Tag Archives: Chuck Lorre

Big Bang Theory Theory (you should have one)

6486b283fb6900b4f3bea3d15906069bThe Big Bang Theory represents one of  the big puzzles for the student of popular culture.  It brings in 23 million viewers at a time when most shows would be happy to have half that number.

Big puzzles are important.  They represent anomalies so large and powerful that everyone is forced to pay attention.  In this superbly fragmented intellectual moment, they give us a problem in common.  Everyone should have a The Big Bang Theory (TBBT) theory (TBBTT).  

TBBTT can serve as a sorting device.  Searching for a question to ask a grad school candidate?  This is perfect.  “Tell me  why The Big Bang Theory is a success.” Either you have a good, interesting, original, powerful and nuanced answer.  Or you don’t.

In a recent Entertainment Weekly, Amanda Dobbins canvassed a number of experts to construct an answer to the The Big Bang Theory puzzle.  She captures several explanations.

1.  Casting: great, veteran actors (Jim Parsons as Sheldon Cooper)
2.  Prized Time Slot: Thursday night
3.  CBS Factor:  Les Moonves is a genius
4.  Demographic reach of the show: loved by young and old
5.  Catchphrase: “Bazinga” allows TBBT to live outside the show
6.  Setting: the “French farce” advantages of the apartment house
7.  Setting: extraordinary efficacy of that couch as a comic platform
8.  Multi-camera format: and the intimacy it makes possible
9.  Pacing: Goldilocks’ perfection: not too brisk, not too slow
(this is a partial list)

I would have liked to have seen more on Chuck Lorre.  There can’t be any question that he’s a comic genius.  His gifts were on full display in Two and a Half Men but that show was loathed by some for the unapologetic low-brow, frat-boy, bro-ness of its humor.

And it’s almost as if Lorre was saying, “What, you think my humor depends on pandering to the lowest common denominator of male humor?  I can make anyone funny, even egg-head, anti-bros.  Just watch me.”  The Big Bang Theory may have been his “proof of genius” exercise.  Mission accomplished.

And I wanted more on the Sheldon Cooper character.  He is a deeply obnoxious human being.  And Dobbins notes how effective “monsters” can be for comedic purposes.  I wonder if the Parsons character doesn’t have Archie Bunker range.  We laugh at him.  We laugh with him.  We laugh at him and with him.

This would give the character his demographic breadth.   But it would also allow him to go to the heart of some of the issues, some of the contradictions, of our moment, and make them active, thinkable, graspable…not because Parson/Cooper resolves them as contradictions but because he lives them as contradictions…or we live them as viewers.  This is a moment when we have seen the cultural center of gravity move from heroic males to brainy ones, from creatures of mastery to creatures who are effective and influential in spite of (and some times because of) their social disabilities and eccentricities.  Sheldon Cooper may speak to some of the puzzles in our midst.

Finally, for me, and for all its virtues, the Dobbins’ treatment helps heighten the mystery.  All these factors seem right, but they don’t explain the success of this show.  Let’s be clear.  TBBT is a semiotic, political, cultural, entertainment miracle.  Mass media in the twilight of mass media.  A big show with extraordinary reach in an era where virtually every other show is smaller and more narrow in its appeal.  TBBT has bucked every trend, defied every tendency.  Explain this and other mysteries are perhaps revealed!

What is your TBBTT?


Find Dobbins’ essay here.

Harnessing the Innovation Paradox

Steve Crandall and I took the train to Rochester last week.  NBC was so excited by the idea of a physicist and an anthropologist investigating the universe by train, they optioned the concept without ado.  They kept using phrases like "high concept" and "Lorre-esque" but I don’t think we said one funny thing the entire trip.  I guess that’s what writers are for.

Steve and I were off to Rochester to join Pip Coburn and Dave Bujnowski for a brain storm. As Steve and I made our way from Penn Station northward, the topics of innovation and idea generation were very much on our minds.  (Yes, and come to think of it, our preoccupation may also have had something to do with the fact that we were travelling on rolling stock that hasn’t been updated for several decades in an industry that continues to use the term "rolling stock.")  

Steve had interesting things to say about the role of serendipity at Bell Labs, a place he worked for some 20 years.  People applied themselves to Lab problems around the clock, but sometimes, and strangely, it was when they went to lunch that some of the best progress was made.  

The creative world is familiar with this paradox.  For some reason, it is when we are free to stop thinking about the problem that we sometimes manage our best work on the problem. And it is especially when we are free to think about something unrelated to our problem that our problem stops being a problem.  

This is another way of saying that we are terrible at problem solving.  We are those little wind up toys spinning our wheels and giving off that horrible, metallic, wind-down sound.  

What does lunch do?  It gives the world a chance to supply it’s "metaphoric materials." Cause that’s what’s happening, isn’t it?  We are working on a problem to do with logistical systems and someone starts talking about the organization of ganglia in the brain and we go, "But of course.  That will do, nicely.  Thank you."

I blame the Dewey Decimal system.  (And frankly it’s done so much harm in the world, I am pretty sure no one is going to mind me adding one more accusation.)   The DDS clusters like minded things together.  And that’s what we always do when trying to solve a problem.  We cluster the data, theories, methods, colleagues we think we’ll need when in fact we should be invited serendipity into our lives to give us the chance for those metaphoric materials.

This leaves us with a problem.  To harness the innovation paradox, we need ideas we can’t possibly guess we need.  We must canvass concepts that are entirely unrelated to our present problem set.  We need to find away to get away from the problem the hand and to give our deeper powers of pattern recognition a chance to work.  

In sum, we have to go somewhere, and we have no clue where.  We have to engage new ideas, but we have no clue which.

Every lunch table, especially when staffed with smart, interesting people, can serve to help us harness the Innovation paradox.  But surely, we can do a little better than this.  Surely, there is some way of narrowing the range of our stimuli in order to increase the chances of "contact."  

Your thoughts, please.

Chuck Lorre gets a dial tone

Chuck Lorre is featured in the new issue of The Hollywood Reporter.

He is responsible for three current shows on TV: Two and a Half Men, The Big Bang Theory and Mike and Molly.

In a world where making one TV show is heroically difficult, Lorre is making three.

THR gives us a glimpse of the personal costs of this undertaking, but for some reason it leaves unexamined the Vanity cards which which Lorre ends his shows.  To the right is his first Vanity Card, created when the world was still using videotape.

These Vanity cards are personal messages from Lorre, placed on a frame or two of film.  They are visible if and only if we freeze the frame and take a look.

I happen to love Lorre’s television, but I can’t help feeling that these vanity cards are at least as interesting as his other contributions to contemporary culture.

Have we ever seen someone smart enough to see the opportunity, daring enough to use it, and candid enough to use it, um, really candidly?

Lorre is effectively speaking to us from deep inside a life, an enterprise and industry moving at speed.  Lorre is our Pepys, reporting in real time.  He is speaking with astounding candor. In 100 years, this is going to make a fantastic resource.  Even in the present day, it is a window on a world.

Not infrequently it has a certain "postcard from the edge" quality.  Just how much of this, you wonder, can one man take.  I have long believed that a culture that specializes in creating and encouraging swift selves (selves, that is to say, that must move a pace to get the job done) ought to have worked out a way to reel them in at the appropriate moment.  These careers are really like runaway cars.  It is impossible to disembark with grace or skill.  The best you can hope for is that you will roll on impact and survive for future stunts.  (But that’s just me being a worry wart.  Chuck Lorre is a genius and one of the advantages of being this smart is that you can use it to "find your way down.")

In the meantime, I recommend you have a look at these astonishing postcards from deep inside the industry (and our culture).  


Hibberd, James.  2010.  Why This Man Has 40,000,000 viewers.  Hollywood Reporter. December 01.

Lorre, Chuck.  n.d.  Vanity Card archive.  http://www.chucklorre.com/index.php?p=1

McCracken, Grant.  2007.  The Charlie and Barney Show: Birth of a New American Male. This Blog.  January 3. http://cultureby.com/2007/01/the_charlie_and.html.

McCracken, Grant.  2008.  Transformations: Identity construction in a contemporary culture. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.  http://www.amazon.com/Transformations-Identity-Construction-Contemporary-Culture/dp/0253219574/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1290563037&sr=8-1