It’s been a tough week for the cast and creative minds behind “The Big Bang Theory.” On Nov. 11, Carol Ann Susi, who provided the perfectly grating voice of Howard Wolowitz’s always off-screen mother, died of cancer at age 62.
Although Susi didn’t play an on-screen role and wasn’t technically a series regular – the absence of Howard’s mother will surely be felt by fans. As a result, the writers are now in the position of having to address the loss of Mrs. Wolowitz.
It’s an unfortunate and often grim prospect, to continue a show after one of the actors playing a character dies. However, with massive amounts of money, work and several people’s livelihoods at stake, it’s up to the creative minds behind a TV show to find a respectful and smart way to write someone off.
Many series have tried different approaches in the past. After John Ritter’s untimely death in 2003, ABC was left with no one to round out the cast of “8 Simple Rules,” which was filming its second season. The creators opted to let their art imitate life and wrote a special one-hour tribute episode to his character, titled “Goodbye.” The rest of the season dealt with the family’s reaction to the his death. According to Splitsider, both David Spade and James Garner were brought in to fill the hole Ritter left behind.
More recently, “Glee” was hit by tragedy when leading star Cory Monteith died at 31 from a drug overdose. The series decided that his character, Finn Hudson, would be killed off the show as well. As EW notes, the “Glee” writers denied the audience a cause of death for the character and, instead, focused their tribute episode on how the character lived his life.
While it makes a lot of sense, and can make for a touching tribute, to simply kill off a character when a performer dies, its not always the best course of action. On HBO’s latest comedy, “Silicon Valley,” Mike Judge and the writers were forced to confront the future of the hilarious character Peter Gregory, masterfully played by Christopher Evan Welch.
Welch succumbed to lung cancer while filming his role on the now Emmy-nominated show. While critics hailed his remarkable performance, he was not necessarily an essential character to the story. In addition, the show only aired eight episodes, which would make any kind of tribute or emotional confrontation of the loss of his character seem disingenuous. Instead, Judge decided to simply let the character quietly exit the spotlight, according to The Wrap. Judge says that Gregory will not be killed off in the show and will be mentioned but never seen on-screen again.
“The Big Bang Theory” writers have a couple directions they could take to address Susi’s passing. They could write an emotional story in which Howard must bid farewell to his annoying yet loving mother. Another option would be to simply write Mrs. Wolowitz out of the show by sending her on a permanent vacation. Recasting the role could also be an avenue worth persuing but, based on some past comments from producer Bill Prady, that doesn’t seem likely.
According to TV Line, Prady was once asked by TV Guide if they’d ever bring Mrs. Wolowitz on screen with another actress, say, Roseanne Barr.
"Carol Ann Susi loves her job as the off-screen bane of Howard’s existence because, as she often says, she gets to work with wonderful people and doesn’t have to put on makeup," Prady told TV Guide. "There are no plans for any other actress to play the role."
While Prady likely didn’t have Susi’s untimely death in mind when he made this statement, it seems unlikely that now would be the time to finally bring in someone to play Mrs. Wolowitz in person.