Matt Roush at TV Guide Answers Chuck Questions

In this week’s Q&A column, Matt Roush from TV Guide Magazine answered several questions about Chuck and the show’s future:

Question: I can understand why certain shows of quality never really make it huge with the populace. I guess the relatively slow pace of Friday Night Lights and realistically drawn characters would turn off those who love escapism and easy watching. The Wire, I suppose, could be too complex, too “hard to watch” (although I’ve never been anything less than captivated by the show). Arrested Development wouldn’t appeal to those who don’t like hilarity and intelligence in their comedy (okay, that was snarky but comedy is subjective and I get that). I can even get, reluctantly, how Pushing Daisies might be too eccentric and a bit of an overload for some. But one struggling show I just cannot fathom is Chuck. I’m glad NBC is bringing it back for at least a partial season, but I simply cannot conceive why this one isn’t a breakout, mainstream hit. It’s fun, it’s exciting, it’s sexy, it’s marketable, and the continuous story isn’t so dense or prevalent that one would be lost if they jumped in midstream or missed an episode here or there. I just honestly don’t get it. You must get mail from the show’s detractors. Can you help me understand why this, of all shows, seems designed to ride out the rest of its days on the bubble?—Brad

Matt Roush: I’m with you. I’ve always thought Chuck has all the attributes of a mainstream hit. It’s well-made, smart (but not too smart) and funny, hugely accessible, with big doses of action and comedy each week. In short, it’s a blast. It’s not as if the idea of a reluctant spy is exactly ground-breaking, and with stars as appealing as Zachary Levi, Yvonne Strahovski and Adam Baldwin, I can’t imagine why people wouldn’t want to go on the ride. In the mail I get about the show, the most substantive criticisms have to do with the cartoonish subplots at Buy More—see Chris’s comments further down the column—which really do seem like annoying filler many weeks (and which I presume will be reduced significantly in the shortened season to come, or at least I hope will be), along with the much-discussed topic of whether Chuck might not work better at a half-hour than an hour. For me, part of what’s been holding Chuck back has to be NBC’s scheduling and the network’s overall misfortunes. Chuck has had to fight to get noticed in Monday’s most overcrowded hour, and being yoked to Heroes as it struggles season by season hasn’t helped. The writers’ strike cutting off the first season so abruptly also stalled whatever momentum it might have had early on. Otherwise, though, I’m as stymied as you. If we were still doing our “Best Show(s) You’re Not Watching” features, rest assured Chuck would be high on the list.

Question: There seems to be a recent trend these past several years for fans of lesser-watched series to organize and make pleas to network executives regarding the fates of their favorite shows. Fans have been successful in earning new seasons for CBS’ Jericho and NBC’s Chuck in the past two years. With Jericho, I believe ratings were a fraction of what they were at the beginning of the show’s first season, and I fear the long hiatus for Chuck may lead to a similar result. Do you think there is the possibility that network executives will become immune to the pleas of fans, no matter how unique said pleas might be? I thought the Chuck ploy by fans to appeal directly to a corporate sponsor was extremely smart, but if viewership levels do not increase as a result of any attempt by fans to bring their favorite back for another season, I fear executives will learn that listening to the fans is a waste of time.—Alex M

Matt Roush: By now, and especially in the Internet age, networks expect an uproar anytime almost any show is canceled. The short-lived resurrection of Jericho and the last-minute renewal of Chuck are less a reflection of networks bowing to fans’ desires (though it makes for a good story any time it happens) as they are strategic and specific decisions made for a variety of reasons, fan outcry being a big part of it. CBS, which builds most of its schedule around mainstream procedurals, was certainly responding to the viral online fan interest surrounding Jericho, and hoped to tap into the sort of “community” that doesn’t have nearly as much interest in CBS’s bread-and-butter programming. It didn’t translate into numbers, so CBS abandoned the experiment. (And this network tends to get punished any time it tries to break formula, with shows like Viva Laughlin, Swingtown and Harper’s Island, though it would help if the shows themselves were better. But that’s another topic.) With Chuck, the fact that a corporate sponsor (Subway) was drawn into the save-our-show fan campaign, and has since signed on as a significant sponsor of the next season, makes this particular renewal especially interesting. Whatever the numbers are for next season, NBC and Subway both get good p.r. for their parts in keeping a much-loved show alive. If Chuck fails to break through once again and is axed a year from now, I don’t see it having any significant impact on the way the networks will view fan campaigns. We win some, we lose many. That’s probably not going to change.

Question: You may have moved, but your column is still a “must-read” every week, so thanks for coming back better than ever. Now to business. I have finished the second season of Chuck and my thoughts to improve the third season is a better focus on the spy-angle rather than the Buy More adventures. It seems that for the most part, these stories are just padding and have no relevance most of the time to the series premise. Sure, sometimes they are funny, but at times they take up valuable real estate on the series, especially when Chuck isn’t part of those stories. I am left wondering: Does this series have a split personality going on? With the series about to do some budget snipping, my first instinct is to reduce the Buy More into a recurring stint rather than a focus on every episode. And although I don’t expect Emmy to come knocking for Chuck, I can’t deny the passion, energy and uniqueness of the second season. Every episode felt like it was a work of love for everyone involved. Zachary Levi, Yvonne Strahovski and Adam Baldwin had three of the best performances of last season, although I must admit I love it when Ryan McPartlin has a bigger role, too. And lastly, do you think Chuck will get the ratings it deserves or will this be the latest in a sadly long list of series that never find their true audience? I can’t remember a drama that “came out” in its third season, which makes me worried.—Chris

Matt Roush: This covers some of the same ground as Brad’s earlier question, but reveals just how anxious many Chuck fans are to move away from the Buy More arena. The show has played that out about as far as they can go (if not farther), and as long as they can keep Morgan in the stories (shouldn’t be hard), I don’t think it will be missed much at all, if in fact they do decide to move on. And couldn’t agree more that when they beefed up (so to speak) Awesome’s part in the last few episodes, it was truly awesome. As to whether Chuck can grow in the third season: It seems unlikely, but maybe launching the show at midseason instead of fall will be a blessing, not a curse. We’ll certainly do our part to make some noise when it comes back. The upside in this renewal is that expectations aren’t exactly high, so even staying on par with last season’s numbers might look like a success.

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  1. Fans really hate the Buy More subplots that much? I mean, when I watch the show live, yeah, I’m looking for, if I’m being totally honest, the next Chuck & Sarah scene. But on the re-watch, the Buy More scenes really do make the episodes. I don’t think they create a split personality at all. And as for not relating to the spy storyline, that’s absurd to me. They usually parallel it in a totally comedic fashion. I don’t know, for me, Chuck is a complete experience and without the Buy More… the experience would be lacking. Surely I’m not alone in my thinking.

  2. Sure the Buy More is fun and all but the spy world is far more interesting. If they do get rid of the Buy More I sure hope they’ll keep Jeffster (LOLZ) and Morgan around. Though to tell the truth as long Chuck, Sarah, and Casey are in every episode and theres still the comedy aspect of the show I’m a happy camper. 🙂 Just give me more Chuck and that puts a smile on my face. Though I must add that I sure hope they dont tease any more the whole Chara relationship. Its the only frustrating part of the show.

  3. i agree with you Estee. i think that the buy more subplots are awesome.if they were not there then eposodes like Chuck Vs. the Nemisis, Chuck Vs. the Marlin and Chuck Vs. the best friend would not make sence.

  4. First the buymore was a very expensive set to have so i dont think they are just going to ditch it. then if there is no buy more then i think the posibility that sarah works at a subway is gone too.

  5. I will always be a fan of MR because of his ardent support of Farscape. The man knows what good tv is. I can’t believe Farscape wasn’t mentioned in the part about fans resurrecting a show. Long live Chuck, Long live Farscape!!!

  6. Operation Pineapple

    Interview: Part I: Jeff Zucker: How much did the social networking have to do with (bringing back) Chuck?

  7. Personally, I like the dichotemy between the buy more subplots and the main spy story. I like that this is a silly, fun, and action-oriented show that I can actually watch with my 9 year without my own intelligence being insulted. I too am kind of shocked it hasn’t found a larger mainstream audience.

    Even more egregious is the failure of the excellent Unusuals. I love this show, and am totally shocked that it didn’t win a big main stream audience. I blame ABC’s poor marketing, and an inappropriate time slot… it’s not a “serious” show, not terribly violent for a police show, and it could have done nicely in an earlier, family-friendly time slot.

  8. The Buy More had it’s place in Season One because that is where Chuck spent a lot of his time. But as Season Two wore on, Chuck spent less and less time there, at least that we were shown, so the Buy More scenes seemed more like filler. By the end of Season Two, Chuck obviously had completely outgrown the Buy More, and held his job there in complete disdain. As much as I love Jeff, Lester, Big Mike, and, of course, Morgan, the Buy More really doesn’t have a place in Chuck’s life anymore. Heck, even Morgan has quit it.

    The writers need to find a way to fit those characters into Chuck’s story instead of just jumping to a scene with them that has nothing to do with what is going on in Chuck’s life, as seemed to be the case quite a bit in Season Two.

    All that said, I LOVE the show, and I’m so grateful that it is returning!

  9. I’m rewatching Season 1 (I’m up to Ep. 10) and realize how much the overall plot depends on the Buy More. Sometimes it is dialog that foreshadows a future plot line. But let’s not forget Black Friday or Anna’s martial arts display were key plot lines in the store. The Buy More is an entrance to the Castle. And Big Mike is the tie to Subway. Yes, occasionally, the spy-to-Buy More jump is a bit sudden, but overall the Buy More is a great addition. Besides, it’s given Casey a second occupation to fall back on in case the government killer thing doesn’t work out.

  10. I agree that the Buy More “B” plotlines started to feel distracting near the end of season 2. I’ve always felt that one of the most important aspects to the storytelling approach to Chuck, is to keep Chuck firmly caught between the normal everyday world and the amazing super spy agent world the intersect has opened to him. If you move him to far into either of those worlds, you lose the comedic tension that comes from an ordinary guy being thrown into extraordinary situations. Up until this point, Buy More has been, (in connection to Chuck’s home life with Ellie and Devon), the primary place where we get to see Chuck’s “normalness.” This is crucial so that we as the audience keep realizing just how “in over his head” Chuck really is whenever he is on a mission with Sarah and Casey. The problem with the Buy More at this point, is that the writers made the obvious decision to distance Chuck from the Buy More in a way that makes it feel like a distraction from the larger story. It seems like we keep being thrown back into Buy More scenes for two primary reasons. 1)To find out what Morgan, Anna, and Jeff & Lester are up to. 2)For more comic relief than Chuck’s scenes were able to provide later in season 2. Once you take Chuck out of the Buy More, you take my interest in the Buy More away as well. That doesn’t mean that I’m not interested in the people who work at the Buy More. There just has to be a better way, in season 3, to include those colorful and comedic side-characters, without keeping Chuck as a Nerd Herder at the Buy More. It’s my hope that the writers will find a way to keep Chuck in the normal everyday world with Morgan and the rest of the crew, without those scenes happening at the Buy More. It’s beginning to feel pretty stale from a creativity standpoint. Just my two cents.

  11. I want more Ellie and Morgan! They are comic gold together. The writers need to find a way to get the two of them in more scenes together this season. Actually, Morgan is awesome with Awesome also.

    I’d rather see Morgan paired in more storylines with Ellie and Awesome then Jeff and Lester.

  12. Nice article on about NBC going to the direct internet marketing strategy, Chuck is the new poster child for fan renewal campaigns, methinks….

  13. Another poll for Chuck – Which couple has the best chemistry = Chuck & Sarah
    Be careful the next couple down starts with Chuck from Gossip girl
    At the moment Bones is leading, but we were able to take out Barney in the funniest guy poll.

  14. FYI. There’s a new video interview with Zachary Levi on He gives some hints about next season on there–most of which we know, such as the Orange Orange will probably be a Subway, and that the powers in the new intersect will come and go on Chuck.

    Heres the link to the latest interview with Zach on

  16. Great interview on I still don’t see Sarah working at the Subway. I see Morgan flunking out of chef school after his fledgling knife skills leave a non-fatal chest wound in his instructor. He and Anna return to the Buy More to get their jobs back. Anna is welcomed with open arms (she’s a Nerd Herder after all), but Morgan is turned away. The only job he can land is behind the counter at Subway.