The Big Bang Theory was never opposed to a heavy-handed nod to pieces of pop culture that predated and inspired its creators. From the plethora of Star Trek references to a cast made up of several memorable names from “nerd culture,” the show knew how to do fan service well. However, one of its most blatant references to those that came before may have gone over people’s heads. To discover this, one has to look at the characters, Sheldon and Leonard.
‘The Big Bang Theory’ is a massively successful sitcom
The Big Bang Theory was one of CBS’s most successful sitcoms ever. With a cast of four geeks and their beautiful friend Penny, the series watched as social outcasts guided their way through a world that often looked down on them and gave a different side to a formula used by Friends, Seinfeld, and several other sitcoms that came before it.
The show knew what it was. It left bread crumbs for fans who, like its protagonists, had a taste for science fiction, comic books, and other “nerdy” culture staples. To do this, it made no qualms paying tribute too, recreating, and referencing everything from Star Trek to obscure cartoons from forty years ago. At its heart, however, it was about a group of friends.
The formula worked, and the series ran for 13 years before airing its final episode in 2019. However, although the show is off the year, it’s still a hit on syndication. Perhaps, this success can be owed to nods of other series that are not as obvious as Leonard Nimoy cameos and Wil Wheaton appearances.
‘The Big Bang Theory’ made a lot of pop culture references
From the pop culture references to complicated math and science, The Big Bang Theory knew its audience. However, for a series like this to work, it had to look at its genre, too.
CBS has a rich history of sitcoms that still resonate decades after they aired their final episodes. Many of these series were produced by a man whose name might sound familiar. Rich Heldenfels of the Akron Beacon Journal noted this in a paragraph about the series’ hidden features.
Heldenfels was asked if the names of Sheldon and Leonard were a reference to producer Sheldon Leonard. He acted in more than one classic movie before a successful career as a television producer.
There is. Sheldon Cooper (played by Jim Parsons) and Leonard Hofstadter (Johnny Galecki) are in fact, collectively named after Sheldon Leonard. Simon Helberg portrays Howard Wolowitz.
A tough-talking actor at one time (he’s the mean bartender in “It’s a Wonderful Life”), Leonard became a successful producer of “The Danny Thomas Show,” “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” “I Spy” and other TV series. He died in 1997 at age 89.
While the nerdier references might resonate more with a modern audience, these names show that creators were looking further back to make it work as a sitcom, too.
Knowing their roots
Sheldon Leonard started his career as an actor in the 1930s and continued doing so until he died in 1997. However, while he had notable roles in several hit films and television series, such as It’s a Wonderful Life, his greatest accomplishment was as a television producer.
Starting with The Danny Thomas Show, Leonard began a successful production career that crossed several decades. His most famous work, The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Andy Griffith Show, I Spy, and Gomer Pyle USMC, helped make CBS and sitcoms as a whole the shows they are today.
At its core, The Big Bang Theory isn’t like these shows, but without them, it could never have been the success it is today. While it might not be the first show that people think of when they hear about, The Big Bang Theory secured its place in television history while calling back to those shows that came before it.