Television provides profound moments that often stay with a loyal show fan and viewer for years. No one who grew up in the 1970s will ever forget the ending of M*A*S*H or the news that Saturday Night Live's John Belushi had died.
Now the "me" generation has such a historic television event in its memory bank and what makes it even more unique than Col. Henry Blake being killed after his plane crashed on his way home from war, or the swirling controversy following Belushi's death given his drug use, is that the Big Bang Theory's bereavement episode is based on a character that no viewer ever saw in the eight years the show has been running.
Thursday's episode of the long-running CBS drama paid homage to Carol Ann Susi, the voice and personality of Mrs. Debbie Wolowitz, the mother of Howard. The 62-year-old actress passed away last November. On the show she was in Florida visiting a sister and died in her sleep. She was often heard on the show, but never seen, making her an enigma and a character loved as much as the weekly cast of actors.
The often crude, and always screechy, Mrs. Wolowitz appeared in 39 episodes, making her first appearance in 2007 when the show initially debuted.
Thursday night's memoriam episode, "The Comic Book Store Regeneration," opens up with drama as Howard realizes his comic book store friend, who befriended his mother in the last season while she was recuperating from surgery, has taken his mom's furniture for his store. After learning from his aunt about his mother's passing, Howard wrestles to deal with his emotions as his close gang of friends tries, in their own unique way, to help him deal with the loss and pain.
The show ends with actor Johnny Galecki, who plays Leonard, making an emotional but simple toast to his friend's deceased mother, after the group shares their memories of meeting and interacting with Mrs. Wolowitz.
According to Big Bang Theory showrunner Steven Molaro, the producers and show's creative team had two options when confronted with the loss of Susi. They could write out the character with little explanation or incorporate the loss into the sitcom.
"There was pressure because we're talking about an actual person we cared about very much. We were feeling pressure to pay tribute to her in a way that she deserved -- and I hope we did that," said Molaro.
When the news of Susi's death broke, Molaro remembers living in the "moment of the tragedy, having just learned what happened."
"They somehow managed to be heartbroken and celebratory of her at the same time. And we tried to capture a little bit of that at the end of [Thursday's] episode," he explains.
This week's moving episode was a fitting follow-up to a death notice placed at the end of the Nov. 13, 2014, show. That evening the producers ran a very moving credit line:
"In loving memory of Carol Ann Susi. 'Mrs. Wolowtiz.' Every time you spoke, we laughed. You're in our hearts forever."