It isn’t just your movie stars like Brad Pitt and Tom Cruz earning the big bucks, In recent weeks in light of new reportedly 1 million dollar per episode contracts signed by the three main cast of The Big Bang Theory, you can add the names of Kaley Cuoco, Jim Parsons and Johnny Galecki playing the characters of Penny, Sheldon and Leonard respectively, among the list of acting talent laughing all the way to the bank. But it isn’t the first time, TV actors have ventured into the upper echelon of big money cheques; you just have to look none further than Charlie Sheen in his seminal role as a vague variant of his real life self in Charlie Harper, which got him paid $1.8 million a episode for his services. However.The only time in history that more than one member of the cast was receiving so much, was in 1994 when all 8 planet aligned and a future Goliath of a TV shows by the name of Friends was crafted from the hands of the writing tag team of David Crane and Marta Kauffman. The show went on to create the epitome of the American ensemble sitcom, based around 6 people in their early 20’s trying to make sense out of this big crazy world.
For the next 10 seasons over 10 years, Friends went on to dominate the planet, combing that needle in a haystack rarity of being both a critical hit and a ratings magnet. At times the show peaked into the 30 million viewers per episode and every time the Emmy awards came around it often cleaned up so profusely it threatened to become embarrassing for every other show unfortunately around during the reign of Friends. So naturally it led to the 6 main actors to earn 1 million per episode for the last two seasons; making the cast of Friends the highest paid ensemble cast ever, well that was until 2014. But Wait so if cast of Friends were earning 1 million per episode and the main cast of BBT will be earning a similar slice of the pie, does it mean that BBT is as good as Friends, and the cast are equally deserving of the stellar wages – long story short, from a critical level, HELL no! But based on ability to capture the current zeitgeist and commercially speaking, yes.
Friends was a timeless gem, but more importantly not just an American sitcom, it was a truly global sitcom that anyone who watched it found it difficult not to fall in love with it or relate with it in some compactly, leading the show at its prime to be able to effortlessly cross cultures, boarders, oceans and ages. But how? Because it had that sharp wit, combined with graceless limbs and a strong beating heart at its centre, allowing the show to be equally adept in the more sentimental scenes as it was in cringe worthy moments. Equally adept at the laugh out loud scenes as it was showing the struggle of life. Friends was just simply a multilayered comedy that made it difficult for you to stop laughing. It also had 4 dimensional that you couldn’t help exploring. So when awards season came knocking, naturally the show was always the one to watch as it garnered an impressive 62 Emmy award nominations and winning the most outstanding comedy award for its 8th season. The critics also fell in love with the show as much as the award bodies; Friends was ranked no. 24 on the Writers Guild of America’s 101 Best Written TV Series of All Time and 7th in Empire magazines list. So with all that love for the gang from Central Perk, that’s why I feel that if BBT were around at the same time it would find it impossible to compete with Friends in terms of critical acclaim.
Even in its own time BBT is nowhere near the summit of sitcoms, regularly losing to Modern family, not just once but on three separate occasions for the Emmy. An award that always sits proudly on
the mantle of TV awards, however coincidently not on BBT’s mantle despite being in its 7th season. But as always the beckon of critical glory is in the awkward OCD shape of Leonard played by Jim Parsons, who plays the role with perfect comedic timing and the ability to often make it difficult to differentiate where Leonard stops and the actor starts. A fact that has left Parson’s practically Emmy bait every time the list for best leading actor in a comedy series is announced. But to be fair on BBT, in total Jim Parsons has three statues to his name, more individually and combined than the cast of Friends. But did Jim Parsons have to compete with the likes of Ray Romano and Kelsey Grammer?
Capturing the zeitgeist
Friends was absolutely perfect at capturing the angst of young people freshly out of college trying to find their feet in the chaotic whirlwind that was life in the big apple. But what made the show even more remarkable was that this 6 individuals were as bad at being grownups as everyone else’s; they found it hard to hold on to jobs, finding love was a nightmare and every day something new would try to crush their dreams. But despite all their turmoil in their lives, albeit stumbling and lacking in grace, they we’re able to wade through life with their head held high and smiles on their face. This was made possible because they all ways knew that no matter what each of them had 5 people to catch them when they fell and that love and trust they share for each other was so endearing it secretly made us want to be the 7th member of that silly clumsy bunch.
While not quiet opting for such a gushy approach, Big bang theory did however with great success, take advantage of the fact that it was part of a time when being a nerd is cool and fashionable. Where everywhere you turn internet start-ups and the latest phone apps created by so called nerds are being brought up for reality questioning sums, making nerd intelligence seem more useful than merely being able to navigate through World of War Craft.
There are probably more binary codes of 1s and 0s knocking around now than actual particulars in the universe, meaning technology references are more relevant now than they have ever been. Gone are the days that the only people playing games were acne covered Gollum lookalikes. Now the world as gone completely tech savvy and along with it games are becoming increasingly ingrained in our search for entertainment, regardless of age or sex, so much so that maybe one day games could possible eclipse films in our hearts. With GTA 5 going on to be the fastest selling entertainment product ever, outselling Thriller albums and cinema tickets for Avatar, goes to show the great appeal games are having on our culture these days and BBT is one of the few shows on TV with gags involving Halo and Xbox, that truly integrates technology to its very comedic spine.
In a viewing climate, where we are constantly turning to the internet and our smart phone devices as a means of watching our favourite programs; has officially put the humble old box set on the endangered species list right up next to the Panda and Snow Leopard. This means that it has become increasingly difficult for shows to be able to attract viewers by traditions TV means, but despite this BBT is still able to bring in around 20 million people episode, which is a phenomenal feat particular considering that its closest rivals are modern family with a poultry 14 million, it pales in comparison right? Okay you might back to the fact that this still doesn’t equate Friends figure of 30 at its peak but an overall average of 25 million. Yeah sure Friends have higher viewing figures, but bear in mind this is a pre Netflix and fibre optics broadband era, so technically if there was such a thing as
adjusting for people watching TV inflation, I’m pretty sure that BBT and Friends would probably be on an even playing field.
When a show is drawing crowds of that size, commercial companies practically drop to their knees with their hands cupped begging for the privilege to be able to advertise in between the shows commercial breaks. Such business ventures ended up with NBC pocketing the $470,000 they were earning per 30 second slot during every Friends add breaks, a figure BBT will probably be able to soon attract for CBS, if the show continues on its trajectory into the Friends stratosphere. Then of course you have the trusty old syndication rights to add a cherry on that multimillionaire dollar cake. If you own a TV right now in England, you would probably see as many BBT reruns on E4 and channel 4 as there are seconds in a day. Syndications rights are big business, don’t believe me? Just have to look at the bank accounts of Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld and that taste of 400 million accumulated from the cash cow called Seinfeld that just keeps on giving, in their homes it’s always Christmas.
I’m certainly not knocking what chuck Lorre has achieved with The Big Bang Theory, the show is an endless barrel of laughs, but I think people would be mistaken for believing that because the show is getting so many viewers and the cast are getting paid as much as they are. Believing that BBT is on the same level as Friends, would be a gross overexertion because for me Friends was the holy grail of TV shows that fluently combined critical and commercial acclaim. Sure Big Bang Theory might be able to match the show on the commercial, but in all those 20 million people watching the show on a weekly bases I doubt as much as them are falling in love with characters as much people did with Friends.