When it debuted on Sept. 25, Young Sheldon became fall’s most-watched freshman show. The prequel to The Big Bang Theory, with Iain Armitage playing a 9-year-old version of Jim Parsons’ Sheldon Cooper, drew more than 22.5 million viewers in live-plus-7 numbers and a 5.5 rating in the 18-49 demo.
But then, in what CBS Entertainment president Kelly Kahl admitted was an “unusual” scheduling move, the network opted to delay the second episode for five weeks—until Thursday, following the conclusion of CBS’ Thursday Night Football package.
Assuming the strategy to build word of mouth through five weeks of delayed viewing, including posting the premiere episode on YouTube, pays off (“we hope to come back with an even greater core audience than we left with,” Kahl said), the series, which CBS quickly picked up for a whole season, is one of the most likely new fall shows to be renewed. That means another hit sitcom for co-creator Chuck Lorre, who is also behind The Big Bang Theory, Two and a Half Men, Grace Under Fire, Dharma & Greg and Cybill.
Lorre, joined by fellow Young Sheldon executive producer Steve Molaro, sat down with Adweek to talk about breaking his no-spinoff rule with Young Sheldon, why he hates integrations and which of his TV shows he would consider reviving.
Adweek: What prompted you to consider a prequel?
Chuck Lorre: Jim [Parsons, who also narrates and executive produces Young Sheldon] actually has a nephew in Texas who is brilliant, who is around the same age, 9 or 10 years old, and is an astonishingly intelligent little boy. Jim was really touched by his nephew and was talking about his nephew, and it led to the discussion of whether it was the right time to take a look at dramatizing the backstory of Sheldon.
Had there been previous discussions about turning Big Bang into a franchise?
Lorre: No, I don’t like that stuff. I’m fundamentally opposed to taking something that’s working and cannibalizing it to make something else. If you have a successful show, I think the only thing you should do is cherish it, protect it, nurture it and grow it. But don’t tear it apart to make something else. That was very common a long time ago, and I don’t think it’s really a thing anymore.
Steve Molaro: And as a prequel, it isn’t quite the same situation. It’s an offshoot. You haven’t taken Sheldon off Big Bang.
Did something like Better Call Saul, which is a prequel that has been able to thrive outside the shadow of the beloved series it was spun off from, give you faith that this approach could work?
Lorre: First of all, I love that show. The genius of taking what was essentially a tertiary character on Breaking Bad and building a series around him was unbelievably great. And [star Bob] Odenkirk—big fan. No, I don’t think we ever talked about Saul. When we talked about precedents, we talked about The Wonder Years; we talked about Malcolm in the Middle; we talked about shows we loved.
Molaro: Anytime you’re doing a single-camera show circling around a kid, it’s hard not to think about Wonder Years. I grew up with it.
Lorre: Especially if you’re going to talk about those kinds of shows, you want to talk about the ones that are great, and that was a great show. It holds up.
Molaro: Boy, does it hold up.
Lorre: You can watch it now, and it is timeless.
Did you make Young Sheldon a single-camera show because of your concern about cannibalizing the mothership? Because it feels very different tonally than Big Bang.
Molaro: I think going single cam provided a lot of benefits. It allowed us to see the world from Sheldon’s point of view a little more easily, and it allowed us to not have to take these younger actors and put them in front of a live audience and hope that went well.
Lorre: With a new show every week! That’s asking a lot of an adult, much less a 9-year-old.
Molaro: Who was 8 years old at the time we made the pilot. And it also allowed us tonally to take a step away from Big Bang Theory and not feel like we were trying to chase after it and recreate something.
Because Young Sheldon is a period show, it takes you out of the running for potential integrations, right?
Lorre: We’ve never done any integrations or product placement on any of the shows. The audience watches nine minutes of commercials to watch your show. That’s enough. I think it’s not fair at a certain point to say, “Here’s another commercial inside the show.” You’re riding through nine minutes of advertising to watch the show. That’s the price of admission. There shouldn’t be another price. That’s just my opinion.