The Big Bang Theory
‘The Big Bang Theory’ is a popular comedy show shot in America, evolving over 7 seasons since 2007. The show focuses on a group of highly intelligent friends and their troubles as they go through life. The tag line ‘smart is the new sexy’ changes the view on ‘nerds’ making them the people you wouldn’t mind hanging out with.
There’s a saying that every story can be summed up as ‘a stranger comes to town’, this is also true for the series. The original concept was as simple as two geeky guys suddenly find they have a new sexy neighbor. The main characters being highly intelligent requires the language they use and their actions to reflect this. One episode requires the group to dress up so Sheldon wears a striped suit mimicking the Doppler effect, some members of the audience may understand what this is and actually understand the physics of it and so appeals to their understanding. However for those that don’t understand what is going on Penny acts as the audience’s voice asking what the striped suit represents. The jokes are then fed into the way Sheldon explains the science behind it as though it were common knowledge. This then includes the audience with the scientific side to the show making them feel intelligent for then understanding. The language and tone of the show is family orientated keeping the rating a 12 in the UK, innuendoes are used but in a subtle way as not to be rude. The characters within the show all have different qualities and attract different audiences for that reason, similarly to the content mixing comedy with education. Viewers of television shows tend to have a majority of people with similar attributes to the characters so some may watch to see Penny’s view on the ‘geeks’ she hangs out with finding their antics amusing. Alternatively people may view to follow the ‘geeks’ and see what they get up to out of enjoyment for their activities. The characters are based around stereotypes, which usually have a negative view on the individual, however the show has embraced these qualities and used them to show a different society. Instead of finishing work and heading out to the bar the group of scientists will meet up at a comic book store to spend their time there before playing videogames as their social activity. This would be looked on as a dull way to spend an evening however this is the element where the characters become the alpha males. These activities also tie in with the audience relating to their personal interests, the majority of viewers are aged 18 – 29 making them student age or recently left education. The scientists work at the university and experience similar situations to those found in reality. Cultivation theory suggests that those that watch television programmes for an extended period of time often find themselves coming across situations like those in their favorite show because it has shaped their perception on life. This is not always negative as the show promotes working hard to achieve and so seeing characters you enjoy watching in a similar environment it can often inspire despite the fact its not real. Students are the primary market for video games where comic books may be a little less common. Recently Marvel have released a chain of superhero films brining these characters into the public eye in a popular way, The Big Bang Theory characters discuss the heroes in their comic books but now the general audience can understand more about them as they can relate it to the films making the ‘geeks’ less geeky for liking the characters. This once again refers to the shows tag line ‘Smart is the new sexy’. That being said the scientists are still seen as the nerds that enjoy subjects not associated with being ‘cool’ and the Penny characters is seen to be the pretty, dumb blond. This stereotype of Penny is furthered in an episode when she needs to erect a TV stand and seduces the guys to help her out, as she doesn’t know what she’s doing. To mix up the characters social groups female scientist characters are introduced, the idea that ‘nerds’ struggle to talk to women and find it awkward is then put into play. Raj is a character that suffers from select mutism and physically can’t speak to women. Other issues like social anxiety and autism are also dealt with in the show tastefully adding humor to the situations they face. Other common issues do to with relationships between friends, spouses and parents also arise. There have been a few episodes based around dating, the group test bizarre theories for dating hoping to succeed, but often don’t. This appeals to the audience as they can relate to the situation in some way, research suggests that people imagine what they would do in that situation should it be real responding to the content on screen. Relating back to cultivation theory some may believe that these pick-up lines may work in real life as they did for the characters and so copy what they saw.
The references to films or scientific facts always include jokes on the subject relating it to everyday life; the characters are also immersed in fan culture creating theories about other shows seen on TV. The type of humor used is often taking situations of context using the naivety of the characters. A scene featuring Leonard and Penny after their relationship break shows them arguing as to who will look after Sheldon as though he were a child and them his split up parents. This is unusual and so out of context it works well with the audience.
The set-up of the show appears very much like a theatre production, the main locations are created in a studio set face on to the live audience that watch the show as it’s shot to provide the laughter. ‘Friends’, ‘Rules of Engagement’ and ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’ were all shot this way creating a format for the show. Between scenes an animated atom swirls on the screen, this acts as a scene change in the theatre giving a sketch show quality to the production. The production as a linear narrative however each scene is like a small sketch with several jokes before moving to the next. When watching the show the audience don’t notice but the cast pause between laughter, this continues the idea that each scene is like a small sketch with continuous jokes gradually progressing the story. There is a scene with the laugher edited out, this demonstrates how each line is its own joke or ‘comeback’ phrase, making the scene like a group stand-up comedy (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jKS3MGriZcs). As the camera is always positioned as though it were in a wall or middle of the apartment there is a large depth of field keeping everything in focus so it appears like looking through your own eyes, so your joining the characters not looking in at them.
As the show has developed it has increased is viewer ratings from the pilot episode with around 9 million viewers to an episode from the latest series with 20 million. As the programme has become more popular it has spread throughout the world, people tend to follow what they think is popular. This can be seen with a group of college students, if the popular students all started wearing hats outside when they relax then others will follow suit building to the number of people wearing hats outside, creating a new trend. Spoofs of the show have been made featuring in Family Guy, this mocks the show for using canned laughter but in a similar way to product placement it helps generate viewers for the show. Those that watch Family Guy may see the clip and decide to watch an episode of The Big Bang Theory and enjoy it so continue to watch. The series is distributed in a number of ways to reach its audience. Initially it is released on television and then it can be bought immediately to download to IPods, phones and computers. Being such a short running time users may watch an episode whilst they commute to work so having it stored on a smaller device helps bring in this audience, which otherwise may be to busy to view it. Netflix is one example of a site that allows the user to stream content to their device (tablet, phone, TV or games console). Users like to have instant access to content so waiting for the series to finish and a DVD release would be to late for some viewers, although it does still get released as a DVD box set. The appeal to this is the extra bonus content going behind the scenes, group box sets are also available where you can purchase all the available episodes at a slightly cheaper price. The episodes are shot using several cameras all capturing the footage from different angles. Each episode is shot in front of a live studio audience, as well as recording the laughter they also act as an initial test group. If the jokes don’t connect with the audience there is still a last minute chance to alter it based on the live audiences response. Shooting will have to be completed within a few hours or the live audience will become restless and the effect will be lost, hence using a multi-camera setup to record the action. Like in theatre the cast will rehearse the scenes before hand many times so they will be efficient when on set and complete the entire episode within the allotted time. Occasionally the laughter either goes on to long or cuts off to quickly so a bank of pre-recorded laughter can be used to fit the scene.
Symbols are subtly used in the programme, the begging title sequence features many pictures cut quickly together but slows down slightly to show the illuminati symbol of the all seeing eye. This represents an enlightenment and knowledge, the rest of the frames depict images from different points in history becoming more advanced and then it ends with the group. Some believe that this represents the group of scientists as the most evolved with all knowledge. The t-shirts Sheldon wears have a comic book reflection of emotion, the Flash shirt is mostly red which is a subtle hint at his emotion in the scene, rage or discomfort. The character is uncomfortable with showing feelings, so his clothing is a subtle way to bridge that gap to the audience.
Using a stage set and green screen for the driving scene looking on at the characters in a very square fashion has remained the style of the show even with more advanced funding. This animated, fun style keeps the content very informal, focused on the characters and the comedy. It is a mutli-strand show featuring several stories within the one episode all in a linear format, flashbacks and flash-forwards are not used within the episodes. The way this was tackled was to show the group watching a home video of them to act as a flashback. Sheldon gets drunk and forgets what he got up to so to remind him the others put a film of him on YouTube, this acts as the same reveal shot a flashback would. Each episode in the series has a closed ending except the last. This episode usually opens up the possibilities of more events to take place leaving the season on an open-ended cliffhanger. The intent behind this is to draw people back to the show leaving them guessing and talking about it. Fans have responded to the show by making online games where users can determine which character they are most like and compete by answering science questions to test knowledge. Merchandise can be purchased bearing content from the show, t-shirts, mugs and key rings. This is a subtle way to market the programme having fans walk around with a t-shirt acting like an advert.
The show has evolved and adapts with ever changing trends, one limitation that will remain using a live studio audience is the shooting time and possible locations. That being said the simplicity of the techniques keep the focus on the humorous content bringing another season back to the screens as it has already been commissioned.