An edited version of this story on “The Big Bang Theory” first appeared in the Down to the Wire issue of TheWrap’s Emmy magazine.
For years, “The Big Bang Theory” seemed like the last holdout from the days when broadcast networks and multicamera sitcoms dominated the Emmy comedy categories. But the show hasn’t been nominated for Outstanding Comedy Series since 2014 — and this year, the top-rated show’s final season was recognized with just three nominations.
One was for multicamera picture editing and one for technical direction, camerawork and video control. But because of Emmy rules that reserve one spot in the Outstanding Directing for a Comedy Series category for a multicamera show, director Mark Cendrowski received his second consecutive nomination for a show in which he’s directed 244 of the 279 episodes, an average of more than 20 each year.
The final season, he admitted, carried with it different feeling and a different set of challenges. “It’s like the athlete retiring,” Cendrowski said. “If Kareem Abdul-Jabbar says he’s retiring at the end of the season, every city he goes to does a ceremony for him, and yet he still has to play the game. That’s how we had to approach it.
“It was looming over us, but we had to have something else to focus on. It was our 12th season, so we made it our senior year of school. We did a Christmas party with a prom theme, we did a yearbook, we did a class photo day … We kept it fun and loose. It’s like your senior year: It’s gonna be sad not to see your friends again, but you have to move on.”
Cendrowski’s nomination came for the series’ final episode, “The Stockholm Syndrome.” One key to that episode, he said, was to delay the inevitable emotion as much as possible — and part of the way he did that was to shoot the entire episode without a studio audience before bringing in that audience for a final taping.
“I saw little cracks five or six weeks out, when emotion was affecting some of the cast in rehearsals,” he said. “I thought, ‘If this is happening in rehearsal, it’s going to skew a performance. But if we have the whole show in the can, then whatever happens, happens.”
In the end, most of the episode came from the final audience taping, and Cendrowski followed advice he’d gotten from legendary TV director Jim Burrows: “Just enjoy the tears. It’s going to happen, but it’s coming from a good place.”
Cendrowski himself was able to block out the emotion for most of the episode. “For a director, you don’t have that down time,” he said. “The minute we finish one scene, I’m dealing with notes and changing the shot for what’s coming up. It wasn’t until the very end, when we shot the last scene in the hotel room, and everyone knew it was the last scene, it was palpable in the air.
“You could feel an energy, a feeling of, ‘Oh, my God, this is the end of an era.’ Everyone gathered around when we did the last scene and watched the monitor. And what was really emotional was (show creator) Chuck Lorre ended up doing the last plate. He got out there and started choking up, and that rippled through everybody standing around watching it.
“Once we finished, we all let out one big sigh.”
And while the multicamera format has fallen out of favor with Emmy voters (no multicam show has been nominated for Outstanding Comedy Series since “Big Bang” in 2014, with “Mom” and the “Will & Grace” reboot missing out most recently), Cendrowski still stands by the format, which under Emmy rules must receive at least one directing nomination each year.
“I’ve fought this battle for years,” he said. “Once single-camera started becoming the taste of the day, people thought of multicamera as old-fashioned. But it’s much harder to do. If something doesn’t work, you know immediately and you have to fix it immediately. As a director, you’ve got to be able to block, to shoot, to make changes — and to do it on the fly.
“It’s tough to pull off, but it’s exciting as hell.”
Read more of the Down to the Wire issue of TheWrap’s Emmy magazine.