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In The Big Bang Theory the elevator has been out of order since the start of the series.

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To this date -- after season Ten has finished -- the elevator has still not been fixed.

Is there any significance for this?

  • 1
    See also quora.com/The-Big-Bang-Theory-TV-series/… – BCdotWEB Sep 1 '15 at 8:25
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    I lived in a 3 story 70 year old apartment building in San Francisco for nearly 10 years. When I moved in, the elevator had been broken for a few months and they were "waiting for some parts" to fix it. When I moved out 10 years later, it still hadn't been fixed... that was over 10 years ago, I looked up a recent apartment listing in that building, and "elevator" is not listed as one of the building's amenities, so it is presumably still not fixed. – Johnny Sep 1 '15 at 21:34
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    Elevators are ’spensive. – Paul D. Waite Sep 2 '15 at 11:20
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    I always thought that it will be fixed in the final episode. I hope it gets fixed in the final episode when Shamy and Lenny happen to be moving out of the building. They see it's fixed but decide to take the stairs all together one last time. – user37339 Jul 24 '16 at 13:27
  • @Johnny Were you living in the same apartment shown in Big bang theory? :P – Nog Shine May 19 '17 at 13:52
58

It's just a reoccurring joke that management is lazy and how extensive the damage was. The elevator was damaged due to a malfunctioning experiment of Leonard's (He wrongly calculated the mixture for the experimental rocket Fuel he was developing), which Sheldon recognized as going critical so he placed it in the elevator. It exploded inside and took out the entire elevator cab. (The Staircase Implementation, Season 3, Episode 22)

The cost of a new elevator cab (and maybe the motor/hydraulic system and everything else) and structural repairs to the elevator shaft for a ~8 story building like that would be in the low to mid 6 digits. And would be a labor intensive multi-month project. From a New York Times Article on modernizing an Existing, working elevator system:

In a six-story building, a standard elevator modernization (frequently involving replacement of the cab rather than remodeling it) costs about $100,000, including consultant fees, said Joseph Caracappa, an elevator consultant ... A project in a 6- to 12-story building generally costs around $125,000, while anything taller will require roughly $150,000 to $175,000. [He] on my building’s project, said that these figures assume that some components won’t need changing. Our 89-year-old drum-hoisted elevator, being well past its sell-by date, needed everything, which is why our job cost substantially more. Also, we spent about $20,000 on the interior finishes, on the higher side of a range from $7,500 to $30,000.

That's putting a regular fix at < $200,000. An explosion would likely add much more cost to it.

Between the High Cost, the amount of work required, and not having anyone to blame/sue/recover the cost from, it's understandable why the elevator has not been fixed.

  • 15
    @aitchnyu because noone except the gang knows about how it happened. Specifically answered in the Staircase implementation, Sheldon never ratted Leonard out – cde Sep 1 '15 at 13:12
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    If I were the police, I would start a terrorism investigation for a potentially deadly blast involving novel high-energy fuels and maybe get assistance from the university. Leonard would be caught nevertheless. Is that all hand-waved away? – Jesvin Jose Sep 1 '15 at 13:54
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    @aitchnyu why would the police believe terrorism, why would they assume novel high-energy fuels, why would they ever get a university involved? – cde Sep 1 '15 at 14:20
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    Surely the building owners would have insurance to cover something like this? – Steve Sanders Sep 1 '15 at 15:02
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    Surprisingly, most insurance holders neglect to buy the add-on covering "potentially deadly blast involving novel high-energy fuels". – Zano Sep 1 '15 at 18:29
39

The creators of the program wanted a hallway between the two apartments but they felt that it was too thin. Adding an elevator forces the hallway to be wider.

Forcing the characters to use the stairs also enables a longer conversation as a lift would be too quick.

This was revealed by the creators in the 100 episode special for the UK TV channel e4.

  • 6
    Wow. Time for a detailed comparison of the hallway encounters in Big Bang Theory versus the ones in Friends where they could almost step from one apartment to the other. – JiK Sep 1 '15 at 15:11
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    @JiK How about in Seinfeld where you could practically reach out your arms and touch the opposite sides of the hallway? – gla3dr Sep 1 '15 at 15:18
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    I think this out-of-universe reason is the true cause of the not-fixed-elevator. The series creators often use the stairway for extended conversations which would be harder to do with an elevator. – Raidri says Reinstate Monica Sep 2 '15 at 9:34
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This has been discussed by the show's creators on a number of occasions:

The stairwell offers an opportunity to see the characters walking and talking

Q. Is the elevator ever going to get fixed?

A. “I think those stairs are the only exercise those guys get,” Molaro jokes. Prady explains the stairwells are the only place they can show the characters walking and talking, so don’t expect the elevator to start working anytime soon. Got to get in that cardio any way you can, right?

It removes the need for external sets

Q. Is the elevator ever going to be fixed, or does it work too well as a device?

A. We’re very proud of the elevator. What the elevator and the stairs allowed us to create is two things. One is the set design of most sitcom apartments gives you an L-shaped entrance where the characters — think Friends — enter this way and then walk toward the cameras. And it’s really short. If you want a longer conversation, if you want a walk and talk conversation, you have to come up with another set for it. You often do this by driving in the car or walking on the street. But this way we were able to do our walk and talk on our stage. So it’s terrific.

I think we were just writing opening the elevator shaft and having Sheldon climb down into it looking for something. We we’re writing this yesterday.

Repairing the studio floor would be quite a big deal

Q. As much as I love the awkward staircase conversations in “TBBT” I want to know if the elevator will EVER be fixed? It would be so funny to watch someone get trapped in there with Sheldon. (Nicola)

A. Our broken elevator does two wonderful things for us. First, it eliminates the traditional sitcom L-shaped apartment building hallway and second, it allows us to do “walk and talk” scenes without having to create a city street or similar set. We’re proud of the set, which required we jackhammer a hole in the floor of Stage 25 (to make room for the stairs going down). I can’t tell you whether it will ever get fixed, but if it does, I’m sure things won’t go well.

2

In the finale the elevator is fixed.

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