Bizarre though it sounds, a television comedy has joined the ranks of industrial giants, educational trusts and private individuals to provide funding for university students in need. If you’re a fan of the US series, The Big Bang Theory (and I admit to being a big fan, despite my advancing years), you’ll probably have had a warm feeling about the actors and creators of the show – the comedy of academic nerds in California has such a human heart. And now we are proved right.
The Big Bang Theory’s stars, producers and sponsors have donated to a $4 million fund to support low-income students studying in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics at UCLA (the University of California, Los Angeles). The show has links with the University, as its academic science consultant is UCLA’s Professor of Physics and Astronomy, David Saltzberg. Moreover, Mayim Bialik, who plays Sheldon’s neuroscientist girlfriend Amy, actually has a PhD in neuroscience from the University.
‘We have all been given a gift with The Big Bang Theory, a show that’s not only based in the scientific community, but also enthusiastically supported by that same community – this is our opportunity to give back,’ believes Chuck Lorre, Big Bang Theory’s co-creator and executive producer. ‘In that spirit, our Big Bang family has made a meaningful contribution, and together, we’ll share in the support of these future scholars, scientists and leaders.’
One million dollars per episode
We can’t feel that sorry for the actors giving up their hard-earned cash to the fund; principal cast members Jim Parsons (Sheldon), Johnny Galecki (Leonard) and Kaley Cuoco (Penny) reportedly negotiated a $90 million pay deal which almost tripled their salaries to $1 million per episode for recent seasons. Nevertheless, the scholarship is a new departure for a television comedy, and reflects a growing need for academic institutions everywhere to find new sources of funding. UCLA’s chancellor Gene Block says: ‘UCLA attracts the very best students from around the world, and admission is very competitive. We are grateful for The Big Bang Theory Scholarship Endowment, whose contributors agree with us that economic standing should not hinder a deserving student’s shot at a degree from a university of UCLA’s calibre.’
The first 20 scholars gaining funds from The Big Bang Theory Scholarship Endowment will be announced on the programme’s studio set this autumn, with a further five scholars to be announced each year in perpetuity. If you’re a top science student with an eye on studying in the USA, now’s your chance!
Meanwhile, will other high-earning television series (those that are sold around the world, regularly repeated or franchised) follow Big Bang’s lead? I’m imagining an MBA funded by The Office, a forensic science degree supported by The Killing, or a cooking scholarship funded by Masterchef.