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'Young Sheldon' born out of 'Big Bang'

Iain Armitage, left, plays the young Sheldon Cooper and Zoe Perry plays his mom in "Young Sheldon," CBS' new spin-off of "The Big Bang Theory."

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By RICK BENTLEY | Tribune News Service | Published: September 20, 2017

LOS ANGELES -- It doesn’t take a theoretical physicist to figure out why CBS is adding "Young Sheldon" to its fall schedule. It’s not unusual for successful television shows to spawn spinoff series and there’s been no network program over the past 10 years that’s been as big a hit as "The Big Bang Theory."

The series goes back to when Dr. Sheldon Cooper (played by Jim Parsons on "The Big Bang Theory") was a 9-year-old genius (played by Iain Armitage in "Young Sheldon") growing up in East Texas. Fans of the original series will now get to see how Sheldon dealt with being the smartest kid in the room, where his fear of chickens comes from, the origin of his love for Professor Proton and other bits of history about the character sprinkled through the 10 years of "The Big Bang Theory."

Chuck Lorre, executive producer of both series, talks about how this comedy was as inevitable as the effect of gravity on a falling apple.

"The origins of Sheldon have been something we’ve been interested in writing about for a couple-hundred episodes of ’The Big Bang.’ And so last fall, when Jim (Parsons) sent me an email discussing the possibility of actually taking it a step further, it just seemed like the greatest idea in the world," Lorre says.

Great ideas can die without the proper tools to make them work. In this case, that meant finding just the right actor to play a younger version of the quirky Sheldon who has become so well defined in "The Big Bang." They found what they needed in Iain, who started acting when he was 8 years old, rolling up credits that include the HBO limited series "Big Little Lies." Before starting work on the CBS comedy, the Virginia native wrapped production on a feature for Netflix, "Our Souls at Night," opposite Jane Fonda and Robert Redford. He’s also appeared in the films "I’m Not Here" and "The Glass Castle."

The only downside to casting the young actor was Iain’s lack of knowledge of the subject matter because he doesn’t watch a lot of television. The fix for that came through Parsons, one of the executive producers on the show, who has been coaching his younger counterpart.

Parsons says: "I was able to interact with Iain a lot and kind of discuss certain things that are peculiar to this character. And whether it was just lines or moments in general or Sheldon’s take on the world. It’s an interesting topic for us to go over together. Through that, though, I have to tell you that it was a very moving experience to me to see something that I’ve put in a decade of my life toward."

Fans of "The Big Bang Theory" will recognize people, places and things mentioned over the years. What will be different is that "Young Sheldon" is being filmed in a completely different style than "Big Bang." The original show films on a studio soundstage in front of an audience. "Young Sheldon" is being filmed as if it was a movie with one camera being taken to various locations.

The tone is a little different too, as the humor shifts from the comedy between the friends to more of a family setting. This is the first series from Lorre - whose hits range from "Two and a Half Men" to "Mike & Molly" - that uses narration. In design, "Young Sheldon" is closer to "The Wonder Years" than it is "The Big Bang Theory."

Lorre knows some fans will have to adjust to the different approach but there’s a reason he didn’t opt for a similar design to "The Big Bang Theory."

"It’s more intimate. The pacing, obviously, is very different. The actors aren’t having to hold for laughs. They’re not playing to the proscenium. They’re not playing out. They’re working with one another," Lorre says. "A four-camera show is played like a theatrical presentation. They’re playing to the audience, and it changes the tone and the pitch and the pacing.

"And also, 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 get the best work, to do the best work, was in a closed setting where they had the time to develop these characters."

One of the initial biggest differences when it comes to characters is Sheldon’s father George (Lance Barber) who - as revealed in "The Big Bang Theory" - died when Sheldon was 14. It has also been revealed over the years that George was not an ideal father, something that’s not as apparent in the first episode of "Young Sheldon."

Lorre stresses that there’s not going to be a big change when it comes to George but he will become the father Sheldon’s talked about with such pain as the series continues.

"This is five years before that date that we discussed in ’Big Bang’ and people change and grow and develop and things happen over the course of many years. And we don’t necessarily have to follow an exact timeline," Lorre says. "A season of ’Young Sheldon’ doesn’t have to be a year. It could take place over a couple months.

"So we have a lot of freedom with the backstory, and there’s a great deal more to George, his father, than we were led to know in Sheldon’s anecdotes about his dad. And, yes, we’re going to show that there is a great deal more to the man than we discussed in this, in little bits and pieces we’ve done over the years on ’Big Bang’."

One thing that will feel very familiar is Sheldon’s mother, Mary, played by Zoe Perry. She’s the daughter of Laurie Metcalf who plays Sheldon’s mom in "The Big Bang Theory." Perry says channeling her mother’s performance is easy because of "genetics."

And it’s the genetics of "The Big Bang" theory being infused in "Young Sheldon" the cast and crew hope will make it as big a hit as the original.

 

"Young Sheldon" debuts at 8:30 p.m. Sept. 25 stateside on CBS before moving to is regular time slot of 8:30 p.m. Thursdays starting Nov. 2. The show debuts Sept. 29 on AFN-Prime. The cast also includes Annie Potts, Montana Jordan and Raegan Revord.

Iain Armitage (left) plays the young Sheldon Cooper and Zoe Perry plays his mother on "Young Sheldon." Jim Parsons plays the original Sheldon Cooper on "The Big Bang Theory," from which "Young Sheldon" is spun off.
CBS/TNS

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