Chuck has suffered through one of the strangest and most unique runs on television in recent memory. It has been a “bubble” show for three years now, and more than once seemed like it was dead in the water. The show was in its most dire situation this year, and it still has managed to escape the axe.
The even better part of this story is that Chuck apparently is being renewed in order to fill the hour-long hole left by NBC dumping the Wonder Woman series. That was probably the year’s most talked about pilot, but for all the wrong reasons. As I wrote before, it was doomed to fail.
While this is probably Chuck’s most impressive escape act, it isn’t the first. If you haven’t been following the show, I’ll go through a rundown of everything it’s been through. The infamous writers’ strike occurred in its first season on air, forcing the staff to cut that season to only 13 episodes.
It only survived into its third season because of a fan campaign that convinced Subway to pay part of its licensing fees in exchange for product placement, and then it only got a fourth season because of the total debacle that was the Jay Leno Show.
In both of the last two seasons, the rest of NBC’s lineup performed so poorly that the network ordered additional Chuck episodes after the original lineup already had been written and filmed. So the staff essentially has written four different episodes thinking it was the final one they would ever do.
The writing staff was then gutted between the third and fourth season. Scott Rosenbaum left to become the showrunner for V, Matt Miller became showrunner for Human Target, and Ali Adler became a senior writer for No Ordinary Family.
Ironically enough, Chuck may actually outlive all three of those shows. The writers left because they assumed they were signing on to projects that would last longer, but Human Target already has been axed, No Ordinary Family is sure to follow, and V is in major danger.
Because Chuck started its fourth season with an almost entirely new writing staff, there were some growing pains. They gradually went away and the show got back to the quality it was used to, but by then the ratings had taken a major hit.
For the first half of the year, the ratings were solid. They were hovering in the low 2s in the key demographics, which isn’t great but was at least dependable. But since then, the ratings have dropped significantly and seem to hit new series lows every week.
Looking at things objectively, Chuck should have been canceled. It was never a full-blown hit, but it used to get steady ratings in a very difficult timeslot and had widespread critical acclaim. But now the ratings are so bad that there really shouldn’t have been a legitimate argument for renewing it.
The problem is that NBC has become a joke; its ratings for scripted programming are laughably bad. For example, it had to cancel The Paul Reiser Show after only two episodes because it pulled a God awful 0.9 rating.
Chuck also was helped by the fact that it will sit at 78 total episodes once this season is over. That means it is only 22 episodes from the “magic number” of 100 that generally leads to syndication. Syndication is the goal of any studio, because if it manages to sell the rights to a show it will make money for years.
So it is entirely possible that Warner Bros. (the studio that finances Chuck) offered it to NBC for a fifth season for virtually no money. NBC likely will move the show to Friday nights to fill an hour of programming and hope its small but passionate fan base follows it, much like what FOX did this year with Fringe.
Personally, I think this was a good time for the show to end. It has told some great stories and introduced us to skilled actors that likely will move on to bigger and better things, but I would rather it end now than be subjected to a year with no budget and in obscurity on Friday nights.