$1.83 Billion. That’s how much ad money The Big Bang Theory generates each year. Oh, we should also mention BBT made another $1 billion in syndication on TBS. The Big Bang Theory is still television’s number one comedy for the key demographic of 18-49. However, CBS shouldn’t pop any champagne, this year. For 2017, Big Bang posted an all-time low ratings average of 14.4 million viewers in Live+same day per episode. Is BBT’s ratings slump because the series is likely concluding next season, or is something rotten in the state of Denmark?
2017 is a very different time than when the series began in 2007, so what’s changed since then? Despite its popularity, Big Bang Theory was never a critically acclaimed series so season 11’s mediocre reviews aren’t the culprit. As far as new viewers, Big Bang is such a love/hate show that one must assume the same people are tuning in, so a ratings bump wasn’t expected. So why did 784,000 fewer people watch season 11? Clearly there is something going on that is making viewers jump ship from the once most successful TV show on right now.
As devoted long-term sitcom junkies, we must investigate the many reasons for BBT’s concerning ratings report. If the show runners want to bring the numbers up for the (likely) final season next year, then here’s what should concern them. Here are 15 reasons why people are abandoning The Big Bang Theory, and why ratings are at an all-time low.
15. There Are Way Better Shows Coming Out
Every fall there are enough new comedies to make our heads spin, and the good sitcoms are few and far between; however, this fall blessed us with more hit shows than usual. Hugely successful new series like The Mick (starring Kaitlin Olson of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) and The Good Doctor (David Shore’s new bona fide hit) are being renewed already. A show more damaging to Big Bang Theory’s audience is The Orville, created by Family Guy’s Seth MacFarlane – it airs on Thursdays, BBT’s prime time slot. Even worse, Gotham was moved to Thursday to give The Orville a boost, so there’s no doubt Fox wants a crack at Thursday prime time. It’s hard to imagine a new show that could take down the king that is Big Bang, but it could happen. The real question is, who or what will finally dethrone Chuck Lorre?
14. Mayim Bialik Made Some Offensive Comments About Harvey Weinstein
It’s likely there is not a single series unaffected by the #metoo movement. As viewers, we can only hope that our favorite actors don’t turn out to be bozos. As an actress, well… things aren’t easy. People now have a new criterion to judge you on: how do you respond to this tragic unveiling of creeps? Unfortunately, a lot of people did not appreciate Mayim Bialek’s response in the New York Times, claiming the BBT actress was victim blaming. Bialek’s October op-ed reads familiar to many articles pointing out that Hollywood “profits on the exploitation of women,” but the article takes a nasty turn when Harvey Weinstein is discussed.
At one point, Bialik writes, “Nothing, absolutely nothing, excuses men for assaulting or abusing women. But we can’t be naive about the culture we live in.” The Big Bang actress goes on to suggest that if you try to land roles by playing into the “pretty actress”stereotype, you’re more likely to be assaulted. Mayim quickly apologized on Twitter, but the damage was done. Not only did Bialik use the #meroo movement as a springboard to discuss an unrelated issue, she sparked this controversy in the middle of Big Bang Theory’s eleventh season. Bialik certainly didn’t want to offend anybody, but you’d think a doctor (yep, she’s an actual doctor) would be smart enough to know sitcom fans don’t tune in because their favorite character is opinionated offscreen.
13. It Is No Longer Relevant To Our Time
The future is already here, and interests previously considered nerdy, e.g., technology, comic books, and space travel, are no longer niche. The Big Bang Theory’s characters depend on jokes referencing their geeky personas. The problem isn’t that the characters are becoming less nerdy, it’s that their viewers are becoming nerdier. In 2017, scientists aren’t dorks, scientists are heroes, and talks about space and rockets is no longer limited to sci-fi stories. Today, understanding Bitcoin lands you a job on Wall Street and coding the next big app lands you a supermodel girlfriend (looking at you, Even Spiegel). In other words, BBT’s characters seem less like quirky geeks, and more like average people who made good career choices. Bob Dylan said, “The times, they are a changin’,” and The Big Bang Theory is only gathering moss.
12. Young Sheldon Is Even Better Than Big Bang Ever Was
You know what they say. “If it ain’t broke, make another one.” Since Big Bang Theory isn’t broken, CBS made a fresh, new prequel to accompany BBT on Thursdays. Young Sheldon (starring Iain Armitage of Big Little Lies) is about the childhood of Big Bang’s leading character, Sheldon (played by Jim Parsons on BBT). With the Chuck Lorre and Steven Molaro pedigree, along with the rest of CBS’ Thursday programming as a platform, Young Sheldon was a hit before it even aired. Maybe Young Sheldon could attract new viewers to give Big Bang a bump, but it’s still competition for its predecessor. Just because Young Sheldon is a prequel, doesn’t mean BBT won’t lose viewers to it. In fact, one could argue that Young Sheldon is the better, more original show, and you certainly won’t miss anything if you didn’t first watch Big Bang Theory. So there’s no contingency, and Thursday night is already loaded with shows – people can’t watch them all.
11. The Show Is Just Getting Old
The Big Bang Theory is signed for twelve seasons, currently. That makes BBT one of the longest running series in television history – only twenty show have surpassed a twelfth season. We should also note that the only modern sitcom to make it twelve seasons was Two and a Half Men, which would probably still be on if it wasn’t for Charlie Sheen‘s craziness. So, how long can BBT go on before the subject matter, character dynamics, and cultural reference become too stale to attract viewers?
This fall’s ratings drop for Big Bang could be the beginning of the end if nothing changes. At this point, viewers are so familiar with the pattern of the show that they’re no longer surprised with plot twists and the jokes don’t quite hit the same way. In other words, audience expectations became vanilla.
10. The Characters Are Getting Too Old
Close your eyes and imagine the pitch for The Big Bang Theory. It likely went a little like, “A hot, twenty-something-year-old girl moves in with two socially awkward, twenty-something-year-old physicists.” Shows with similar pitches about young, twenty-somethings and thirty-somethings are green-lit by the truck-load. Now, today, Big Bang is in its eleventh year. Can you imagine the same pitch with forty-year-olds instead of twenty-year-olds? Most of the main cast is at least forty and as they get older, their key demo stays the same age. As a result, keeping their current audience is so much easier than attracting new, younger viewers.
Another common issue with Big Bang’s aging cast is that the show’s lighthearted tone does not leave much room for character growth – the stakes are too low for it. Eventually, it appears odd that these people get older but still repeat the same mistakes. When characters don’t learn, they begin to appear flawed and start to lack empathy, making this a common issue with long-running sitcoms that begin with a young cast.
9. There Are Money Issues
Nothing quite gets the blood boiling on set like a good old-fashioned money discrepancy. Back in the day when actors on TV shows were friends in real life, this never happened… For instance, when the cast of Friends wanted a raise, they all banded together to make sure they each earned $1 million per episode. The cast of Big Bang Theory didn’t feel the same camaraderie because they negotiated for individual contracts. Jim Parsons, Kaley Cuoco, and Johnny Galecki earned $1 million per episode by 2014. The next year, Simon Helberg and Kunal Nayyar received raises to almost $1 million per episode.
Around the same time, Mayim Bialik publicly admitted that the entire cast of BBT is overpaid, which may have rocked the boat on set. This thoroughly frustrated Kaley Cuoco, and she publicly blamed Bialik’s outburst on jealousy. Most recently, both Mayim Bialik and Melissa Rauch received pay raises for the latest seasons. What has “publicity stunt” written all over it is that the rest of the cast apparently took voluntary pay cuts to free up the budget of Bialik and Rauch’s raises. Shouldn’t a show that makes bajillions be able to afford a couple of raises for irreplaceable cast members?
8. Nerds Don’t Actually Watch The Show
The jury is out, and the nerd community does not watch this show. That fact that a show about geeks is not watched by geeks seems paradoxical, but, when you look closer at Big Bang Theory, it’s easy to see why. Firstly, BBT wasn’t made to be a hit at comic-con, it was created to be a hit with the average television viewer. Big Bang wants ratings, not an underground fan culture. Next, BBT isn’t laughing “with” nerds, it’s laughing “at” them – it’s a bully. After all, the main premise depends on the stereotype that geeky boys can’t communicate with pretty girls. Lastly, this show just plain isn’t cool. A stereotype you should hear more often is that nerds have taste. BBT plays to the lowest common denominator of comedy fans and picks the low-hanging fruit when it comes to geeky references, and, the nerd community has little patience for mediocrity.
7. Superhero Shows Are Stealing Big Bang’s Audience
A drop in ratings for The Big Bang Theory suggests there’s a loss of interest in the entire sitcom genre. Popular new dramas like This is Us (with Mandy Moore) and The Brave (with Anne Heche) represent quality competition for BBT, but it’s the new superhero shows that really syphon the key demo. Superhero show are increasingly popular, so networks are filling their rosters with them. Just look at last fall’s schedule: Inhumans (with Anson Mount), The Gifted (with Stephen Moyer), and Krypton (with Cameron Cuffe), and those are only the new shows. Let’s not forget the returns of Legion (with Aubrey Plaza), Lucifer (with Tom Ellis), and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (with Clark Gregg). We’re not even gonna mention Netflix’s slate of comic book hits. The success of superhero shows makes sense because their subject matter and large budgets provide rewarding stories with a full spectrum of action, humor and limitless fun for the whole family. I mean, who cares about Sheldon and Amy, when you could watch Jon Bernthal kick butt as The Punisher?
6. Old Friends
If competing with new hit shows wasn’t enough, Big Bang Theory had to compete with some familiar faces this past Fall. For example, a huge hit this year was the return of Will and Grace, one of the most hysterical sitcoms in history. The return of Will and Grace did more than satisfy fans of “Just Jack!” It represented a sitcom done right and potentially reminded BBT viewers of what they were missing.
Another familiar television star we watched this past fall was the hilarious Kevin James on Kevin Can Wait. One might say, “But Kevin Can Wait is in its second season, so why didn’t it affect BBT’s ratings last year?” Well, this past fall saw the return of Leah Remini. Remini was James’ original TV wife we all remember from The King of Queens and their chemistry is so fantastic that after a quest appearance on Kevin Can Wait, they killed off poor Erinn Hayes’ character and replaced her with Remini. Both shows are comedy juggernauts and they’re gunning for BBT’s key demo as better shows with more star power.
5. It Is Redundant And Repetitive
At the end of season 10, Sheldon proposed to Amy in a dashing sequence of events. The end. That’s right, the seasons ended without Amy’s answer to Sheldon’s proposal… another cliffhanger in a series accused of using too many already. Not only was this one of many cliffhanger endings, it was one of the laziest. “Does she say yes or no?” is a stale tactic, given that every proposal in the history of proposals naturally includes the same suspense. Big Bang Theory took advantage of the audience by ending on such a note, and cliffhangers haven’t brought back audiences since J.R. got shot on Dallas.
Regardless of the season’s anticlimactic ending, season 10 saw a lot of the same stuff when it came to plot points. Howard had women troubles, Raj acted weird, and Leonard married Penny, again. It’s quite a juxtaposition because the same character qualities that make BBT so successful are the same dynamics boring the audiences, as of late. You could blame the writer and show runners, but it’s more likely the hit comedy ran its course. Those behind BBT shouldn’t feel ashamed, as the same classic shows that Big Bang echoes were rocky after ten seasons, as well, such as Friends, Cheers, and Murphy Brown.
4. It Depends On Old School Sitcom Tactics, Like Laugh Tracks
Single-camera style shows like Arrested Development, and mocumentary-style shows like The Office paved the way to new techniques for situation comedies. Instead of stage sets, shows move through a more realistic physical world just like most television dramas and movies. A new standard of quality is now the norm, and more new shows embrace this theatrical technique. Big Bang Theory is primitively structured around the classic, three-camera, stage-set format.
More importantly, BBT still depends on a laugh-track. By using the laugh track, Big Bang Theory’s writers can relax knowing that all their jokes don’t need to be funny, and the actors don’t need to worry much about their comedic timing. Basically, two of the hardest skills to develop in creating a sitcom are avoided by using a laugh track – the problem is that audiences in 2017 notice it. Canned laughter doesn’t blend in like it did when Frasier and Seinfeld were airing new episodes, and BBT’s show runners are regularly accused of depending on the laugh track too much. Make your own opinion by watch a scene of The Big Bang Theory without it, which you can find online.
3. The Show Is Following The Same Formula So Many Other Sitcoms Have Used
Sheldon and Amy are the Monica and Chandler of The Big Bang Theory, which make Leonard and Penny the Ross and Rachel. Unfortunately, both couples fall short in comparison to the characters on Friends. The significance of mistakes like this is quickly recognized by diehard sitcom fans and chastised for good reason…
Sitcoms must follow a certain formula. The formulaic style of sitcoms was established over time, naturally, as audiences accepted specific character dynamics over others. Try this. When you hear the term sitcom, where does you mind go? Do you see Kramer bursting into Jerry’s apartment? Maybe you see Uncle Jesse, Niles Crane, or Clair Huxtable? Whatever classic studio set your mind goes to is a representation of a code of familiarity which our entire society share and believes in, together. Based on our automatic familiarity to other sitcom dynamics, we’ll naturally assume that Sheldon and Amy’s engagement is an homage to Friends. So why are shortcoming parallels to Friends a bad thing? If you have to ask that, then you have a lot more to learn about sitcoms.
2. Netflix Is Destroying Network TV
Streaming services like Netflix and Hulu are the scariest thing to happen to network television since HBO; they’re more accessible and cheaper than cable providers. As a result, people are opting out of television services and instead waiting for their show’s release on Netflix. Sure, the fans of BBT still watch the show, but, by not watching the show when it airs, the ratings surely suffer. The most looming issue is the original programming offered by Netflix and Amazon. Shows like Stranger Things and Orange is the New Black attract huge audiences and the quality of original streaming programming is only increasing. In fact, Netflix reportedly spend almost $100 million on their new Will Smith feature, Bright. Access to vast libraries of big-budget programming for the price of a movie ticket is enough to make anyone forget about that silly sitcom they used to watch.
1. The Show Doesn’t Matter In This Political Context
In 2017, the most bragging rights for ratings undoubtedly go to the news networks. CNN’s ratings are at an all-time high, putting them in third place. MSNBC reported a fall ratings bump as they remain in second place. And Fox News annihilates them both, averaging 2.3 million viewers! Regardless of political affiliation, everyone agrees that Donald Trump’s presidency makes for great TV. Prime time talk shows that were once considered boring a couple of years ago are now must-watch television. If you hate Trump, then Rachel Maddow is there to investigate his tax returns. If you love Trump, then Sean Hannity is there to shout, “Fake news!” It’s no surprise that network television is losing out to the news; it’s too hard to compete with high stakes and real conflict today’s world provides.
Moreover, the news is getting increasingly more contentious and difficult to deal with. How could you care about Penny and Leonard’s relationship at a time like this? How could you sit back and laugh while the entire world is tearing itself apart? Some people are just too upset to watch sitcoms during these peculiar times. Though, it may be true these passionate viewers need escapism now, more than ever.
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