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The real reason why The Big Bang Theory is ending

Certain things in entertainment are inevitable: Every three months there will be a new Marvel Cinematic Universe movie in the theaters, every day a classic rock radio station will play Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" and the Eagles' "Hotel California," and every fall, seemingly since the beginning of time, there will be another brand new, ratings-topping season of The Big Bang Theory. 

The sitcom juggernaut about a group of nerdy geniuses, waitress-turned-drug company rep Penny, and their lives at their apartments and Cal Tech debuted on CBS in 2007, and has only grown in popularity. It's still a massively successful show, even into its twelfth season (2018-19), which will make it the longest-running multi-camera (meaning live-action, laugh track-laden) comedy in American TV history. Shockingly, it will also be the last season of The Big Bang Theory. How could CBS ever do this, or allow this to happen? Here's a look at the real reasons The Big Bang Theory is ending.

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Jim Parsons said 'Bazinga,' which means 'I'm outta here'

Jim Parsons was a relatively successful character actor best known for commercials and a minor role in Garden State before he landed the role of annoying mega-genius Sheldon Cooper in The Big Bang Theory. The show has made him not only famous, but appreciated (he's won four Emmys for his work), and extremely rich — in 2017, Forbes reported that he earned $27.5 million a year.

It's also made him an in-demand actor, and since he doesn't have to worry about money, Parsons can take on whatever projects speak to his heart and soul. In recent years he starred in HBO's adaptation of The Normal Heart, Larry Kramer's harrowing play about the early days of the AIDS crisis, and in the summer of 2018, he starred in a Broadway revival of the classic play The Boys in the Band. Parsons has a lot going on, and after 12 years in one role, he's ready to try out playing other characters more often. Amazingly, he may have even turned down $50 million to stay with The Big Bang Theory for a 13th and 14th season.

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Chuck Lorre didn't want to do it without Parsons

According to Deadline, here's how The Big Bang Theory co-creator and executive producer Chuck Lorre announced the show's end. After an August 22, 2018 table read of an upcoming episode, Lorre summoned the cast to his office. When everyone arrived, Lorre let star Jim Parsons have the room. Through tears, he told his castmates that the currently shooting 12th season of the show would be his last. Immediately thereafter, Lorre told the assembled actors that the 12th season would be everybody's last — he'd opted to end the show rather than continue on without Parsons or Sheldon Cooper. Deadline also reports that Parsons told Lorre five days prior to the meeting, and many executives tried to get him to change his mind, but to no avail. 

As Parsons couldn't be budged, Lorre decided to end the show rather than attempt the difficult task of reformulating the show and continuing on without one of its leads. Besides, he's got other projects to work on; he's the creator and a writer for The Kominsky Method, which in January 2019 won the Golden Globe for Best Television Series – Musical or Comedy.

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Johnny Galecki was ready to go, too

While Jim Parsons' decision to walk away from the show — and $50 million — was the official impetus for The Big Bang Theory wrapping up rather than going on for at least a couple more years, the show's other male lead, Johnny Galecki, hinted in January 2018 that he was just as ready to move on. At the 2018 Television Critics Association Winter Press Tour, Galecki (who portrays experimental physicist Leonard Hofstadter) sparked some early speculation — or even planted the seed — that the 12th season of The Big Bang Theory could be the final one. "The only manner in which the cast has discussed wrapping has been that we're all going to be very sad when that day comes," Galecki told TV reporters. "But I think at this point everyone's very comfortable with 12 seasons being a good time to go home and see our families." And that's exactly what ended up happening.

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Other cast members are pretty much okay with it ending

After the voluntary cancellation news hit, Kaley Cuoco (Penny) took to her Instagram account to provide her hot take. To summarize: She's okay with it, but she was going to feel both grateful and sad whenever the show ended. Captioning a photo of the Big Bang cast in their out-of-character street clothes, Cuoco wrote that the series "has been a dream come true and as life changing as it gets. No matter when it was going to end, my heart would have always been broken in two. Drowning in tears, we promise to bring you the best season yet."

Kunal Nayyar (sensitive, lovelorn Raj) also shared his feelings on Instagram. "There are no words in any language that can describe what my heart wants to say," he wrote alongside an on-set photo of the cast. "The love that I feel for all of you is boundless. Without you the fans there would be no us."

Mayim Bialik (Amy Farrah Fowler) expressed similar sentiments, just a bit more bluntly, on her blog, grok nation. "Am I happy? Of course not," Bialik wrote. "I love my job. I love my castmates, and I feel such appreciation for our incredible crew, our brave writers, our entire staff, and our amazing fans."

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There weren't many more stories to tell

While Parsons's decision ultimately led to the show's scheduled demise, and producer Chuck Lorre decided no Big Bang was preferable to a Sheldon-free Big Bang, and cast members Johnny Galecki, Kaley Cuoco, and Mayim Bialik are getting publicly wistful, no one (as of yet) seems particularly angry about the fact that they're going to lose their jobs. Why? Well, they all pull in huge paychecks for their work on the show, but perhaps it's also because they know that the writing is on the wall of the writers' room.

More than 200 episodes of The Big Bang Theory have been produced, which is a lot of time and space to explore a handful of characters. There isn't a lot more for Sheldon, Leonard, Penny, Raj, Howard, Bernadette, and Amy to do. They've all (mostly) evolved from young, single, immature scientists into middle-aged, married people with children and numerous major career milestones to their credit. Their arcs are basically complete, so there isn't much more for Big Bang writers to say at this point. 

However, there's one arc that at least a couple of cast members would love to see resolved: for the elevator to finally get fixed in the apartment building where so many characters live. "That's one of my wishes for the final episode," Parsons told Entertainment Weekly. "The elevator gets fixed, at least for a minute, and then we all get stuck in it." Costar Kaley Cuoco added that such an idea "would be a great show ending for me!"

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Renegotiations were under way, which is always tricky

When a television series is only sort of popular, and/or it hasn't been on the air that long, television networks reserve the right to cancel a show outright, justifiably citing business reasons. When a TV series like The Big Bang Theory finishes a cycle of contracted episodes, a renewal for a season or more is automatic… but the x factor becomes the cast's contracts. Actors and their agents hold the cards in this case — the network needs them all to re-up, and will offer big money to keep the show as intact as possible and running smoothly. It can be a tricky, stressful time for network executives — for example, the cast of Friends famously got $1 million an episode (each) toward the end of that show's run, just a bit more than the $900,000 weekly salary that Big Bang's Jim Parsons, Johnny Galecki, and Kaley Cuoco will pull down in the 2018-19 season.

In 2017, the cast signed on for two seasons, taking them through to the spring of 2019. Talks between CBS, producer Warner Bros. TV, and the cast of The Big Bang Theory were underway when the news broke that the show would finish up after season 12… thus rendering new actor deals unnecessary. The fact that it was time to renegotiate beyond that in 2018 inserted uncertainty into the future of the show.

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It's a show from another era

While The Big Bang Theory's ratings figures certainly don't reflect it — in its 11th season, it was the most-watched program on network television — the series may be growing increasingly irrelevant. Now (or soon) may have been a good time to end the show, one of the few laugh track-sweetened, brightly-lit, "taped before a live audience" shows left on network television. Even Young Sheldon, the prequel/spinoff of The Big Bang Theory, is shot "single-camera," or like a movie. The Big Bang Theory can feel like a throwback.

Some critics hold that the show's themes, not its production style, are more harmful. The anti-sexual harassment movement of recent years has put the show under a microscope. The Big Bang Theory is "surely the only show in popular culture today where a man can get away with sexually assaulting a woman, and it is considered comedic," said Chris Newbould of The National, referring to a scene in which a character used "remote control cars fitted with webcams to film up [their] neighbor's skirt," not to mention the plot about using military satellites to spy on the America's Next Top Model House. In other words, The Big Bang Theory has been problematic for a while, and people might be starting to notice.

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Not enough creativity, and too many T-shirts

In an interview published in Entertainment Weekly in January 2019, Big Bang Theory star Jim Parsons revealed a bit more than he had previously about just why he was ready to wrap up the hit sitcom. In short? It was simply time. "There is no negative reason to stop doing Big Bang," Parsons explained. "It felt like we have been able to do this for so many years now, it doesn't feel like there is anything left on the table." That's a nice way of saying that the show had run out of creative juice. "It feels like we've chewed all the meat off this bone."

Parsons also thought that it was a good time to move along… on a more cosmetic and personal level. "I'm firmly in my middle age now," said the actor, who will be 46 years old when the show airs its final episode, and he's at least a little concerned about "looking really long in the tooth" sporting the juvenile comic book character T-shirts Sheldon Cooper is so fond of wearing.

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The Big Bangin' future

However, the end of The Big Bang Theory doesn't necessarily mean that the character of Sheldon Cooper will disappear from first-run television, or even that Jim Parsons will completely cut ties to his best-known role. In the fall of 2018, CBS will debut its second season of Young Sheldon. The prequel series depicts the often difficult childhood of Sheldon as a boy genius living in a Texas town that doesn't know what to make of him. Parsons is actually a part of the cast of Young Sheldon, narrating the adventures of young Sheldon (portrayed by Iain Armitage). Parsons will continue in this capacity for the immediate future, at the very least.

Fortunately for CBS, Young Sheldon is a smash hit (it ranked tenth in the ratings in 2017-18) and it will have to satisfy Big Bang fans as they slowly de-couple from that show. Still, there will be a large hole in the CBS lineup, as no network is ever ready to say goodbye to its most-watched series.