'Big Bang Theory' Owes Its Success To Classic TV

As 2013 ends, many TV critics are filling their best-of lists with unconventional comedies like Netflix's Orange is the New Black. But our critic says his pick is this year's highest-rated television comedy, rooted in the style of old-school TV classics.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm David Greene.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And I'm Renee Montagne. As 2013 ends, many TV critics are filling their best of lists with unconventional comedies like Netflix's "Orange is the New Black." Our NPR TV Critic Eric Deggans picks this year's highest-rated comedy and it's rooted in the style of old school TV classics.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: I should admit this right now: I wasn't always a fan of "The Big Bang Theory." Maybe it was the premise: dysfunctional science geniuses with their bombshell blonde neighbor. The easiest joke in sitcomland.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE BIG BANG THEORY")

KALEY CUOCO: (as Penny) I love San Francisco. I wish I was going with you.

JIM PARSONS: (as Sheldon) I understand your envy. This is a can't-miss symposium: a roundtable on the non-equilibrium green function approach to the photo-ionization process in atoms.

(LAUGHTER)

CUOCO: (as Penny) When I go I usually just get hammered and ride the cable cars.

DEGGANS: But then these clich├ęs were transformed into fully complete characters. In particular, actors Johnny Galecki and Jim Parsons are a new school Laurel and Hardy. Galecki is the straight man as physicist Leonard Hofstadter, with Parsons as his awkward roommate Dr. Sheldon Cooper.

PARSONS: (as Sheldon) Did you remember to ask for the chicken with broccoli to be diced, not shredded?

JOHNNY GALECKI: (as Leonard) Yes.

PARSONS: (as Sheldon) Even thought the menu description specifies shredded?

GALECKI: (as Leonard) Yes.

PARSONS: (as Sheldon) Brown rice, not white.

GALECKI: (as Leonard) Yes.

CUOCO: (as Sheldon) Did you stop at the Korean grocery and get the good hot mustard?

GALECKI: (as Leonard) Yes.

PARSONS: (as Sheldon) Did you pick up the low sodium soy sauce from the market?

GALECKI: (as Leonard) Yes.

PARSONS: (as Sheldon) Thank you.

GALECKI: (as Leonard) You're welcome.

PARSONS: (as Sheldon) What took you so long?

DEGGANS: In some ways, "The Big Bang Theory" is the oldest of old school shows. It's filmed in front of a live audience with multiple cameras, just like "I Love Lucy" or "All in the Family."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE BIG BANG THEORY")

PARSONS: (as Sheldon) For example, I cry because others are stupid and it makes me sad.

DEGGANS: It moves beyond its situation to hook you with its characters, just like "Seinfeld," which started as a clunky comedy about dysfunctional singles.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SEINFELD")

JERRY SEINFELD: (as himself) I can't be with someone like me, I hate myself.

DEGGANS: Until we got to know the sidesplitting quirks of Jerry, Elaine, Kramer and George.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SEINFELD")

JASON ALEXANDER: (as George) Marcy comes over and she tells me that her ex-boyfriend who was over late last night and yadda, yadda, yadda, I'm really tired today.

DEGGANS: I connected with "The Big Bang Theory" after I got to know Leonard, Penny, Howard, Raj and especially Sheldon - who is so oblivious, his nerdy girlfriend can't stand him, sometimes.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE BIG BANG THEORY")

PARSONS: (as Sheldon) Where are you going?

MAYIM BIALIK: (as Amy) I'm leaving.

PARSONS: (as Sheldon) But you can't leave. I need you.

BIALIK: (as Amy) You do?

PARSONS: (as Sheldon) You're my ride.

DEGGANS: There's a reason why Jim Par sons has won three Emmy awards. "he Big Bang Theory"is the year's funniest and best old school sitcom. And its success is grounded in techniques old as television itself.

MONTAGNE: Eric Deggans is NPR's TV critic.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, "THE BIG BANG THEORY THEME")

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