The eighth season of "The Big Bang Theory" is supposed to premiere on CBS on Sept. 22, but barring some new wrinkle in the space-time continuum, that seems unlikely to happen.
In fact, the new season was supposed to go into production, beginning with a table read, on July 31, but according to Deadline, the production has been shut down indefinitely.
The reason: Five of the seven-star ensemble cast members are still in salary renegotiations, and they're staying home until those negotiations are resolved.
Jim Parsons, Johnny Galecki, Kaley Cuoco, Simon Helberg and Kunal Nayyar are all seeking salary hikes. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the core trio of Parsons, Galecki, and Cuoco all make $325,000 per episode but are seeking up to $1 million each. So: no big bump? No "Big Bang."
These contract negotiations have been a time bomb waiting to go off since September, when the other two stars, Mayim Bialik and Melissa Rauch, successfully renegotiated for higher salaries. The remaining five ended season 7 with all their contracts expiring and no new deals in place.
This isn't the first time that the show's lovable nerds have sought a raise. Back in 2010, The Wrap notes, Parsons, Galecki, and Cuoco negotiated for a salary rise from $60,000 an episode to $200,000.
Since then, however, "Big Bang" has ballooned into TV's top-rated and most lucrative comedy. Moreover, the focus of the show has expanded from the three core players to the full ensemble of seven, making each player increasingly indispensible.
Adding drama to the talks have been news reports that Parsons, widely considered the show's most popular star, was not going to return in season 8. After the season 7 finale, with a cliffhanger ending that had Parson's Sheldon storming off on a train, Empire News published a hoax article suggesting that Parsons wouldn't be returning to the show because of an on-set fight with Galecki, and that Michael Cera or Topher Grace might take his place. Last week, at Comic-Con, the actor claimed to USA Today that he didn't know whether he was being written off the show.
The truth, however, is that he and the others are expected to settle this salary dispute, and soon. Both CBS entertainment chief Nina Tassler and show co-creator/executive producer Chuck Lorre have expressed confidence in recent weeks that everyone will be back to work soon.
Of course, there's a lot of money riding on the show's return, not just for the cast, but also for Warner Bros. Television (which produces the series) and CBS, for which "Big Bang" is a cornerstone of its primetime lineup. The show is moving back to Mondays this fall in order to shore up the network's comedy lineup on that night. (Thursdays will be devoted to NFL football until the end of autumn, and then "Big Bang" will return to its usual spot.) "Big Bang" is not just the top comedy on TV but one of the few sure-fire comedies on CBS' schedule. After all, the long-running "Two and a Half Men" is about to start its 12th and supposedly final season; "Mike and Molly" probably won't be able to continue much longer if Melissa McCarthy's movie career continues to blossom; and CBS' other comedies are mostly struggling to find viewers. If CBS loses "Big Bang," it has no plan B, no deep bench of sitcom substitutes. So CBS needs the show to remain in the current line-up.
Besides the support it lends to other shows, "Big Bang" is also one of CBS's biggest moneymakers. Last year, "Big Bang" earned $326,260 for CBS for each 30 seconds of advertising time, more than any non-football show in primetime.
As for WBTV, the show has earned roughly $2 billion since it went into syndication a few years ago. (The actors already get a tiny percentage of that back end revenue.) The likelihood that "Big Bang" will continue to earn billions from syndication for years to come is part of what made parent company Time Warner a takeover target earlier this year, when News Corporation (the parent company of Fox) tried to buy it. Even without more new episodes, "Big Bang" still has a library of about 150 episodes that it can sell and resell, but an even bigger library would make the show more lucrative still.
It would seem, then, that the actors have the network and the production studio right where they want them. It used to be that the conglomerates held the power in these situations; if an actor bucked for a raise (Suzanne Somers on "Three's Company" is the classic case), it was easy enough to fire and replace them. But then came "Friends," a comedy where the entire ensemble was the star – and where they learned to negotiate as a group. As a result, by the time "Friends" was in its 10th and final season, its six stars were each earning $1 million per episode. Other casts learned from "Friends." The stars of "The West Wing" staged a walk-out much like the current "Big Bang" brouhaha when they wanted a raise. The six adult stars of "Modern Family" also negotiated en masse, and it got so bitter that they filed a lawsuit two years ago, which was dropped when the pay dispute was resolved. For those shows that last long enough to become hits in syndication (usually four or five years, or 100 episodes), this sort of back-and-forth is common between producers and actors who may have been signed for a pittance but whose three-to-five-year contracts are expiring just as the shows become popular and lucrative.
The "Big Bang" dispute also demonstrates once again how valuable and rare a hit network comedy show is. It's not just CBS that lacks a deep bench; the same is true of the other broadcast networks, too. Remember when Thursday was "Must-See TV" night on NBC, with "Friends," "Seinfeld," and any number of back-up comedies about young, single urbanites? That comedy block has long since become a shambles – in part because NBC could find nothing as popular as "Big Bang" when CBS moved the show to Thursday to compete against "Community" and the rest of NBC's lineup that night. Thursday remains the most lucrative night in primetime (thanks largely to movie ads for Friday releases), but it's been hard for the networks to come up with new comedies that thrive there. No wonder "Big Bang" is moving back there as soon as football season ends.
It seems likely, then, that "Big Bang" will be back -- delayed, but probably not for long. In fact, one could argue that, despite all their coyness, the actors deserve to have the dispute resolved in their favor because, considering the billions of dollars the show is likely to earn its makers and distributors over the next few years, the stars deserve whatever fraction they can get. Even producer Lorre has said that he sympathizes with the cast's demands. "I want them all to be crazy wealthy because nobody deserves it more than this cast," he told the Reporter. "It'll work out."