Maligned by critics but The Big Bang Theory remained hugely popular

The science sitcom is to end on Thursday.

The Big Bang Theory, which is coming to an end after 12 seasons, was often maligned by critics but remained to the end a huge hit with viewers.

If the jury is still out on the science sitcom’s legacy, the popular vote must surely go with a show which as recently as last year topped viewer ratings in the US.

The Big Bang Theory first hit screens in 2007 and focused on the bickering roommates Leonard Hofstadter and Sheldon Cooper, played by Johnny Galecki and Jim Parsons respectively.

Jim Parsons
Jim Parsons was the breakout star of The Big Bang Theory thanks to his portrayal of Sheldon Cooper (PA)

Both physicists, their social ineptitude was contrasted with their streetwise-but-intellectually lacking neighbour and aspiring actress Penny, played by Kaley Cuoco.

The original main cast was completed by Simon Helberg’s lecherous aerospace engineer Howard and Kunal Nayyar’s painfully shy astrophysicist Rajesh Koothrappali.

In contrast to its later success, The Big Bang Theory struggled in its first season, with unspectacular viewing figures and mixed critical reception.

Many took issue with the portrayal of Penny, arguing she was little more than window dressing rather than a character in her own right.

Kaley Cuoco
Kaley Cuoco played waitress and aspiring actress Penny on The Big Bang Theory (Ian West/PA Wire)

However, the Chuck Lorre-created sitcom grew in strength and was praised for bringing the geek subculture to the mainstream. Its characters showed a love of sci-fi franchises, including Star Trek, Star Wars and Doctor Who.

Despite the often lukewarm – or worse – response from critics, The Big Bang Theory was one of the top 10 most watched series in the US for its Thursday night slot from its fifth season onwards.

It climbed to the top spot last year for its 11th season.

Thanks to its huge commercial success, Galecki, Cuoco and Parsons – the show’s breakout star – reportedly each made one million US dollars, about £778,000, an episode.

Big Bang Theory
The Big Bang Theory was created by Chuck Lorre (Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

And the cast expanded, introducing Mayim Bialik as Amy Farrah Fowler, who would become Sheldon’s wife, Melissa Rauch as Bernadette Rostenkowski, who married Howard, and giving Kevin Sussman’s pathetic comic book store owner Stuart Bloom a more prominent role.

The Big Bang Theory was also known for its long list of celebrity guest stars, with astronaut Buzz Aldrin, Star Wars actress Carrie Fisher and comic book pioneer Stan Lee all appearing on the show as themselves.

After 11 seasons, seven Emmy Awards – including four outstanding lead actor in a comedy prizes for Parsons – Warner Bros announced last year The Big Bang Theory’s upcoming 12th season would be its last.

According to reports in the US, the decision was made after Parsons told producers he no longer wanted to appear in the show.

News of its demise brought mixed emotions, with fans mourning its loss while others argued it was long overdue.

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