Don’t let his impressive resume fool you. Yes, Chuck Lorre has created or co-created hit sitcoms like Grace Under Fire, Dharma and Greg, Two and a Half Men and The Big Bang Theory during the past two decades, but just because the writer-producer gets a show on the air doesn’t mean he has cracked the code of what makes that series tick. “It takes a while to figure out what you’re doing,” says Lorre. “I didn’t know what Mom was for about two years. I didn’t find out the tone and the nature of the ensemble on Bang for a couple of seasons. We were hunting and pecking in the dark, trying to figure out, what is this? It’s fun, but it’s also unbelievably stressful, because if you guess wrong, the show’s over.”
Lucky for him, and for the outlets that air his shows, Lorre—Adweek’s TV Creator of the Year—almost always guesses right, especially when it came to CBS’ The Big Bang Theory, which ended its 12-season run in May as TV’s most-watched comedy. “I sank into a severe depression when we finished,” he admits. “I was really kind of lost for a couple of months. I had no idea it would hit me that hard. That was 12 years of my life. … And by and large, I loved almost every minute of it.” It’s a good thing Lorre found his way again, because even without Big Bang, his plate is overflowing. He’s currently overseeing four TV shows: three CBS sitcoms (Mom, now in Season 7; Big Bang prequel Young Sheldon, back for Season 3; and freshman entry Bob Hearts Abishola) as well as Netflix’s The Kominsky Method, which returns for Season 2 on Friday.
While more of his peers have shifted to cable and streaming, Lorre continues to embrace broadcast TV. “I still like the format. I still like the effort to cause laughter in a small, ensemble setting. It’s generally two people sitting at a table, talking. There’s not a lot of smoke and mirrors,” Lorre says. “It’s haiku in a way, and if you get it right, it’s thrilling. Getting it right on Big Bang was the greatest thing in my career—finding that ensemble and working with them all these years.”
However, he’s happy to experiment on Netflix with The Kominsky Method, even though he worried initially about the streaming service’s binge approach to presenting a series. Then he realized “it was easier to approach the storytelling as if it were chapters in a book. So when Kominsky comes out and all the episodes are there, as if you had a book in your lap, you could read each chapter and the story flows in a way,” says Lorre, who doubts network TV would have been receptive to a show like Kominsky, about “the vagaries of getting older.” After all, he adds with a laugh, “I was lucky that they let me do a show about physicists,” which was the premise of The Big Bang Theory.
As many of his creator peers are signing eye-popping nine-figure mega deals with streamers and legacy studios, Lorre—whose Warner Bros. TV deal is up next year—will soon have to decide what his next move will be. “Got any ideas? What should I do? I don’t know,” he says. “The ideal scenario at this point in my life is to pursue the things that are exciting and challenging. I’ve been blessed to have commercial success. For me to get up in the morning to make money—it’s kind of grotesque. Getting up in the morning because I love what I do—that’s a reason to do it. And the freedom to go wherever it needs to go; I think that’s an ideal scenario for the future.” (That doesn’t necessarily give Warner Bros. the inside track to retain him: While he says it’s “understandable” that its priority is making shows for parent company WarnerMedia’s upcoming streaming service, HBO Max, “I don’t know that it’s mine.”)
One thing that likely won’t be a part of Lorre’s future, no matter who he ultimately signs with: following the recent revival craze and revisiting one of his own hit shows. “I have no interest in reviving anything at this point,” he says. “I really love the idea of pursuing new things. And again, the reason to do something at this point in my life has to be because you love it. Because it’s hard, it’s really exhausting and it’s stressful. And if you don’t love it, there’s something wrong with you!”