BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — CBS’ “Young Sheldon” is technically a prequel to “The Big Bang Theory” — commercial TV’s most successful sitcom of the last decade — but it’s also a brand-new enterprise, structurally, creatively and (above all) tonally.
The series and Jon Favreau-directed pilot — sweetly sentimental with a splash of melancholy — is about a 9-year-old Sheldon Cooper (Iain Armitage) growing up in a nuclear family in the east Texas Bible belt circa 1989. We finally meet Sheldon’s father, George Sr. (Lance Barber) — known to “TBBT” fans as a complicated figure, long dead — and his beloved mother, Mary, played by Zoe Perry. She’s the real-life daughter of Laurie Metcalf, who, of course, plays grow-up Sheldon’s older mom in “TBBT.”
But what we won’t see is a series that necessarily strip-mines the DNA of “TBBT,” yielding another laugh-track sitcom with the predictable laugh-track beats. Showrunners Chuck Lorre and Steve Molaro — the longtime executive producer of “TBBT” — spoke to TV critics at their summer press tour here Tuesday, promising something entirely different.
For Bethpage native Lorre, this is his first attempt over a long career at so-called “single camera” comedy, absent a studio audience or the rest of the dressing that goes into the typical sitcom salad. “It’s more intimate,” he said, “and obviously the pacing is very different. The actors aren’t having to hold for laughs. They’re not playing to the proscenium [but] working with one another [which] changes the tone and pitch and pacing.
“We knew going in that we were going to be working with a cast of young children, and it seemed like the more appropriate way for them to do the best work was in a closed setting where they had the time to develop these characters.”
In fact, Lorre seemed to concede that “Young Sheldon” will have more in common with “The Wonder Years,” the 1988-93 ABC classic, than “TBBT.” “We absolutely discussed ‘Wonder Years’ when we were writing. And I never worked with a narration before, and narration changes the way you write. And so we looked for inspiration to shows that used it beautifully. Nobody did it better than “Wonder Years.”
But with “Sheldon,” “We have an opportunity to look at Sheldon as an adult and think about the origins of how he came to be,” said Molaro. “He doesn’t even like comic books yet [in the pilot]. He likes to go to church with his mom even though he doesn’t share her views. So there’s a bit of a joy of discovery about Sheldon at nine.”
The familiar Sheldon — the adult one played by an Emmy winner and who happens to be TV’s most beloved nudnik — was also at the press tour Tuesday. Jim Parsons will have an off-screen role as narrator, recalling events from his long-ago childhood.
“I have to tell you,” he said, “that it was a very moving experience to me to see something that I’ve put in a decade of my life towards.”
CBS EXEC TALKS ‘FIVE-0’ CBS recently named a new president in charge of entertainment — Kelly Kahl, former scheduling chief, becoming the third in a little over a year (his immediate predecessor, Glenn Geller, departed over health issues). Tuesday he met the press, and ran into some crossfire. too. The network recently failed to come to terms with “Hawaii Five-O” stars Daniel Dae Kim and Grace Park, who left the hit series under a cloud when they said they had been underpaid relative to the rest of the lead cast members. Moreover, CBS has not launched a prime-time series with a female lead character in several seasons.
Of the Kim/Grace departure, he said, “I’m not gonna talk specifics of deals or negotiations. We love those actors and did not want to lose them and made very strong attempts to keep them. We offered them a lot of money to stick around and wanted them to. Any network that has a successful, long-running show has turnover and we tried our darnedest to keep them.”
A couple of writers here also rapped the network on its long-stated promise to boost diversity on its prime-time slate: “There is change happening on CBS . . . We are absolutely moving in the right direction. We are making progress,” Kahl said.
MOYNIHAN’S NEW SHOW Bobby Moynihan — the former longtime cast member of “Saturday Night Live” — is now starring in CBS fall freshman series “Me, Myself and I,” which looks at a guy at three stages of his life. Needless to say, he had plenty to say about “SNL”:
Some outtakes: “I would have stayed at ‘SNL’ forever and ever and ever” (he wrapped his ninth and final season in May) but I know that that’s not a reality. My life was changing outside of the show anyway. The day you get ‘SNL,’ you start worrying about your exit from ‘SNL. [After] 13 years of trying to get [there] then the day you get it, it’s like, ‘Oh, no . . . This was my life’s dream. What am I going to do after this?’”
Of last year’s Emmy-nominated, must-see season, Moynihan had this to say: “I felt like I was on one show for eight years and another show for one year. It was a completely different machine last year.
“I still can’t believe I was in the audience for [Sean] Spicer when Melissa [McCarthy] did him — and got to watch her do that podium and almost get crushed by it. Yeah, it was a completely different ballgame last year, easily one of my hardest years, and also, weirdly, maybe deep down, one of my favorites.”
A NEW ‘S.W.A.T.’ “S.W.A.T.” — the CBS reboot of the mid-’70s series — will not be your typical prime-time cop drama, according to showrunners Shawn Ryan (“The Shield”) and Aaron Rahsaan Thomas (“CSI: NY.”) Ryan was asked — or more specifically challenged — by a writer over whether a CBS prime-time cop drama could in fact intelligently address something as fraught, complicated or tragic as the shooting of unarmed black men. (“S.W.A.T.” will star “Criminal Minds” ex-star Shemar Moore as a member of a S.W.A.T. team and who lives in a predominantly black south L.A. neighborhood.) “My biggest concern,” said Ryan, “is that people will assume this is a dumb action show . . . We will have some elements that are very familiar to a CBS audience, but to us what’s satisfying is doing the elements that aren’t so familiar to that CBS audience. I give viewers a lot of credit. They recognize the truth, appreciate the truth, and can embrace the truth when it’s shown to them, and that becomes a challenge to us, which is to represent the truth as best we can.”
He added, “The characters on the show are heroes, and I think you can be pro-police, and also be pro-truth.”