The Big Bang Theory Exec Gets Candid on Recasting Kaley Cuoco's Character

By Sam Hargrave Posted:
Big Bang Theory Penny

The Big Bang Theory would've been entirely different if the producers hadn't scrapped the original pilot which didn't include Kaley Cuoco's Penny.

The Big Bang Theory had a successful run on the network, with the show running for 12 seasons and 279 episodes. It even led to a spin-off show named Young Sheldon that chronicled the early life of Parson's iconic character.

Unfortunately, Young Sheldon's upcoming seventh season will serve as its last, marking the end of The Big Bang Theory universe for the time being. 

Thankfully, though, Warner Bros., via Variety, confirmed in April 2023 that there is another spin-off set in The Big Bang Theory universe that is in the early stages of development, with no release date and series order set in stone.

Why The Big Bang Theory's Pilot Recast Kaley Cuoco's Penny

Big Bang Theory premiere

During an interview with Emmy Magazine, former CBS Entertainment chairwoman Nina Tassler revealed the problem with The Big Bang Theory's unaired pilot that was scrapped and reshot in favor of the one which finally aired on the network in 2007, kickstarting a 12-season run.

Tassler was asked why the network offered creator Chuck Lorre a second chance at the pilot, to which she explained there was "so much about the pilot that did work," but also plenty about the script that "didn't work."

The former CBS executive also cited the need to "recast an actress," referring to Amanda Walsh's Katie who was replaced by Kaley Cuoco's Penny:

"There was so much about the pilot that did work. But there were parts of the script that didn't work, and we had to recast an actress. [Chuck Lorre] is such an extraordinary talent. He had a great concept and wonderful chemistry between the two leads, so I asked him if he would try again."

Tassler added how Lorre agreed he "[could] do better," and once Cuoco joined the show as Penny, they found her to be "the secret sauce:"

"And he immediately said, to his credit, 'You're right, I know I can do better. Thank you for this opportunity, and we'll figure it out.' Sure enough, he did. Kaley Cuoco joined the cast, and she was the secret sauce. Chuck and Bill Prady delivered a pilot script, and the rest is history."

The Big Bang Theory co-creators Chuck Lorre and Bill Prady spoke to Entertainment Weekly about the show's pilot in September 2022. 

The pair revealed that during the test screenings for the unaired pilot, "the audience hated" the original female lead Katie, but found themselves "defending" Leonard and Sheldon:

PRADY: "Well, that pilot was actually the second pilot we had done after the first one didn't work for a bunch of reasons. In the first pilot, the female character (who, at that point, was named Katie) is kind of rough. She's dangerous in a way and wasn't very nice to the guys. I remember going to the test screening, the dial testing..."

LORRE: "Yeah, the audience hated her."

PRADY: "They hated her, but what was amazing was that they were defending Leonard and Sheldon so much."

Lorre added how the audience viewed Sheldon and Leonard "as children" and didn't want a "toxic presence" like Kate around them - enter Penny:

"Yeah, we didn't realize early on that the audience viewed them as children. They were very naive and childlike, regardless of how intelligent they were. They were very vulnerable, and the audience didn't want a toxic presence around them. That's why we rewrote Katie to become Penny [Kaley Cuoco] and made her much more charmed by the guys and kind to them, as opposed to a woman who would take advantage of them."

Regardless, they were clear Amanda Walsh was "terrific" as Katie, and while she wanted to return to play Penny, "that wasn't able to happen:"

LORRE: "[Amanda Walsh] was terrific in the role, but the role was misconceived. It was our responsibility."

PRADY: "Yeah, she was actually a very sweet person, and it was a lot of work for her to become that rough character. Afterward, she wanted to come back in for the new version of Penny, but she had been so identified as that first character that it wasn't able to happen."

What Changed From The Big Bang Theory's Unaired Pilot?

So, what was different in The Big Bang Theory's unaired pilot compared to the show that finally aired in 2007?

Amanda Walsh's Katie filled the role of Kaley Cuoco's Penny for the unaired pilot, but she was a far different character. The original Katie was generally meaner, angrier, and edgier, even expressing far less interest in the guys, and only really using Leonard for food and a place to stay when she had none.

There was no Howard nor Raj in the original pilot, with Leonard and Sheldon's only other friend being Iris Bahr's female scientist Gilda - a character who would later serve as the template for Sara Gilbert's Leslie Winkle.

Sheldon also caught some changes in the revamp as the unaired pilot revealed he had been sexually active, expressed an interest in women with "large buttocks," and had even slept with now-friend Gilda at a Star Trek convention. 

In the final product, Sheldon never had sex until several years into his relationship with Amy.

Even Sheldon and Leonard's apartment was different, with the scrapped episode featuring a smaller and darker place with a fireplace and even a spare bedroom.

The Big Bang Theory is streaming now on Max.

- About The Author: Sam Hargrave
Sam Hargrave is the Associate Editor at The Direct. He joined the team as a gaming writer in 2020 before later expanding into writing for all areas of The Direct and taking on further responsibilities such as editorial tasks and image creation.