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Alan Pergament: I was never more wrong than I was about 'The Big Bang Theory'

BURBANK, Calif. – I am an idiot.

At least I was when it came to assessing the geniuses in “The Big Bang Theory,” the top-rated CBS comedy that will be signing off in May as the longest-running multicamera show in television history with 279 episodes over a 12-year run.

I made a confession to friends in the critical fraternity during the semiannual meetings in Los Angeles in February. I believed I was the only TV critic who hated the pilot before its premiere on Sept. 24, 2007.

Here are some of the now embarrassing things – slightly edited – I wrote in my review.

“The sophomoric CBS comedy, 'The Big Bang Theory,' about two brilliant nerds whose lives changes after an unattainable beautiful neighbor moves next door, insults viewers' intelligence but has some cheap laughs.

“From writer-producer Chuck Lorre (‘Two and a Half Men’), it is about super-bright friends who are experts on physics but don't have terrific chemistry with the opposite sex or everyday life. Johnny Galecki (‘Roseanne’) and Jim Parsons are the competitive, brainy friends and Kaley Cuoco (‘8 Simple Rules’) is the 'sexy new neighbor.'

A shot on the set of "The Big Bang Theory" shows that someone likes Tim Hortons coffee. (Alan Pergament/Buffalo News)

“You'll like it if you long for the days of ‘Three's Company,’ when the double entendres flew and you didn't have to use your brain. And you're a fan of Parsons' dryly comic delivery.

“You'll hate it if you wish network TV would leave the masturbation jokes to pay-cable and that mankind had advanced beyond this.”

My prediction: “It would be very dumb to discount a show that relies too much on sex jokes. This series manages to be smart (its brainy characters, Sheldon and Leonard, are named after legendary sitcom producer Sheldon Leonard) and lame at the same time, just like the male leads. But it deserves to flop big time.”

I've been wrong before about series in my decades as a critic. But never this wrong.

In my defense, it is hard to predict the TV future of a series after seeing only one episode, and I did write it would be very dumb to discount its chances to succeed.

My confession in Los Angeles in February led to a surprising reaction from critics. I learned I was not alone. A few other critics told me they didn’t like the pilot, either, and reminded me the first pilot had to be re-shot because CBS or Warner Brothers apparently didn’t love the first one, either.

But clearly, I was in the minority in Western New York.

“Big Bang” has been the No. 1 comedy here for years. During the recently concluded February sweeps, it was one of only two programs to hit a double-digit live rating. The other, “Young Sheldon,” is a “Big Bang” spinoff about Parsons’ character.

So needless to say, I felt undeserving and a little like a fraud when I attended the Feb. 7 run-through here of the episode, “The Conference Valuation,” that aired Thursday on WIVB-TV (Channel 4).

Buffalo News TV critic Alan Pergament on one of the most famous couches in television history.

In the episode, Penny (Cuoco) and Bernadette (Melissa Rauch) attended a pharmaceutical sales convention in San Diego, leaving Bernadette's husband Wolowitz (Simon Helberg) in charge of their two kids. In a subplot, Sheldon (Parsons) found a book on experimenting on kids, which led to experiments on Wolowitz's children and made Leonard (Galicki) realize his mother had experimented on him.

The cast moved around several sets during the run-through as the about 75-100 or so working on the stage laughed loudly at the reading by the actors.

The critics, who followed along in audience seats with scripts on their laps, didn’t understand what all the laughter was about. I didn’t hear much, if any, laughter from any of us not paid to laugh. I thought that might have been because most of us weren’t able to see what was going on because the scenes were shot out of our view.

But the episode wasn't any funnier watching it Thursday night, which made me think I was right 12 years ago after all.

Only kidding.

America has spoken. The show became such a success that Warner Brothers chose this February day in front of the nation’s TV critics to give “The Big Bang Theory” the rare honor of dedicating the stage where it is filmed in honor of the program. “Big Bang” joined “Friends,” “ER,” “Two and a Half Men” and “Ellen” as the only five shows in the lot’s 95-year history to get the honor.

Judging by Western New York’s ratings, thousands of people would have died to have witnessed the ceremony and been able to walk around the stage after it concluded to talk to Lorre and the actors. The only other Western New Yorker sort-of-there was Christine Baranski, who has a recurring role in the series as Leonard’s mother and was briefly in the episode. I heard Baranski’s voice but didn’t see her. She apparently was in the run-through via Skype. On Thursday, she talked to Leonard in her only scene via FaceTime.

To me, being at the run-through was just a reminder of how wrong I had been a dozen years ago.

I pretended to be a fan for the day. I walked around the set and noticed there was a package of Tim Hortons coffee. I even had my picture taken as I sat on the show’s famous couch.

I can’t say I was as nostalgic as I was decades earlier when I had my picture taken at the bar on the set of “Cheers,” a series I championed.

At one point, I was one of four or five critics who stood in front of Lorre on the stage as he said it was going to be very difficult to say goodbye and tried to explain why the series was embraced by so many.

Lorre’s theory wasn’t any different than the reason most entertainment programs succeed.

This pillow memorializes a recurring line uttered by the character of Sheldon Cooper on "The Big Bang Theory." (Alan Pergament/Buffalo News)

“People caring for each other in different ways and maybe not being so good at it,” said Lorre. “I think affection underlies all these relationships, even the adversarial ones where there is an affection that hopefully causes the audience to care.

“They are not blood relatives, but they behave like a family. They eat together, they work together, they make each other miserable like a family can do but they are there for each other when it is difficult. I think that’s aspirational. I think that is what we all want.”

That was the perfect ending quote for me so I headed for the exit.

On the way out, I accepted a pillow given to critics – even those who didn’t love the show – as a keepsake. It had Parsons’ face on it and the following words written on it: “You’re in my spot.”

I wasn’t keeping it for me. I was keeping for it for my best friend, who is a big fan of the show and almost weekly tells me how wrong I am about it and explained to me that is one of Sheldon’s favorite expressions.

My friend told me it is the best present he has ever been given and he placed it in a special place in his home.

That means every time I visit him, I will be reminded how idiotic my review of the 2007 premiere turned out to be.


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