Penny, the sunny, naive Cheesecake Factory waitress on “The Big Bang Theory,” was almost a “cynical, down on her luck” character named Katie.
A new excerpt from journalist Jessica Radloff’s upcoming book, “The Big Bang Theory: The Definitive, Inside Story of the Epic Hit Series,” was published in The Hollywood Reporter on Thursday. The sampling centers around the development and casting of the beloved and bubbly Penny, who was eventually played by Kaley Cuoco.
According to the cast and crew interviewed for the book — which acts as an oral history of the CBS comedy — Cuoco was initially rejected for the role.
Radloff writes in her book that the show’s female lead was conceived as a darker and more worldly character. She was originally called Penny, but because CBS had another pilot at the time featuring a character with this name, the network asked for a change. So, the character was renamed Katie, and the upbeat Cuoco just didn’t fit her vibe.
“I know Chuck [Lorre, a co-creator of the show] really wanted me for the role of Katie, and I was definitely bummed when I didn’t get it,” Cuoco told Radloff. “But I kind of have a way of moving on because you have to.”
Radloff goes on to explain that actor Marisa Tomei was very close to getting the role of Katie and actually auditioned with the series’ lead, Jim Parsons.
“Oh my gosh what a different world that would have been,” Parsons told Radloff.
“Tara Reid also came in for the role of Katie, and I think Elizabeth Berkley went to network for the role, too,” co-creator Bill Prady said of the “American Pie” and “Saved by the Bell” stars, respectively. Paddy added that Berkley, who also starred in “Showgirls,” was “terrific” in her audition.
Jodi Lyn O’Keefe, best known at the time for movies like “She’s All That” and “Whatever It Takes,” ended up scoring the role of Katie for the pilot.
O’Keefe went in for a table read with the entire cast, and although everyone felt it went well, producers thought something was off. Parsons told Radloff that he thought O’Keefe was “great” during the read-through and that he was “stunned” to find out she got fired just 30 minutes later.