Beware, Beware the Hiatus ‘Til March
Chuck Returns…in 2010
When Chuck was officially renewed a few days ago, I didn’t end up writing a piece about it: it wasn’t that the show wasn’t deserving of praise, or that I wasn’t excited by the announcement, but unlike the Dollhouse renewal it felt like a foregone conclusion, with every secret source and major news outlet reporting that it was about dotting the Is and crossing the Ts more than any serious finagling on behalf of the parties involved.
And sure enough, the New York Times today officially confirms that Chuck has been renewed by NBC, with the various catches reporter earlier in the week: a smaller budget, a shortened 13-episode order, and in a new twist the fact that one of the characters will actually work for Subway, a nod to the “eat at Subway” campaign that helped to save the show. However, the real twist is where the show is being positioned: Chuck will return in March, in its old timeslot of Mondays at 8pm, nearly eleven months after its second season finale, once the 2010 Vancouver olympics are done and over with.
It’s a decision that makes sense on some level, and certainly is better than getting no new episodes at all, but it also gives NBC a built-in excuse to not go any further with the series, even in its newly ad-supported form. But, like its titular hero, Chuck isn’t going to be a show to die easily, and even with the odds being stacked against it it’s hard not to celebrate an unlikely, but well deserved, Season Three.
First off, I like the Subway idea: it’s clever, fits into the show’s motif, and allows the series to save some of its budget for more important things. My presumption is that it will be Sarah working at Subway, as it would create an excuse for them to move Castle from its current (compromised) location, but it’s possible that perhaps Morgan’s trip to Hawaii got sidetracked and he ends up fast fooding it up. It all depends on what they’re going for: do they want to find humour in the product placement, or simply have it as a subtle part of the world? It’s up to Schwartz and company, really.
However, the real problem with this decision is that it, largely, gives NBC a whole laundry list of excuses if they want to try to cancel the show after the season is over, a series of factors and perspectives that are unlikely to do the show any favours. I don’t want to think on such negative terms, but NBC is giving themselves too much ammo for my liking. Here are the obstacles that fans, and the show, are going to have to overcome in the year ahead.
One of the most important things about the Save Chuck campaign has been transitioning from success into momentum, building hype and a potential audience for the series until it returns. However, with such a long layover it will be tough for even the awesome Chuck fans to keep momentum up, and I don’t think that there’s really a scenario where the current Chuck momentum will have a huge impact on awareness leading into the premiere. As someone who saw the Jericho campaign fall apart first hand, momentum is a fickle being, and I just think NBC has created an impossible challenge for fans to overcome.
Chuck remains in the Monday 8pm timeslot that, unless CBS really shakes things up, will feature hit comedies and House that perform well in the key demographics, plus Dancing with the Stars or The Bachelor to grab female viewers. That highly limits Chuck’s live viewing potential, which is still likely to be the main barometer for success when the show arrives in 2010. It’s going to keep Chuck from showing any substantial growth, and while the status quo isn’t bad for NBC (other shows have done much worse), compounded with the other factors it’s an uphill battle and NBC knows it.
On the one hand, debuting after the Olympics is a good thing: it means that the network has huge audiences to which it can air ads for returning shows like Chuck; this sounds, on the surface, to be a great idea. Unfortunately, this year’s NBC fall lineup demonstrated how the Olympics do not guarantee ratings success (remember My Own Worst Enemy? It had ads all throughout the Summer Olympics), but even more unfortunately NBC likely doesn’t realize this. As a result, when Chuck (as a third season show with some serialized elements) fails to get a bump from the Olympics, it’s one more mark against it when decision time comes.
[Just to add here: the late start seems on the surface to hurt the show since it couldn't be extended beyond 13 episodes, but that is both a) not a necessarily bad thing, as networks are more open to shorter seasons in this economic climate and b) Ben Silverman, whether just trying to keep from reporting bad news and stoking optimism and positive vibes or actually speaking the truth, has said that they are willing to extend the show into summer, for what it's worth.]
Now, these are not entirely insurmountable odds, I want to make that clear – the show stabilized against tough competition, survived the strike with fairly solid retention of first season numbers, and the Olympics example is a sort of double-edged sword situation that I’d like to not have to consider if I had any faith in NBC’s decision making processes. However, the odds are being stacked heavily against the show, and from a business perspective it is being put into what seems like an impossible position.
But this is Chuck we’re talking about, a show that managed to unite critical and fan-driven members of the viewing public in a way that few shows have accomplished in recent memory: with a strong creative vision, a tight-knit cast and a fan community that, although likely broken up slightly over the next eleven months, proved themselves capable of putting both their money and their mouse where their remote is, there is every possibility that Chuck can prove the skeptics wrong.
Still: I’d be practicing my kung fu if I were Josh Schwartz and company.