This blog is a focussed experiment. I wanted to test my ability to publish and produce a taut multi-media blog on something. I attended TAM7 in July. It struck me as the perfect 4-day crash course. The "course" didn't go as well as I hoped, but I learned a lot. I'm continuting to update as I have the opportunity to - eventually I'll have covered the entirety of my experience at the conference.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Prady Disappointing

Okay, so clearly I am an unreliable liar.

I'm skipping ahead again... though only barely this time.

I'm skipping Hal Bidlack's emcee greeting, and Phil Plait & James Randi's combined opening president & founder's address and going right to the Keynote speaker – Bill Prady.

I'm skipping ahead because Bill Prady's keynote has been causing not a small amount of controversy on-line in the past few days. I'll add a few relevant links at the bottom.

It was apparent by lunch of that first day that there were some folks with their nose out of joint over his speech. There were a few things which spurred people's disapproval. For starters, his opening joke... about being disorganized and ill-prepared turned out to not be a joke. It seemed he had said most of what he talked about before, but had been over confident in his ability to present it fluidly. Was it bad? No. But it was disappointing to be thinking about what his speaking engagement price would be and to compare that to how he seemed to be pulling it out of his ass.

Secondly and more contentiously, there were a number of accusations of it being sexist. Honestly, I didn't notice. I was kind of geeking out on him. I doubt there were more than a handful of screenwriters in that audience. Myself, Michael Goudeau (who has been nominated for an Emmy for Bullshit!) and Mr. Prady himself might have been the only ones – no doubt it is an under-represented demographic in that room.

There has been a lot of discussion of the keynote online, and I haven't got a lot to add. There has been a lot of excerpting of it, but I have yet to find it in a complete form. I think that the best I might be able to contribute is to transcribe it here so that anyone who feels like they are only getting a portion of the picture can better judge for themselves.

I have only transcribed the keynote itself – not the ten minutes of Q & A that followed, as most of the criticism has been levelled at the speech itself.

I've stolen the text of Bill Prady's bio directly from the JREF site for convenience, but it is also linked.

Bill Prady is a television writer and producer who has worked on American sitcoms and variety programs, including Married With Children, Dream On, Star Trek: Voyager, Dharma & Greg, and The Gilmore Girls. He began his writing career working for Jim Henson's Muppets. He wrote the Disney Theme Park attractions Jim Henson's Muppet*Vision 3D and Honey, I Shrunk the Audience. He is currently the Executive Producer and co-creator of the CBS sitcom The Big Bang Theory. In 2003, he was a candidate for the office of Governor of California. He is a graduate of the Cranbrook Schools in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. In 1991, Prady was nominated for an Emmy award for co-writing the posthumous tribute to Jim Henson entitled "The Muppets Celebrate Jim Henson."

In his keynote speech for TAM 7, Bill will talk about science, geekery, and how The Big Bang Theory is once again making it cool to be a nerd.

And with that... Bill Prady...

Am I... Am I up on the big screen? Yeah? Okay. Uh... that means that I can't lie to the people at the back and say that I'm much better looking, uh than I am.


Well I'm very excited to be here and as I understand it, the purpose of a keynote address is to set the tone for the entire conference. So if that's the case, based on this keynote address, the conference will be disorganized and ill-prepared.

I made some notes... (Inaudible – 1 second.) ...the fundamental problem I'm having speaking to you this morning. Ummm.... I was very excited when Phil uh called and said uh "would you do this?" and I've been looking forward to it for uh – I think he called back in the spring. I've been looking forward for months to doing this, and about two weeks ago I said "Well I really should organize some thoughts, because... so that – sort of a pre-requisite to speaking, and uh... I looked up on the website to see if there were some clues as to what I would be speaking about. And I – I came across this... and uh it's a description of me (Inaudible – 1 second.) "Bill Prady, producer of the hit TV show The Big Bang Theory – and that is true – Bill is a bonafide science-geek who makes sure that every episode of The Big Bang Theory is chock-full of science, science-fiction and comic-book references as well as jokes" and so on and so forth – and then it says this: "At Comicon last year, Bill had the audience laughing so hard they were afraid they would miss the next thing he said." Now I presume you all read that and that means that all I can do this morning is disappoint you horribly.

So, here is what we are going to do. Well I think some of you may know the show and some of you may not, so I asked our editor to cut together a very short little uh... collection of clips that might be of particular interest to this group – so if this piece of technology works I'm going to – is this all set to go? Okay... (about 10 seconds of silence) ... Good so far.

At this point a collection of clips from Big Bang Theory were shown. The audio was bad, I'm not inclined to find the clips on line – if they are there at all – so I am merely summarizing the six pieces thusly:

  • Sheldon rants at Penny about Astrology.
  • Sheldon and his creationist mother.
  • Howard attempts to woo Missy with (bad) sleight of hand.
  • More astrology bashing from Sheldon.
  • More Mother – "all that science stuff, that comes from Jesus."
  • Howard's terrible ideas of how to approach women.

There is plenty of appreciative laughter & applause.

So uh, here's how I thought we'd spend the next uh little bit of time together. Ummm I – I thought that aspects of this will be of – some aspects of what we're doing on The Big Bang Theory will be of interest to some of you other aspects will be interesting to others. So I thought we – we'd start – we'd talk a little bit about me and then we'd move on to issues of interest to me, and then we'd move on to how we went about creating The Big Bang Theory and reaction of the network and the studio audience and the public to – I think, and I – I you know I maybe I somebody out there'd share your thoughts, but I think that this maybe the first television show where the central characters take a scientific and skeptical view of the world. I – someone can correct me if I'm wrong, but there have always been peripheral characters that have this particular outlook, but our show features the – the – the central characters have this outlook.

We can talk a little bit about how we try to make the science in the show right - umm, how Leonard and Sheldon function in a – in a non-skeptical world. Uh, maybe a little bit about my own thoughts about functioning in a non-skeptical world. Uhhh... maybe a couple of questions at that point. I haven't (Inaudible – 1 second.) and gardening tips.

First uh... first I just want to say – and this is the part where I'll talk about myself for a second, and I'll focus on the specific aspect which is where I from the time I was about twelve to the time I was sixteen or seventeen I – I earned pocket money doing magic shows for children's birthday parties. And uh, and during that period of time I was a proud member of the International Brotherhood of Magicians and I had a lapel pin to prove it. And I lost it – for uh a couple days ago I couldn't find it. I – I would often get my copies of Linking Ring and Genie magazines in the mail – often with the Amazing Randi on the cover. And I'm sitting down here next to them – to him – and for me it's a delightful and remarkable experience. So I thank you Sir for the opportunity to join you today.


Uhh. I – I – you know I spent a long time umm, uh, on various television projects but before I did that I uh was a computer programmer and before I did that I was a college drop out. Uh and uh, working in the world of computers as I'm told some of you do – uh, we... uh I think at times it's a chicken and egg question. By the way... and I don't know if anyone thought about this – the chicken and the egg question is resolved if you accept that we know it to be true that evolution is the choice of – of – of life on Earth – we know the egg comes first, because the thing that lays the egg is as near to being a chicken as it can possibly be and then a chicken hatches. If you have that other point of view that the chicken comes first, then it happens magically in a few days. Umm but the chicken/egg question about computer programmers was "do people who think like us become computer programmers or does computer programming in some way cause this?" Ummm... but the people that I worked with were people like Leonard and Sheldon – and me. And um, and I – I thought about these guys for a long time and when Chuck Lorre who produces uh – created Dharma and Greg, and Grace Under Fire, and Two and a Half Men, and some other shows and I said let's try and uh... do a show together. I started talking about these remarkable people who I knew and he said, well he said "well that's a show."

I want to think that I tried to (Inaudible – 1 second.) about all of us back then is that there were two qualities. One – one was critical thinking. One was these were people who looked at the world through – you know, with the intent to understand it – with the intent to understand it without thinking about it. But the other was a lack of judgement about each other. And that – that to me was powerful. Because they were – I worked with some unusual people. I worked with a guy named 'Ken' and Ken had some interesting qualities. One of them was that Ken could not go by himself some place that he had never been before. And we were in New York City – New York City is a grid. So we say "well Ken it's at the corner of 47th and 7th and we're at the corner of 47th and 6th." And he'd say "well I've never been there, so I can't go." And he didn't go.

And Ken was also an amazing mind. He y'know – when programming, we would often have to convert stuff from decimal to hexi-decimal and it was easier to just ask Ken to do it in his head than to find a stupid HD calculator. But Ken could not calculate the formula for a tip in a restaurant. And y'know... we – we – we knew this and the reason was – very interesting – the formula for a tip in a restaurant is 15 to 20 percent depending on the quality of service and Ken could not quantify that. And, what Ken would do he would say "well is it the speed with which the food arrives?" And we'd say "No, well that could be the kitchen." And y'know "Is is the fact that the waitress was friendly?" "No she could be soliciting a tip." And then we'd say "Well why don't simply just leave seventeen and a half percent?" And he said "Well no, statistically that means that half the time it's likely that I'm over-tipping and rewarding poor service and half the time I'm under-tipping and short-changing someone. So someone else figure out the tip."

So Ken and all the – all the people I worked with at the basis for the characters on The Big Bang Theory. The umm the uh – Leonard's difficulty with women, uh, is based on I don't know – we did – we did a show.... I think it was the first season, we did a show where um – Penny is the girl he loves. The girl across the hall. At a Hallowe'en party she's had too much to drink and she's furious with this fellow she's been seeing and – and she kind of makes herself available to Leonard. And Leonard says "No way. This is – this is not right. This is not how I'd like things to begin between us. And when I told that real and personal story in the writer's room and said that maybe this might be an episode of The Big Bang Theory I got two reactions – one is that the other writers said "my god what a, what a great story that would be" and the other was "You idiot!"

So that's how we came to create The Big Bang Theory.

And um, when – the other thing was when I getting ready to an-and come and talk to you guys this morning I asked my assistant I said "Listen, we do a show – the name of the show is The Big Bang Theory. The opening title sequence of the show depicts – accompanied by a wonderful song by the Barenaked Ladies, as best we could do the entire history of the universe in I think about twenty seconds. And we have characters go one a regular basis challenge creationism and astrology and things like that. And what I'd really like to do. What would be really fun for the gang at The Amazing Meeting is to if I could read some of the angry letters we get.

(Massive applause.)

Hang on! Hang on! Because she said "well we don't have any."


An editorial aside... he's a writer. He should know better than to set-up a promise he can't fulfill. For me this was the most disappointing element of the address.

And I told her that's not possible! I said – and there's a PA – a production assistant whose job it is to open all the letters and to read them. And there's a – there's a folder, and the folder is marked 'disturbing letters.' And I said "Well get that folder!" (Inaudible – 1 second.) I turned into Shatner for a second there, did it? "Get me that (Inaudible – 1 second.)" Do you think that just happened to him one day? "Bill, did you want to come to a party? Sure I'd love to I'll.... I'll – sit – here." He just talks that way now. Alright well, we'll cast him.

An editorial aside... huh?

(Inaudible – 2 seconds.) ...disturbed letters. So I opened the folder of disturbed letters and in the folder of disturbing letters and they are from inmates in love with Kaley Cuoco our (Inaudible – 1 second.) Now they are very disturbing, but they they they didn't address this issue. So I called over to CBS and CBS answered the phone – they are a hive mind – they answer together. And and said uh "I need the letters the need the letters from the fundamentalist Christians who object to the name of the show; I need the letters from from the new age folk who – who are disdainful for our denigration of astrology...."

Ummm... and I thought that there are a whole bunch of things we have to get to... I – I wrote a piece – I wrote a scene that takes place in a drug store because it drives me crazy that you go into a drug store and next to things that will help you are silly things that you can waste your money on and they are right there next to each other. And so I wrote a scene for Sheldon and Penny and Penny has a cold and goes to the drug store but we cut it for time. But I – I swear I will get to safe medicine in stores.

Um, but I said "Where are the letters, CBS?" Not one. And we've been on two years. Not one.

So here's what I was going to say to you because everybody who – who feels that they are in some way different from the general population tends to internalize that and – and be given you sort of get the feeling you are an oppressed minority. And the fact that, you know 12 million people watch the show every week and - and um no one – no one seems to be upset by what we are doing. And I – I would pass that along to you as a bit of reassuring. That the things you see that outrage you and bother you are absolutely there, but it – it may not represent the sentiments of everybody and I think that may be a thing to feel good about.


I thought that would be an applause line. (Inaudible – 2 second.) So I'd like to try an applause line. Who here likes applause?


(About 30 seconds of largely inaudible – lots of laughter in between

scattered identifiable words.)

When you look at the show, we – we – we're very proud to write the characters of Leonard and Sheldon and and – Koothripali and Wolowitz and the people they meet – the people in their world. They are physicists and engineers. Umm, but I'm also proud of the way we write the other characters and the way we represent their beliefs. Umm. Penny will always believe in astrology. You can – You can - You can quote studies to her all day long and she will say "yeah, I just like looking at my horoscope in the morning." And Leonard - Sheldon's – Sheldon's mother – Mary who you saw in a couple of clips there and you'll see again in our season opener in September – um she – her faith is the thing that let her cope with a son she didn't understand. We often say Sheldon was a bit like a cuckoo's egg, he feels like a cuckoo's egg – like he was somehow hatched in the Texas Christian family and he became this critical thinking scientist. But it is to his mother he returns when he is sad. And he did it in the first season and he will do it again in the opening episode of the third season. And it's very important to us that we depict the other points of view as real as deep and complex because otherwise they become paper tigers. It's just too easy. It's just too easy to create characters that don't share your point of view that you make stupid or you you you give their argument short shrift that you don't do the work of understanding why it is they think the way they do, because it then makes your characters less powerful, less interesting. In other words if we say "well Sheldon's mother is a fundamentalist Christian and therefore she's an idiot" so when Sheldon deals with her he can steam roll over her because he's got the truth. Well it make Sheldon less interesting. It makes Sheldon's point of view less interesting. It makes his argument less interesting. And I guess what I'd say is – is maybe that's something you can take out of the writing process and that you can – that you can put in your mind as you deal with the people who don't share your point of view. I will probably say our point of view – my point of view. Because someone's belief system is the thing that gets them through the day. It's the thing that get's them through the day. So when someone says "I believe in a guy with a white beard who rules all of us... and apologies I'm not referring to you sir. Or they believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster or whatever it is they believe... Any Pastafarians here?


Remember that they're not saying "oh please help me abandon the thing that gets me through my illness, my unemployment, my kid who doesn't understand me." This is the thing that gets them to the night so they can go to sleep so they can get up and do it again. People's beliefs are not a contest. You don't win. You don't win at the end of the day.


A small injection here – I think the above sentiment was the most powerful and affecting thing Prady said. If there was nothing else to grok from his speech, this was the essence... sadly he continued and almost immediately hit upon the points which have been controversial.

I'd also like to phrase it a different way... and this goes back to when uh.

.. when Phil and uh and Adam Savage asked me to do this and they said "well what will you talk about?" I said "I know. I know exactly the - the title of my keynote address will be 'We can continue to telling women in bars that astrology isn't real, but we won't get to have sex.'

I'm just going to say for the single gentlemen out here who may have other agendas in Las Vegas... and by the way, umm and, if - if - if a beautiful stunning woman comes up to you in a hotel bar and offers to spend time with you and you think she might be interested in the way you are dressed – be skeptical. There may be a financial transaction in the offing. But if you find yourself in a sincere conversation and a woman says "you're very interesting, let me tell you a little bit about myself – I'm a Pisces" you have two choices. I suggest you conduct a series of experiments. Divide the women into two groups. This does require that you get two different women – minimum – to hit on you. Group A respond with a detailed explanation of the 'time and twins study' out of England - which fairly conclusively proved that people born at the same time and the same place are not alike. To the second group say "I – I'm sorry, wow. You have the most incredible eyes." See what happens.

So I'll end off on that. Here is a note to remember that I wrote that says "don't be tedious." Oh no, that was a note to myself.

Alright, umm, you know what, it has been said, uh, a number of times, this is your conference. I'm excited to be a guest at it. And umm, again a keynote is to set the tone... By the way – I – I – one of my favourite things when people speak is when they begin with a dictionary definition. When somebody begins their speech "Webster's defines a keynote address as..." It's the laziest writing in the world. What and I going to say (Inaudible – 3 seconds.) But a keynote address is to set the tone and and um I'm glad to share with you what - what I know from my experiences and um, and – and I'd like to give control of the rest of my time to you...

I will summarize the Q & A in a later post. Maybe even tomorrow!

If anyone who reads this has a better quality recording and can decipher any of the inaudible portions noted above, please send me the text and I shall amend.

And lastly - though perhaps it shold have been first... a touch of framing and context.

To the best of my knowledge the first written discussion (I did hear some at the Pool Bar at South Point, and the last question Mr. P addressed in Q&A too - which will have to wait.) about any kind of controversy was from Barbra Drescher - her concerns go well beyond anythign said in the keynote though.

A response here at Skepchick.

And it wouldn't be right to not include a clarification on the same blog from the man himself.

Haven't even read that last one yet myself - I suppose I probably should.

1 comment:

  1. Nice Blog. Big Bang Theory is My Favorite Show.I love to Watch Big Bang Theory Online.....This Is My Favorite Show.