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Jim Parsons, right, will make an estimated $90-million by The Big Bang Theory concludes an 11th season. (Sonja Flemming/CBS)
Jim Parsons, right, will make an estimated $90-million by The Big Bang Theory concludes an 11th season. (Sonja Flemming/CBS)

John Doyle: The mind-boggling numbers behind The Big Bang Theory Add to ...

If The Big Bang Theory (Thursday, CBS, CTV, 8 p.m.) is your bag, enjoy tonight’s episode. It’s the last new episode for a while and, after that, you might be seeing less of it.

Now in its 10th season, Big Bang is the sort of comedy that people marry. You like it, get used to it, fall in love with it and it becomes a permanent relationship, even as the object of your affection grows older, evolves and changes. It’s not going to pack its bags and leave, and you’re not going to do that either.

In tonight’s story, the ensemble ruefully picks over their holiday adventures. Sheldon and Amy (Mayim Bialik) recount their visit to see Mary Cooper (Laurie Metcalf) in Texas to inform his baffled mom that they have moved in together. Sheldon explains to her, “Amy and I are living together in sin like a couple of New Yorkers.” In the other main storyline, Howard and Bernadette’s first weeks with a (permanently crying) baby are mined for comedy.

A brief summation illuminates how much Big Bang has changed since its pilot episode. It began as a show about four smart but hopelessly nerdy guys and how the women in their lives deal with them. Now it’s about marriage, relationships and babies. It has a duller edge as comedy, with less emphasis on the impatience of women coping with selfish, socially inept men. Now the men are more indulged.

One aspect that has diminished is the use of obscure dialogue about particle physics and the almost-as-obscure and arcane minutiae of Star Trek, Star Wars and other pop-culture obsessions of the four main guys. Sometimes, the particle physics material was mind-blowing, but these days what’s truly boggling is the economic infrastructure of Big Bang Theory.

According to the BBC, it now costs more than $4-million (U.S.) to make each episode of Big Bang. And that’s before the salaries of the main actors are included. Those salaries are now eye-watering. Jim Parsons, who plays Sheldon, makes $1-million an episode. With a lucrative deal that includes profits from the show, it is estimated Parsons will make $90-million by the time the show concludes an 11th season. And likely even more money as yet more episodes go into syndication. Johnny Galecki, who plays Leonard, and Kaley Cuoco, who plays Penny, will make similar amounts.

Melissa Rauch (Bernadette), Simon Helberg (Howard), Mayim Bialik and Kunal Nayyar (Rajesh) – all considered “supporting players” – negotiated pay raises that will eventually bring them close to what the core actors are earning. The enormous cost of making a single episode is part of a long game for CBS and Warner Bros., which produces the show – Big Bang is now entering Seinfeld territory in terms of profitability and Seinfeld is estimated to have generated more than $3-billion to date.

Significantly, the number that truly matters, ratings, is also eye-watering. The Wall Street Journal reported at the end of 2016 that Big Bang had edged out NBC’s Sunday Night Football as the most-watched regularly-scheduled prime-time program on U.S television. Big Bang averaged 19.94 million U.S. viewers for the year, while 19.28 million watched Sunday Night Football. By the way, if you want to know what’s truly popular, take note that CBS’s NCIS averages 19.89 million viewers.

CBS clearly doesn’t want Big Bang to end any time soon. In its 10th season, it is the No. 1 scripted series on TV. But the future is uncertain. Ten years in, the main stars are very rich and probably blasé about the show. Parsons is heavily involved in a new prequel to Big Bang that’s being developed for CBS. It would be about the younger Sheldon and Parsons wouldn’t appear but he’s executive producing and he’s also producing another new comedy, set in a hospital. Other actors on the show have multiple projects they are involved with.

What’s likely to happen, and what will truly boggle those married to the show, is that new seasons beyond the current one will be much shorter. Already, several networks are seeing the common sense of 13-episode seasons instead of the traditional 22 or 24. The actors will call the shots and it’s likely that Big Bang will do half-seasons beyond this one.

How will it end? Most sitcoms end with a wedding. In the way that Shakespeare’s comedies usually end with a wedding and celebrate love and renewal. As soon as a Sheldon/Amy wedding is on the horizon, the end is looming. It’s actually a divorce from the viewer. Be prepared. And note that while CBS has one episode on Thursday night, CTV is airing five.

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