The Big Bang Theory will likely go down as one of the all-time classic sitcoms. Like comfort food for the brain, it’s a tried-and-true friends-as-family multi-camera laugh-track-sweetened sitcom (a la Friends or How I Met Your Mother). But it also brought something fresh to the table in its unabashed celebration of geek culture and the hard sciences. When was the last time there was a sitcom — let alone a smash hit one that ran for a staggering 12 seasons on network television — about super-genius physicists who worked in and around the think tank that is Caltech? (The answer: Never.)
What truly made The Big Bang Theory special was its cast, led by Jim Parsons as the wildly idiosyncratic Sheldon Cooper, Johnny Galeckias his long-suffering roommate Leonard Hofstadter, and Kaley Cuoco as their neighbor-turned-BFF-and-wife (respectively), who helped them emerge out of the lab and the comic book shop. Here’s a look at the sometimes salacious and often amusing off-stage antics of the cast of the late, great The Big Bang Theory.
The Big Bang Theory’s super secret BTS romance
Eventually the writers on The Big Bang Theory stopped messing around, and permanently coupled up the neighbors-turned-friends-turned-spouses Leonard (Johnny Galecki) and Penny (Kaley Cuoco). During the early years of the show, Leonard and Penny’s relationship was more complicated than Ross and Rachel’s on Friends. Meanwhile, off the set, things were far more concrete for Galecki and Cuoco.
In 2010, well after their amicable split, Cuoco told CBS Watch! (Via Us Weekly) that she’d dated her TV love interest "for almost two years" in a completely secret relationship. So, what makes that dark? While maintaining privacy within a romance is something many celebs strive for, Cuoco also said that they "couldn’t do anything" and they never went "anywhere together." She also lamented, "Everyone was always asking, and we deny-deny-denied. And I’m like, ‘Why am I denying this person that I love?’"
Galecki later gave CBS Watch! (via Us Weekly) his side of the story. "Kaley’s not just an ex, she’s a part of my life." But then why did they keep things so hush-hush? "I just don’t like to speak about it," Galecki said. "And not because I’m trying to be enigmatic; I just worry that it will conflict with people’s acceptance of Leonard and Penny."
What’s up with Johnny Galecki and his Big Bang Theory exes?
Sara Gilbert first appeared in her recurring role as sardonic experimental physicist Leslie Winkle during the first season of The Big Bang Theory, reuniting her with her Roseanne love interest, Johnny Galecki. Their characters also briefly dated, just as Gilbert and Galecki did in real life, back in their mutual Roseanne days. It was when she and Galecki were an item, however, that Gilbert realized she was attracted to women.
"We started dating, and he would come over and we would, like, make out, and then I would start to get depressed," Gilbert said on The Talk (via Today). Galecki noticed something was up, and Gilbert shared her feelings about the situation, which she described as "kind of a bummer." The two broke up but stayed close friends, and when Gilbert decided to publicly come out as gay in 2010, she asked Galecki for permission to tell the story related here. While it sounds like could have gotten awkward really fast, Galecki was "super sweet about it," according to Gilbert. "He was like, ‘Of course. I love you, and I think it’s really important and I’m so proud of you. If you want, I will be there, and I will hold your hand,’" she said.
Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory didn’t love the connection
The Big Bang Theory is just one of many hit TV shows created at least in part by Chuck Lorre, the man responsible for hits like Two and a Half Men, Grace Under Fire, and Dharma & Greg. And yet despite working as an actor for Hollywood for the better part of the decade before he landed the role of Sheldon Cooper, Jim Parsons had never heard of Lorre.
When Parsons’ agent called to tell him he’d landed an audition for "the new Chuck Lorre pilot," Parsons thought the agent meant the sitcom was created by Chuck Woolery, the host of game shows such as Scrabble and Love Connection, and that didn’t thrill him. "I thought, why are they so excited about it?" Parsons admitted on The Late Show with David Letterman (via The Wrap) in 2014. "We should see what the man has to offer before we’re like, ‘It’s a new Chuck Woolery pilot!’"
These Big Bang series regulars couldn’t launch their side projects
Over the course of its 12 seasons, The Big Bang Theory built up a well-populated universe of friends, coworkers, and various associates of the seven main characters. Two of the most frequently recurring actors: Kevin Sussman as sad-sack comic book store owner Stuart Bloom, and John Ross Bowie as speech-impeded, Sheldon-hating physicist Barry Kripke. In 2011, Sussman and Bowie teamed up for an extracurricular activity: writing for television. After getting on Sony’s radar with a script called Dark Minions, the writing partners sold the studio bought a pilot about the "hip" parents of "an eccentric five-year-old daughter" called The Ever After Part. Fox expressed interest, but ultimately didn’t pick up the show for the 2012-13 season … and passed again after developing the show once more five years later.
Unfortunately, Sussman and Bowie didn’t score with their other pilot pitch. In 2012, CBS ordered scripts for — but never produced — an ensemble comedy created by the duo called The Second Coming of Rob. Somewhat autobiographical (on Bowie’s part), it was about a divorced guy who finds his old crew of college friends and seeks to relive the years he missed out on during his marriage.
Melissa Rauch almost earned The Big Bang Theory a TV-MA rating
In the first episode of The Big Bang Theory‘s seventh season, titled "The Hofstadter Insufficiency," Bernadette (Melissa Rauch) and Amy (Mayim Bialik) attend an out-of-town convention together and share a hotel room. It was while shooting one of those scenes that Rauch caused, in full view of a live studio audience, "a little incident" as she described it on a 2013 episode of Conan. "I’m in a hotel room bed, and in my own personal life whenever I get under covers I’m always really cold, so I just tend to pull the covers up really high and just leave my head out and then I kind of like warm up my hands like I’m a Boy Scout starting a fire with sticks or something," Rauch said.
So Rauch was hanging out under the blanket, and as she shot the scene, "out of habit" she began vigorously rubbing her hands together. It apparently looked like she was doing, well, not that. "After the scene was over our director and producer came over to me and they’re like, ‘We need to see your hands in the next take. It looked like you were having way too much fun with yourself under the covers.’" Whoops. After the taping finished, Rauch said she spoke with a kid in the audience, who asked, "’Did you shoot that scene again with your hands out ’cause it looked weird? ‘Cause my dad said it looked real weird.’"
This Big Bang Theory star’s whirlwind romance … and divorce
In September 2013, Kaley Cuoco disappointed all those who stan in real life for Penny and Leonard when she announced her engagement to pro tennis player Ryan Sweeting just three months after they started dating and a handful of days after they made it red carpet official. On December 31, 2013, the couple made it official, and Cuoco even had the date tattooed on her back. But while tattoos generally last forever, Cuoco’s first marriage did not.
Just under two years later, the actress filed for divorce in September 2015. Per a prenuptial agreement obtained by People, Cuoco forked over $330,000 to her former love, as well as some legal fees, while she kept the house and the beach house. So, what happened to kill their relationship so quickly?
According to an insider who spoke with Page Six, Sweeting’s substance abuse issues took a toll on the marriage. "He had some drinking issues in college and he was doing painkillers as early as 2013 at least," that source said. "Kaley gave him an ultimatum: ‘If you don’t stay sober, then I’m done.’" Sweeting reportedly checked into a rehab center, but upon release, he disappeared for "like four days."
Both of this Big Bang Theory star’s marriages have been … unique
The whole idea of marriage is that it’s supposed to last forever, which means every wedded couple out there has to find what works to ensure that both people are happy and comfortable for the long haul. For lots of people it means maintaining some kind of independence — weekly book clubs or "man caves" for example. Less common among married people: Living in completely different houses and maybe not seeing each other on a regular basis. That’s the track chosen by The Big Bang Theory‘s Kaley Cuoco and her husband, equestrian athlete Karl Cook.
The two married in June 2018, but as of August 2019, they still weren’t live together. "We’re building our dream house and we’re eventually going to be under the same roof forever," Cuoco told E! News (via Fox News). "We have a very unconventional marriage, you know. We have different locations that we’re at a lot. We’re not together every single day." Hey, whatever works.
At least Howard from The Big Bang Theory owns his bad behavior
Simon Helberg branched out from his role as scientist, astronaut, and lascivious wannabe ladies’ man Howard Wolowitz on The Big Bang Theory to films in 2014 with We’ll Never Have Paris, his feature screenwriting and directing debut. Helberg’s wife, Jocelyn Towne, co-directed the movie, a cringe-inducing romantic comedy about a guy (also Helberg) who’s about to propose to his longtime girlfriend (Melanie Lynskey) only to learn that his "hot girl" co-worker (Maggie Grace) is interested in him. He blows up his life, breaks his girlfriend’s heart, and has to fly to Paris to win her back.
Even more awkward: We’ll Never Have Paris is based on a very real hiccup filmmaker-spouses Helberg and Towne suffered on the way to their happily ever after. "It’s a fictionalized view of things but in terms of our relationship, I have to admit that unfortunately there is a lot of truth in it," Helberg told SeenSome. "But our relationship, the break up, the following to Paris, her meeting a violin playing Frenchman and staying in his apartment, the grovelling, proposing in the car, completely sabotaging that … all of that stuff is unfortunately pretty much ripped from our headlines." Yeesh.
Water, water everywhere, and this Big Bang regular had to face it
For some reason, sitcoms think hot tubs are hilarious, especially when a group of heterosexual men are placed into this hot, bubbling water cauldron in their swim trunks together. In the 2016 episode "The Hot Tub Contamination," Howard (Simon Helberg) and Bernadette (Melissa Rauch) go away for a couple of days, prompting Raj (Kunal Nayyar) and Stuart (Kevin Sussman) to sneak over and use their hot tub (and they of course get caught).
Sussman wasn’t particularly keen on shooting this The Big Bang Theory episode. He didn’t like the writing, specifically the sequence that required him to pop out from under the water … because Sussman has a severe water phobia. "I don’t like putting my head underwater ever," Sussman admitted at the 2017 San Diego Comic-Con. He called the experience "horrifying and disgusting," despite the patience and assistance of several crew members. "A bunch of people had to coach me, you know, ‘it’s going to be okay, we have a lot of people around.’" But he eventually got through it, and nailed the shot.
Some Big Bang Theory stars got banged up big time
In 2010, Kaley Cuoco went out for a horse-riding lesson … and it didn’t go very well. The horse threw her off, then tried to jump over her, but landed on her leg. Shockingly, doctors considered partial amputation, but were able to save the whole limb even though at the time of the accident "all the bones were sticking out," Cuoco gruesomely recalled on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. As that left Cuoco unable to walk, The Big Bang Theory writers had to come up with some new plot ideas. They devised a storyline where Penny wants to be a bartender down at the Cheesecake Factory, and practices by making drinks for the gang. That allowed the crew to conceal Cuoco’s metal-rod-scaffolded leg behind furniture.
Two years later after Cuoco’s big break, Mayim Bialik sustained an off-set injury after she was involved in a "horrible" car accident. "It was very bloody and scary but I am ok," Bialik wrote on her blog with just her left hand because she suffered "a very impaired right hand." While she didn’t "tear any artery, nerve, or tendons," she still faced a long recovery. Bialik appeared with a heavily bandaged right hand at a Television Academy event just a week after the incident, and announced that the injury wouldn’t be written into the show. "We’re going to make it work," she told E! Online. "As long as I’m not dancing or walking. We’re good. No handstands."
This Big Bang guest star boldly went off on his own path … and regretted it
Among the many giants of science-fiction who’ve interacted with the sci-fi loving characters of The Big Bang Theory, Wil Wheaton just might be the best. The Star Trek: The Next Generation star (he played young Ensign Wesley Crusher) portrayed a heightened version of himself: a petty, mean, self-centered rival (turned friend) to Sheldon Cooper. At a TNG cast reunion at the 2012 Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo, the real Wheaton owned up to some behavior more fitting of the fictional Wheaton. In 1990, he walked away from Star Trek, returning for the occasional guest spot until the show ended in 1994.
"I was 18 years old and initially I thought it was a really smart business career move. In some ways it was and in more ways it wasn’t. What I wasn’t prepared for was how much I was going to miss the people that are on this stage," Wheaton said. He was so devoted to finding his own way that he avoided his co-stars for years. "After that ended, I just felt really ashamed of myself. … I felt like I couldn’t look them in the eye — I felt like I didn’t have the right to invite them to my wedding." After he crossed paths with his co-stars at fan conventions, he apologized and won back his friends. Aw!
Mayim Bialik caused a big bang with her awkward editorial
As the Harvey Weinstein scandal gripped Hollywood in 2017, the entertainment industry struggled to both understand and move forward. Mayim Bialik of The Big Bang Theory penned an essay for The New York Times about her experiences as a young woman in Hollywood. Most of her comments were thoughtful and empowering, such as: "I followed my mother’s strong example to not put up with anyone calling me ‘baby’ or demanding hugs on set." But then she veered into an area some viewed as problematic. While Bialik wrote that "nothing — absolutely nothing — excuses men for assaulting or abusing women," she said that she avoided nasty situations by making "self-protecting and wise" decisions. Among those notions: "I dress modestly. I don’t act flirtatiously with men as a policy." That caused a social media storm, with many accusing Bialik of blaming sexual misconduct on women who show skin or are friendly to men.
Bialik quickly issued a heartfelt apology on Twitter. "Let me say clearly and explicitly that I am very sorry. What you wear and how you behave does not provide any protection from assault, nor does the way you dress or act in any way make you responsible for being assaulted," she wrote, in part, adding, "I am truly sorry for causing so much pain, and I hope you can all forgive me."