Everybody Loves Rich People

The original pilot of The Big Bang Theory leaked online last week, and while the uploads keep getting pulled off YouTube, new uploads come to take their place. The most famous thing about the pilot is that it states directly that Sheldon has had sex, but some of the other changes are more interesting to me.

Background: the pilot was turned down by the network, but they liked Johnny Galecki and Jim Parsons. So they asked the producers to do a new pilot, keeping the two guys but changing everything else. Their friend in this pilot was a socially-inept nerd girl whose character traits were eventually incorporated into Sara Gilbert’s character. And the girl they meet, played by MuchMusic VJ Amanda Walsh, was a hard-drinking, wisecracking party girl prone to bad decisions in every aspect of her life.

In the second pilot, those two female characters were dropped and three new characters added (Raj, Howard, Penny). There was also a major tonal change: everything became lighter, brighter and happier. In the original pilot, these characters live a drab existence and have lots of money problems. They’re selling their sperm because without doing that, they can’t get a good meal. Their apartment is drab and dark and depressing. Amanda Walsh’s character has problems that are much bigger than the cute little money and relationship problems that her replacement has. The pilot seems like an attempt to get a little closer to the creator and star’s Roseanne roots. If anything, despite the expected quota of mean-spirited jokes, this pilot has more jokes that “land” than the revised version — and it also has a more serious subtext — but it’s depressing.

In the revised pilot, the apartment becomes bright and spacious, the characters are well-off. (Penny isn’t well-off, but again, her money problems are TV-style money problems, where you can always afford to do anything the plot requires you to do, and always have infinite free time no matter how crummy your job is.) It’s yet another reminder that even though there’s a lot of longing for a Roseanne type of show about people who aren’t rich and comfortable, it’s hard to launch one. Instead the world wants to watch shows about scientists who have plenty of money but less-than-great social skills, or a mockumentary about three interconnected families that live in luxury. HBO abandoned its plans to make more Roseanne-style shows, canceling Lucky Louie not because of the viewership numbers but because that kind of show didn’t fit their upscale brand. It’s just become very difficult to find a place to do a comedy about everyday struggles; the closest thing is It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, and that’s really more of a live-action cartoon than a realistic comedy.

Click here to watch the unaired pilot