The Big Bang Theory: show returns for 10th season, but is it time it went bust?

Americas most popular sitcom returns on Monday night and there are signs it could mark the swan song of a show that has been described as the new Friends

The worlds biggest television show returns to US screens tonight, but a question mark hangs over its future. There are signs that this a landmark 10th season could mark the swan song of the sitcom that has been described many times over the past five years as the new Friends.

CBSs tale of the lives and loves of misfit scientists at the California Institute of Technology is the last season under the current commission deal. Its cast and crew have put out a variety of mixed messages about whether or not the show will make it to season 11. Showrunner Steve Malero said last year that maybe season 10 is the ending point, but Jim Parsons, who plays Sheldon, said: If the opportunity to go past season 10 came up, Id be very hard-pressed to tell you who might say no if anybody would.

The shows three stars Johnny Galecki (Leonard), Kaley Cuoco (Penny) and Parsons are among the highest paid in TV, earning $1m per episode. (This is said to have caused some dissent in the cast Mayim Bialik (Amy) and Melissa Rauch (Bernadette) struggle along on $100,000 per installment). However, the show is a big earner for CBS its ninth season was the highest-rated non-sports broadcast of the year, averaging 20 million viewers per episode meaning that its cast can extract a high fee. However, even the biggest TV networks have their limit.

The Big Bang Theory began in 2007, fresh from the pen of sitcom sultan Chuck Lorre, creator of Two and a Half Men and Cybill. The premise odd couple Leonard and Sheldon have brilliant minds but cant talk to girls had bite, but the show didnt seem like a smash. But then a few things happened. First of all, Parsons portrayal of genius/nightmare Sheldon became one of the most beloved comedy characters in recent memory. Parsons brings an awkward, irresistible physical and facial panache to laser-guided lines of the obnoxious variety we all sometimes wish we could get away with saying out loud.

The shows timing was also spot-on. Just as in the show, in real-life geeks inherited the Earth, meaning the multitude of science-fiction gags, references and cameos felt completely relatable. Most crucially, the show hit its stride upon expanding the female cast, with the introduction of Bialik and Rauch. With the guys forced out of their closed-off emotional spaces, it became a truly human show, full of heart alongside the Stephen Hawking cameos and Marvel in-jokes.

And as we enter season 10 with Leonard and Pennys unofficial second wedding tonight, all of that hangs in the balance. Cuoco did little to assuage fan concerns that we could be nearing the Big Crunch on a recent Jimmy Kimmel appearance, saying that 10 years was probably enough: Its a lot of hair, its a lot of denim sizes.

Would ending the show at this point be such a disaster? Ten years has proven to be a benchmark for long-running sitcoms. Cheers and Frasier made it to 11 seasons; Friends to 10. As with The Big Bang Theory, the quality barely dropped. Contract negotiations aside, the shows went out on a high.

In Big Bangs case, the hit-rate hasnt declined at all, and there seems to be plenty left in the tank. Tonights premiere introduces Pennys family for the first time. Sheldons slow realization through Amy that he might be human after all is still hugely engaging. Howard and Bernadette face parenthood. This is not a show that feels spent.

Yet the buzzards still circle. Speaking recently, Molaro didnt exactly rule out the possibility of the show continuing without some or all of its main cast. Repopulating hit shows has worked to extents in the past, but a Big Bang Theory without Sheldon and his bazingas and sympathetic warm beverages must surely be unthinkable.

Perhaps the most realistic option is what Happy Days did with Mork and Mindy, or Cheers with Frasier (lets not mention<a href=”” data-link-name=”in” body link” class=”u-underline”> Joey at this difficult time). Spinning off some smaller (crucially for the network, cheaper) characters into different scenarios can be the perfect salvage plan in this situation. And to square the circle of geekness, Marvel havent exactly done too badly out of the shared universe.

There is no shortage of options. Raj returning to India as the fish-out-of-water after so long in California? Howard and Bernadette raising a tribe of kids in an adorable Brady Bunch riff? Stuart from the comic book store hitting the Hollywood big time? Id watch any of those. Id also watch anything anything that featured Bialiks sublime Amy Farrah Fowler. Personally Ive always liked to imagine that Amy is some distant relative of Dr Lilith Sternin-Crane from Cheers. Now theres a set-up I could get behind. Are you reading this, CBS?

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