Next season of 'Big Bang Theory' to be its last

Focusing on a highly intelligent but socially-awkward professor and his group of scientist friends, "Big Bang" was the biggest comedy ratings draw on broadcast television for years, winning 10 Emmys

Award-winning ratings smash "The Big Bang Theory" will end with the finale of its 12th season in May next year, CBS said on Wednesday, lavishing praise on the long-running comedy.

Focusing on a highly intelligent but socially-awkward professor and his group of scientist friends, "Big Bang" was the biggest comedy ratings draw on broadcast television for years, winning 10 Emmys.

"We are forever grateful to our fans for their support of 'The Big Bang Theory' during the past 12 seasons," CBS said in a statement released jointly with producers Warner Bros. Television and Chuck Lorre Productions.

"We, along with the cast, writers and crew, are extremely appreciative of the show's success and aim to deliver a final season, and series finale, that will bring 'The Big Bang Theory' to an epic creative close."

The show -- which will end its 12-year run on 279 episodes -- is a rare example of a long-running hit TV series that has managed to retain its massive viewing figures.

The last season attracted an audience of almost 19 million per episode, not far off its ninth season peak of 20.4 million.

It hit the headlines in its most recent seasons for a deal which meant its lead cast of Jim Parsons, Johnny Galecki, Kunal Nayyar, Simon Helberg, Kaley Cuoco, Mayim Bialik and Melissa Rauch all earning the same -- estimated at a shade under $1 million an episode.

"There are many ways to look at the dozen years of 'Big Bang Theory' as we draw to a close, but for me it will be the family that gathered each week to create a true labor of love," tweeted co-creator Bill Prady.

"I will treasure my Big Bang family to the end of my days."

Last year CBS premiered "Young Sheldon," a prequel series starring Iain Armitage as a nine-year-old version of nerdy genius Sheldon Cooper. It begins its second season on CBS in September.

The main show's final season premieres on Monday September 24 before shifting back to its regular Thursday time slot.