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?â€”Brad
Matt Roush: Iâ€™m with you. Iâ€™ve always thought Chuck has all the attributes of a mainstream hit. Itâ€™s well-made, smart (but not too smart) and funny, hugely accessible, with big doses of action and comedy each week. In short, itâ€™s a blast. Itâ€™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 canâ€™t imagine why people wouldnâ€™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 Moreâ€”see Chrisâ€™s comments further down the columnâ€”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 whatâ€™s been holding Chuck back has to be NBCâ€™s scheduling and the networkâ€™s overall misfortunes. Chuck has had to fight to get noticed in Mondayâ€™s most overcrowded hour, and being yoked to Heroes as it struggles season by season hasnâ€™t helped. The writersâ€™ strike cutting off the first season so abruptly also stalled whatever momentum it might have had early on. Otherwise, though, Iâ€™m as stymied as you. If we were still doing our â€œBest Show(s) Youâ€™re Not Watchingâ€ 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.â€”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 fansâ€™ 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 â€œcommunityâ€ that doesnâ€™t have nearly as much interest in CBSâ€™s bread-and-butter programming. It didnâ€™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 Harperâ€™s Island, though it would help if the shows themselves were better. But thatâ€™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 donâ€™t see it having any significant impact on the way the networks will view fan campaigns. We win some, we lose many. Thatâ€™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.â€”Chris
Matt Roush: This covers some of the same ground as Bradâ€™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 (shouldnâ€™t be hard), I donâ€™t think it will be missed much at all, if in fact they do decide to move on. And couldnâ€™t agree more that when they beefed up (so to speak) Awesomeâ€™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. Weâ€™ll certainly do our part to make some noise when it comes back. The upside in this renewal is that expectations arenâ€™t exactly high, so even staying on par with last seasonâ€™s numbers might look like a success.