, 2011. Season 5 began airing on November 3, 2011, at 8:00 p.m. as part of E4's Comedy Thursdays, acting as a lead-in to the channel's newest comedy, Perfect Couples. Episode 19, the highest-viewed episode of the season, attracted 1.4 million viewers. Season 6 premiered on November 15, 2012, with 1.89 million viewers and a further 469,000 on the time shift channel, bringing the total to 2.31 million, E4's highest viewing ratings of 2012, and the highest the channel had received since June 2011. The sixth season returned in mid-2013 to finish airing the remaining episodes. Season 7 premiered on E4 on October 31, 2013 at 8:30pm and hit multiple ratings records this season. The second half of season seven aired in mid 2014. The eighth season premiered on E4 on October 23, 2014 at 8:30 p.m. During its eighth season, The Big Bang Theory shared its 8:30 p.m. time period with fellow CBS comedy, 2 Broke Girls. Following the airing of the first eight episodes of that show's fourth season, The Big Bang Theory returned to finish airing its eighth season on March 19, 2015.
Sheldon and Amy recruit Leonard to research and write citations for their paper on super asymmetry. While working in the campus library, Leonard and Raj discover a Russian paper that asserts that super asymmetry has no merit. Reluctantly, Leonard shares the news with Sheldon and Amy, who fall into a depressive state and do not leave their apartment. Meanwhile, Bernadette asks Denise to teach her how to play Fortnite: Battle Royale so that she can beat Howard. Despite losing to Howard in a rematch after all of her training, Bernadette revels in beating a disinterested Penny.
Sheldon's childhood friend from Texas, Tam, is visiting the university with his son. Sheldon does not want to see him and the others wonder why Sheldon has never mentioned Tam. Tam is unaware Sheldon is angry with him, thinking they just naturally drifted apart. Sheldon's brother George does not know the reason either. Sheldon eventually reveals Tam promised he would move to California with Sheldon, but then got a girlfriend and stayed with her, leaving Sheldon feeling abandoned. Tam and Sheldon make up and Sheldon has Leonard take Tam to the airport. Meanwhile, Penny and Bernadette want to get to know Anu, impressed by her connections in the hotel industry. They tell her embarrassing things about Raj and wonder if they can go out with her again after Raj confronts them.
However, no legal action was required to end production of the other show: as soon as it became known that the show was unlicensed, the actors quit and the producers canceled it. Dmitriy Tankovich (who plays Leonard's counterpart, "Seva") said in an interview, "I'm upset. At first, the actors were told all legal issues were resolved. We didn't know it wasn't the case, so when the creators of The Big Bang Theory started talking about the show, I was embarrassed. I can't understand why our people first do, and then think. I consider this to be the rock bottom of my career. And I don't want to take part in a stolen show".
Turning to total viewers, “Manifest” was the biggest gainer overall, on average adding 6.1 million viewers per episode. ABC’s “The Good Doctor” was second with an average viewer lift of just under 6 million. “New Amsterdam” (5.2 million viewer lift) and “A Million Little Things” (3.5 million viewer lift) were also among the top gainers in this measure, as was ABC’s “Whiskey Cavalier” (3.2 million viewer lift).
^ From the eighth season onward, episodes of each season initially aired on Monday nights, before later returning to the Thursday night slot for the rest of the season. The eighth and ninth seasons returned on the seventh episode, the tenth and eleventh seasons on the sixth episode, and the twelfth season on the second episode.
Anu wants to have sex with Raj, but he gets so nervous in the leadup, that his selective mutism returns. Confessing to her, she is very understanding, revealing an unusual secret of her own. The next morning, he is able to have sex with her in the shower. Sheldon attempts to bond with his father-in-law, but Larry is more impressed with Howard's magic tricks, causing a jealous Sheldon to spend time with Mrs. Fowler. They bond after finding out Amy has been using Sheldon as an excuse to avoid her mother, though he does gently advise her to forgive her daughter like he would his wife. A remorseful Amy invites the Fowlers over for thanksgiving, where Sheldon and Mrs. Fowler continue to bond over Larry's ineptitude with magic.
Melissa Rauch as Bernadette Rostenkowski-Wolowitz (recurring season 3, starring seasons 4–12): A young woman who initially is a co-worker at The Cheesecake Factory with Penny to pay her way through graduate school, where she is studying microbiology. Bernadette is introduced to Howard by Penny; at first, they do not get along, apparently having nothing in common. They date and later get engaged and married. Although generally a sweet and good-natured person, Bernadette has a short fuse and can be vindictive and lash out when provoked.
Howard and Bernadette learn their second child will be a boy, leading Howard to doubt whether he can be a good father to a son. He and Sheldon go out in the desert to test launch a model rocket, but it explodes, causing him further doubt. On the way home, Howard does a good job coaching Sheldon to drive them home, for which Sheldon tells him he will be a good teacher to his son. Leonard's mother Beverly begins talking to Penny as a friend and confidant, troubling Leonard, especially when he learns that Beverly told Penny that she was proud of her, a level of praise she never bestowed upon Leonard himself. When Leonard confronts Beverly, he is touched when she says that of all of her children's spouses, Penny is the one by whom she is most impressed and that, for this, she is indeed proud of him. Meanwhile, Raj helps Bernadette turn baby girl clothes into boy ones.
In scenes set at Howard's home, he interacts with his rarely-seen mother (voiced by Carol Ann Susi until her death) by shouting from room to room in the house. She similarly interacts with other characters in this manner. She reflects the Jewish mother stereotype in some ways, such as being overly controlling of Howard's adult life and sometimes trying to make him feel guilty about causing her trouble. She is dependent on Howard, as she requires him to help her with her wig and makeup in the morning. Howard, in turn, is attached to his mother to the point where she still cuts his meat for him, takes him to the dentist, does his laundry and "grounds" him when he returns home after briefly moving out. Until Howard's marriage to Bernadette in the fifth-season finale, Howard's former living situation led Leonard's psychiatrist mother to speculate that he may suffer from some type of pathology, and Sheldon to refer to their relationship as Oedipal. In season 8, Howard's mother dies in her sleep while in Florida, which devastates Howard and Stuart, who briefly lived with Mrs. Wolowitz.