WITH hugely popular sitcom The Big Bang Theory now midway through its final season, its cast members are preparing to bid an emotional farewell to the beloved characters they've played for 12 seasons.
Star Kaley Cuoco is still conflicted about its swan song, admitting she was devastated on hearing the news.
"I sobbed and sobbed and sobbed and could not form words," she tells news.com.au.
"We all did. The entire cast were all together and everyone cried for about 30 straight minutes. We all hugged," she smiles.
"It was kind of crazy."
Creator/producer Chuck Lorre had gathered the cast in a room for what many assumed might be a meeting about a possible 13th season. Instead, it was to announce the show would be ending.
"It was definitely a surprise to me, and especially in that moment. I just didn't know it was going to happen like that," says Cuoco.
Given a choice, Cuoco insists she'd play her character Penny forever.
"I've always said if it were up to me, I'd have been playing this character at 80 years old. It's taking me a minute to digest that it's coming to an end."
Of what's in store for the relationship between Penny and Leonard (Johnny Galecki), she reveals, "I think Leonard and Penny have had a very real-life relationship, which is what I like. It started as friends, then they dated, then they broke up and then they dated other people. This does happen to people. It wasn't like this fairytale from the beginning and their ups and downs over the past few years have felt very real to me."
Much of the show's popularity is also due to the genuine camaraderie among the cast.
"It shows," smiles Cuoco.
"You can see the love that we have for each other on-camera behind the scenes. From the beginning we've all been very, very, very close. True friends from day one, and we have now been for 11 years. It's its own genius science experiment."
For his part, Galecki says the decision to end the show was "difficult … and we were all very, very emotional about it".
"I'm getting emotional now talking about it. I don't think anyone was in disagreement about it but that doesn't mean that it was an easy conversation. There were a lot of tears and a lot of hugs. But even if we took the show to Season 35, that conversation is inevitable, and still would have been just as difficult and emotional.
"Nobody really wanted to say it out loud but it was time to talk about it," Galecki says.
"I don't know if this will resonate at all but I keep thinking a good allegory for it is when you're on a long road trip, which I like to do a lot, and you think, 'I can keep going. I'm happy. I still have energy. I can go a couple of hundred more miles,' but it's not until you start to pull off the freeway that you realise, 'No. This was a good idea. We should end this trip now.'"
It was Jim Parsons, the show's Sheldon, who set the ball in motion when he decided to leave. "I just thought it was a good time to end the show," he says. Parson's decision preceded creator Chuck Lorre's meeting with the remainder of the cast. He had previously stated that he would not continue the show without all three of his main leads — Parsons, Cuoco and Galecki.
There were rumours of a Big Bang spin-off without Parsons — which Galecki emphatically denies: "Oh, absolutely not. The show could not continue without Jim."
The same could surely be said about Roseanne, Galecki's other regular gig, which spawned The Connors after its titular star was fired.
"They are very different situations," he reasons, "but I can tell you that no one has any interest (in a Big Bang Theory spin-off)."
Without question, The Big Bang Theory helped bring geek culture into the mainstream. "We were either part of opening up eyes to a geek culture or at the very least, capitalising on joining in with what was already happening. But now it's ubiquitous, so much so that it feels quaint, the idea of 'bringing geek culture to light'," says Parsons.
Off-screen, there were reports that Parson's mother was devastated about the show coming to an end. But what about for him? "It's going to be a major challenge, (but) I don't consider myself overly sentimental." He chuckles. "Actually, that's not true."
Without breaking any contractual obligations, can Galecki give us any hints about what fans can expect from the season finale?
"No, but not because I'm trying to be enigmatic, I just don't know. The last episode is something that we've talked about for many, many years and there's many variations and options. I just hope whatever we're doing in that last episode it justifies the characters all crying because I know the cast will be," he laughs.
One of the big questions remains — will Penny and Leonard have kids?
Cuoco apparently doesn't know. "They've disagreed on having kids but now they seem to be on the same path, although she's not ready for it now," she says. "We still don't know what will happen, but I'm curious to see where they will end up because they're in a good place now.
"I love how they spoke about it. At one point she didn't want to have kids; she was really business-oriented and wanted to work and just loved her life. I appreciate that and I love that and I think it's a good message. But a little part of me really hopes that she changes her mind!"
It's almost the end of an era for the actors who have literally grown up with their characters. Cuoco marvels, "It's 12 years of my life. Most people have gone through ups and downs, whether it's new relationships, deaths, and I'm including the crew and the cast.
"We've all dealt with incredible family issues, we've lost crew members, we've gained new people," she says. "It's been a life."