Interview with Eric Kaplan: On The Science in The Big Bang Theory

It’s no secret that The Big Bang Theory is one of my favorite shows. Not only did I go to graduate school at Caltech (the setting for the show), but as an introvert, I sympathize with the behaviors/personalities of the characters on the show (can you say Bazinga?)

So it was with great interest that I read this interview The New York Times conducted with Eric Kaplan, one of the executive producers and script writers for The Big Bang Theory. Below, selections of the interview.

On going to school at Harvard and how it was similar to Caltech:

Q. Was Harvard anything like your version of Caltech on “The Big Bang Theory”?

A: It was. Because you had people there who were sincerely and passionately interested in what they were doing. That world was about people so entrenched in whatever they were studying that they forget to put their pants on. Now, I don’t think I ever did that. But I’m sure I knew people who did.

The idea that you’re more interested in the amazing problems that life offers than in some kind of status game was genuine there, and that’s what we try to convey about the characters on the show.

On stereotypes of the show, especially that of Sheldon:

Q. Aren’t you stereotyping scientists by labeling them as misfits?

A. Listen, it’s a story, not a thesis about how everyone is. It’s a collection of specific characters. All scientists are not Sheldon Cooper, who finds it difficult to hug someone or go out to lunch and divide a check. But many people whose cognitive ability outstrips their emotional sense can see some aspect of Sheldon in themselves.

Steven Hawking is apparently a fan of the show too:

Q. Do you get fan mail from scientists?

A. We don’t just get mail. Scientists will come to the show and sit in the audience. We’ll often use them as extras in the background during cafeteria scenes.

Stephen Hawking came once. He was happy to portray a version of himself who was petty and childish and enjoyed humiliating Sheldon at a game of online Scrabble. He played himself as a big baby. He didn’t feel like he had to portray himself as a hero of science. That made me respect him even more, because he doesn’t feel the need to pretend to be anything.

I sure hope Eric Kaplan is right on this point:

Q. Do you sometimes hear from scientists who say, “Thank you for showing something about our lives”?

A. Oh, yeah. They’ll sometimes say that there will be a new generation of scientists 10 years from now: kids who watched the show and decided to become scientists because they liked the characters. That would be great. I think there should be more scientists and fewer lawyers. It’s better to invent a plastic airplane than to sue somebody.

If you enjoyed this interview, you might also like this interview with David Salzberg, a UCLA physics professor and advisor to the show.

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