‘The Big Bang Theory’ and ‘NCIS’ Share This Vital Quality

NCIS: the most-watched show on television, soon to be entering its seventeenth season, focuses on a set of naval investigators committed to uncovering the truth behind murders, espionage, and terrorism. Starring Mark Harmon in the title role, the series is CBS’s “bread and butter,” as the screenwriters and captivating cast keep attracting more and more viewers with each passing season.

NCIS and The Big Bang Theory
‘NCIS’ Photo by CBS Photo Archive via Getty | ‘The Big Bang Theory’ Photo by CBS Photo Archive via Getty

The Big Bang Theory: the sitcom centering on a group of friends – all socially inept physicists – as they dive into the depths of science, yet struggle to maintain worthwhile conversations with women and non-Mensa members…and don’t forget Penny. One of the most-watched sitcoms on television, The Big Bang Theory, though controversial in its presentation of the academically inclined and often criticized for its reliance on “cheap” jokes, has never failed to bring in high rating for CBS.

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Aside from high ratings, what do The Big Bang Theory and NCIS have in common? Why do both shows boast such loyal and devoted fanbases – ones with fandom culture running rampant across multiple media outlets, as frequent viewers theorize their respective conclusions? How does a show become a cultural phenomenon, and what sets these two CBS successes apart?

Though episodic in nature, both ‘NCIS’ and ‘The Big Bang Theory’ rely heavily on overarching narratives and character development

While NCIS is a procedural show, it – by no means – falls into the space shared by its contemporaries, including Blue Bloods, Law and Order, and CSI. NCIS smoothly interweaves character backstories – through flashbacks, dreams, and brief dialogic moments – into the core of each episode.

Several crime-oriented dramas focus on the investigation at-hand during each episode, forgetting to delve into their characters throughout, while NCIS has grown to function as a character exposé depicted through an investigative lens.

While viewers care about the plot of each episode, the writers at NCIS pay careful attention to transform quirks into qualities, tendencies into behaviors with origins, making the show stand out in comparison to others with characters that are a bit two-dimensional or come off as caricatures of unrealistic personas.

In a similar vein, The Big Bang Theory, though a sitcom, shows its characters developing, and takes time to explain why they cemented certain behaviors, even if done in a comic light (think about the influence Sheldon’s childhood has had on his adult life).

While Raj doesn’t develop much, The Big Bang Theory, though a show you can jump in and out of at any time, creates and delivers on long-lasting narrative arcs that come to characterize the main cast members.

Think about Howard. He goes from a sexually unsatisfied scientist who’s uncomfortably creepy to a man capable of managing a romantic relationship and coping with his mother’s death. In season one, this would have never seemed imaginable.

While such a trajectory is typical of a serial drama, this is very unorthodox for a sitcom, as they tend to keep their characters largely unchanged to preserve the comedic energy that fans quickly grow accustomed to.

‘The Big Bang Theory’ and ‘NCIS’ steal the good stuff from darker, serial dramas and leave the rest behind

In summary, both The Big Bang Theory and NCIS understand that shows like Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, or The Walking Dead thrive on overarching plot points and long-gestating characters. So, leaving the darkness behind, while taking the time to add a little depth to their episodic formula – these two shows provide fans with the best of both worlds.

Fans still get to enjoy a relatively light viewing experience while coming to connect with the characters and engage in their personal journeys (without sacrificing their souls to serials requiring religious viewing practices).