A 'Big Bang' ticking clock

CBS has two more seasons of the blockbuster comedy, but is "Young Sheldon" its future?

Ten years ago, I had a conversation with Johnny Galecki and predicted that his upcoming new CBS sitcom, "The Big Bang Theory," would not only be a hit, but still be in the top 10 in the ratings in its 10th season. No, I didn't have a crystal ball. I was the one, after all, who thought that a show about people inhabiting a bar, "Cheers," would never work. So, I am far from perfect.

But how difficult was it to predict that this tale of likeable—and relatable—nerds, headlined by Jim Parsons as breakout Sheldon Cooper, and Kaley Cuoco as their cool neighbor Penny, would succeed big time? CBS wisely positioned the sitcom on Monday in that first season in the fall of 2007 out of "How I Met Your Mother" (which housed an ample base of young adult viewers), and there was just something about that gang of five that made "The Big Bang Theory" an immediate destination. There was no one else like them on television at the time.

One decade after my first prediction, let me make my next one: I think this is the beginning of the end for "The Big Bang Theory." Of course, unless you are "The Simpsons," no scripted sitcom can last forever. Animated characters don't have to age, after all. So, making this assessment following news of a two-season (and 48-episode) renewal, taking it through season 12, is probably a no-brainer. There is just so much left the writers can do with these characters at this point. And this brings up the question of knowing when to it is time to bow out gracefully. But clearly the bigger issue here is the failure by CBS to use the success of "The Big Bang Theory" to find that next big hit. It is staggering.

Remember ... deep breath ... "S#*! My Dad Says," "How to Be a Gentleman," "Rob," "The Millers" or "The Odd Couple," to name a few? ABC has done a much better job finding the right vehicle out of its biggest hit sitcom, "Modern Family," via the critically acclaimed "black-ish."

Like NBC in its heyday of "Must See TV," whose failure to capitalize on hits of the magnitude like "Friends," "Seinfeld" and "Cheers" resulted in its current sitcom drought ("Frasier," to be fair, was the one exception), CBS has found this challenge equally daunting. While one notable exception might be "Mom," which is a modest hit anchoring the Thursday 9 p.m. hour, everything else positioned there was basically a bust. And now the clock it clicking at two additional seasons left to utilize the success of Sheldon and Leonard and company.

If "The Big Bang Theory" does exit at a time when CBS does not have a legitimate replacement, its perennial seasonal winning streak in total viewers could be at risk.

While there are rumors of prequel "Young Sheldon" inheriting the post "Big Bang" time slot next fall, this feels more like a novelty than a long-term solution. Certainly, I will reserve judgement until I actually see footage of "Young Sheldon" at the CBS upfront, which I imagine will look quite humorous, at least initially, to any fan of "The Big Bang Theory." There will be a built-in curiosity factor about the childhood of this unprecedented character.

But I also remember what happened when NBC tried to milk "Friends," which ended after 10 seasons, via spin-off "Joey." It remains one of the biggest sitcom flops in the history of television. I recall the failure of "The Carrie Diaries" on The CW, the prequel to "Sex and the City" to resonate. And I worry that CBS, the most-watched network, will lose its sitcom footing once "The Big Bang Theory" does officially conclude.

Without an ample replacement anything is possible. And I am concerned that "Young Sheldon" will already feel outdated once we find out what does eventually happen to grown-up Sheldon, and the rest, once "The Big Bang Theory" does officially conclude. At that point, I doubt I will want to watch Sheldon the kid without his adult version still in production. And I bet I won't be the only one.

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