Friday’s premiere of Chuck’s
fifth season is looking to be most bittersweet for avid fans. The show is finally back, but back for its final thirteen episodes. Turns out, it isn’t just the fans feeling the sadness of the looming end.
“We put our heads down and go to work,” said Vik Sahay (Lester) during our phone interview last week about shooting the final episodes of Chuck. “The scenes require a certain amount concentration, a certain amount of focus. That’s obviously the prevalent surface mood. I think as we get closer and closer to finishing the season, more and more are people starting to feel that beautiful heartbreak that is upcoming.”
The announcement came from NBC in May during the upfronts. Their long time running, but low rated fan favorite, Chuck, did make the schedule, once again for thirteen episodes. The FINAL thirteen episodes. Given the constant threat of coming to an abrupt end, this was considered by many NBC’s way of rewarding the loyal fans, even if the show is even playing out its final days by moving from Mondays to Fridays at 8pm, which is considered a TV death slot.
When everyone gathered for Chuck’s farewell at Comic Con in July, hope still lingered that the show could be saved. After all, this is a fandom that has constantly pulled off miracles for their favorite show before. “I’m not convinced that this will be the end, I’m just not,” said Adam Baldwin (John Casey) during the Chuck press session.
“We started off with a show that probably shouldn’t have made it past the first thirteen episodes,” said Mark Christopher Lawrence (Big Mike). “Because of the fans, we’re still here going into our fifth season.”
Yet in talking with Sahay last week, they are currently shooting episode nine and the fans still have yet to see a single episode. With only four more episodes to shoot before the end, the chances of being saved are getting slimmer. “I suppose in the past I’ve said the chance seems slim and it’s happened and maybe there was a glimmer of something that I thought more possible than I do this season. I’m not sure. I think we’re all certainly operating like it’s our last few episodes. If something miraculous happens then something miraculous happens. With the show and the show’s history there’s always that possibility but right now I gotta go (with) we’re closing shop soon.”
Sigh. Massive sad face. I’m already tasting the bittersweet.
The season four finale was a game changer. Chuck was no longer the intersect, but now Morgan is the one with the computer in his brain.
“The show is still Chuck and still going to be based heavily around Chuck,” said Josh Gomez (Morgan). “It’s just a new obstacle to be thrown at Chuck. Basically now, his friend has this thing in his head. He knows the pitfalls of that, he knows what his friend is in for.”
One thing is sure in this new twist, Chuck does not have intersect envy. “I’ve flashed enough, I’ve flashed a lot,” said Zachary Levi (Chuck). “The intersect is one of the coolest things, obviously I’m biased, but one of the coolest things that I’ve ever seen on a television show. It’s a really fun thing. You can go anywhere and do anything and you can be a regular guy who does that. So I was really blessed to get to play with that thing for four years as it changed from information to physical abilities. I’m really excited for Josh have that same kind of fun. And delighted to watch him go through the challenges and obstacles of learning five lines of Korean in a day. Cause it’s fun.”
Chuck and Sarah are now married, out of the CIA, and struggling to start a new private spy business. Part of that involves owning the Buy More too, which means the madness of Buymoria will continue. “The show is different. It’s still the Chuck show,” said Executive Producer Chris Fedak. “We’re still going to have fun, comedy, action, adventure. But a lot of things have changed. Part of the season is about getting Carmichael Industries up and running. They’re gonna have competition, they’re gonna have Verbanski Corp out there. We have a lot of fun with the idea that they have to pay the bills. They’re going to work with people that are on the nefarious side of things.”
As with previous seasons, the cast have been very tight lipped with spoilers. I tried to get something, even asking Vik Sahay will the infamous Jeffster perform at least one more time. "I'm gonna plead the fifth," he answered.
Chuck’s lists of esteemed guest stars will continue. Carrie Ann Moss (The Matrix) plays rival Gertrude Verbanski and a potential love interest for Casey. Others include Craig Kilborn, Jeff Fahey, Beau Garrett, Justin Hartley, Stan Lee, Cheryl Ladd, Bo Derek, and geeks everywhere will be treated to the dream appearance of Mark Hamill. What was Levi’s reaction when he heard that Luke Skywalker would be on the show? “You ever hear a man scream like a woman?”
The first three episodes have already been sent out for pre-screening by critics, and so far the reviews have been very positive. They consensus is the show is back to it’s original form and fans will be very pleased. “Season five is going to open with an incredible episode,” said Sahay. “This is a really special, particularly well written and well crafted season. I think it’s riveting quite honestly from reading the scripts. It’s gonna be great.
A Love Letter To The Loyal Fans
“I think our fans have re-invented what it is to be a fan and have a fan base,” said Ryan McPartlin (Captain Awesome).
There’s no doubt this fifth season is happening purely because of the dedication of these most extraordinary fans. After all, fans of Chuck have been avidly fighting for their show for years. They’ve targeted advertisers to show them that Nielsen numbers fail to measure a level of fan loyalty and appreciation. While facing cancellation at the end of season two, Chuck fans appealed to sponsor Subway by flocking to their stores and buying sandwiches. The campaign got enough attention where show star Zachary Levi even visited a Subway in London, England and started making sandwiches for people.
“Now they’re doing stuff like using Twitter to say, ‘I’m not a Nielsen viewer,’” explained McPartlin. “(They’re) tweeting that to all these sponsors of all the commercials they see on Chuck. To let them get all these tweets of hundreds of thousands of people saying, ‘I’m going to buy your product because you’re advertising on Chuck and I want my viewership to still count.’ Who would have thought that up?”
“As far as I’m concerned, they all might as well be executive producers for our show,” said Levi. “We’ve only been able to exist and continue to exist because they’ve cared enough to fight for us and stay with us and buy sandwiches or go online or send letters and phone calls and everything they could possibly do. That’s a lot of time and money and everything and that was all toward believing in us and what we do together.”
One constant obstacle through Chuck’s
run is that NBC has only given it thirteen episode orders most seasons and then added more as the season progressed. As a result, the show has had to be constantly written as though it was coming to an end, but open enough so the story could be continued. “We’ve done it over and over again on our show,” explained Fedak. “We’ve adjusted the premise of the show. we’ve changed the premise. And we’ve done it aggressively. We gave Chuck abilities, we put Sarah and Chuck together as a couple. All those decisions are really scary things, but the thing about us we’ve never felt like we’ve been able to sit back and not tell an aggressive story because of the fact we’ve never known when our end is.”
After all the attention, wouldn’t a network like NBC want to keep a show like Chuck going, if anything for the pure publicity of having a show on their schedule with such an avid fan base? There are several reasons why Chuck has faced so many battles at NBC. First there’s the stigma of the traditional Nielsen rating system. Chuck appeals to a younger demographic (especially males) and that’s a hard group to track. They aren’t live viewers. While waiting for a more accurate rating system to come into place that measures DVR activity, online viewing, iTunes sales and live ratings, it’s hard to know for sure how many people actually watch Chuck. Compared to NBC’s other shows, the live rating has always been borderline between hit and cancellation. Of course it’s been on Mondays at 8pm, which is a very competitive time slot.
Second, the uniqueness of the show that triggers such fan loyalty is tough for NBC to sell to their general viewership. The people who watch shows like Law and Order: SVU aren’t exactly Chuck viewers. Over the years Chuck has failed to retain viewers for Heroes, The Event, and The Cape. Of course on the flip side, those shows weren’t exactly quality material for the high scrutiny sci-fi audiences, so it’s questionable if Chuck can be blamed for not being a strong lead-in.
Third, Chuck is not an expensive show to make, but it’s made by Warner Brothers, a third party distributor. It is not an in-house show for NBC, so the corporate parent Comcast doesn’t reap the rewards of the international distribution and DVD sales. While some advertisers like Subway are attracted to the loyal viewership, it’s not enough for the network to recoup costs on license fees. That is especially true now that the show is on Friday nights, where ad rates historically tend to be lower. The plus though is the show comes with a built in audience that will follow Chuck anywhere, so that could be an attraction for Friday advertisements.
NBC president Bob Greenblatt still maintains it’ll all end this season at 13
and there’s little hope of more episodes. “Unless suddenly we have 10 million viewers watching it on Friday night, then it would.”
As for Vik Sahay, he’s already got other projects lined up. He just finished filming two films, Afghan Luke and American Reunion, and he starts shooting another film in Canada (his home country) in November while Chuck finishes filming it’s final episodes. “Other work is beginning to show up and has been showing up so I feel very lucky in that way. If for no other reason than it’s a nice distraction from the immense crying I’m going to do when the show ends.”
What about Chris Fedak and his infamous cliffhangers? How does he plan on ending Chuck? “Don’t take away my cliffhanger,” he joked before giving the honest answer. “We are treating it as the end.”
Until Chuck’s season five finishes though, there’s always hope. “You never know what happens,” said Mark Christopher Lawrence. “We’re moving to Friday nights now. If we come out here and our numbers jump to 7 or 11 million and all of a sudden who’s going to say ‘You guys need to go.‘ Hopefully our fans will get behind it and launch a ‘Jump on the Bandwagon’ campaign.”
You’ll probably see this avid Chuck fan chasing a few wagons this fall.
Chuck returns for its fifth and final season on October 28th at 8pm on NBC.