Will Chuck be renewed for next year or will it be cancelled?

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December 29th, 2008

Update January 3, 2009: what everyone seems to want to know is where will the 3D glasses be available? According to some promotion during today's Wildcard Saturday, the glasses will be available via Pepsi and Sobe displays at participating retailers between now and the Super Bowl (and the Chuck episode on February 2, 2009).

In the spirit of "why put off until tomorrow (or next April) what you can do today," I wanted to chime in on NBC's Chuck. Plus, it's a good enough excuse for me to put off going to the DMV until tomorrow.

I love Chuck. It may be my favorite show so far this season and I've really enjoyed season two. There are many reasons to love Chuck, from all the homage it pays to the 1980s to Yvonne Strahovski. I love almost all of the characters on Chuck, and my favorite character may be Adam Baldwin in the role of John Casey. And he's not nearly as easy on my old eyes as Ms. Strahovski.

Baldwin being on Chuck is immediately somewhat troubling since he played the role of Jayne Cobb on Firefly, which wasn't exactly a ratings juggernaut. Firefly has a very vocal and loyal base of fans on the Internet. Which weirdly also includes some people who'd like to see Chuck fail because if it succeeds they'd view it as an indictment that Chuck is better than Firefly. I roll my eyes at such notions, but, that's life on the Internet.

As is often noted here, "better than" is a subjective thing. We can be objective about the ratings. And we can probably be more objective about which shows would naturally have a wider appeal, though if I say I think Chuck theoretically has wider appeal than Firefly, it's still pretty subjective.

I do think Chuck does have a wider appeal potentially, but it still has faced an uphill climb ratings-wise. In our Renew or Cancel Index it has bounced from barely being renewed to barely being cancelled for pretty much the entire season. Will it be back? As a fan, I sure hope so. When I try to put on my objective ratings cap, my prediction is that it will be back, but there is no doubt that it is currently a show "on the bubble".

Chuck was one of several shows from the strike-riddled 2007-2008 season that was impaired by the strike. Of course, we can really only speculate on whether the strike was good or bad for Chuck. While the strike may have hurt the normal course of events, it's equally possible that if not for the strike NBC wouldn't have brought it back for another chance this year. From that standpoint, Chuck has fared better than ABC's now cancelled trio of Pushing Daisies, Eli Stone and Dirty Sexy Money which were cousins of Chuck in that all of those shows also had fall premieres in the strike-riddled 2007-2008 season.

At this point, the list of scripted shows that premiered in the Fall of 2007 and survived can almost be counted on one hand by my tally. The biggest success of the lot is CBS' The Big Bang Theory. There's Chuck, there's Gossip Girl on the CW (which ironically is executive produced by Chuck executive producer and co-creator Josh Schwartz) ABC's Samantha Who? (and where would that be without its massive Dancing With the Stars lead-in?)and there's Private Practice which ABC is moving to Thursdays after Grey's Anatomy. NBC's Life is also hanging on, but if Chuck fans are worried about Chuck's prospects, Life fans need some epinephrine to avoid going into anaphylactic shock.

Of those six shows, only Gossip Girl and The Big Bang Theory seem completely out of the woods ratings-wise. Still, if I am Mr. Schwartz I'm feeling pretty good about having one-third of the shows remaining from fall 2007 premieres. And sure, it's at least a bit curious that three out of the six shows all air at exactly same time (Mondays at 8pm).

Many will chime in with "Chuck suffers from its competitive time slot which also includes Monday Night Football!" My response to that is that Sunday through Thursday all the slots are pretty competitive between 8p-10pm. Trust me the one thing you don't want to see is Chuck moved to Fridays (bye bye Lipstick Jungle!) or worse, Saturdays (au revoir Crusoe!). I'd prefer not to see Chuck on Sundays because that means it would only air after January (NBC has Sunday Night Football for the fall season). For next fall, that really only leaves Monday through Thursday from 8pm-10pm for Chuck since Jay Leno will take over the 10p-11p slot Monday-Friday next fall.

It seems very, very unlikely that NBC would tinker much with its Thursday schedule or its Tuesday schedule (which will seemingly be two hours of The Biggest Loser plus Jay Leno) which leaves only Monday or Wednesday for Chuck. If I am NBC I would want to air Chuck at 8pm, and that's still a very competitive hour on Wednesdays, especially once American Idol begins.

The good news for Chuck is that when it comes back in February it will not have to compete with Monday Night Football. The bad news is that Fox is moving House to Mondays at 8pm. That will be a very, competitive hour especially come March when Dancing With the Stars returns.

Chuck should get a lot of on-air promotion during this year's Super Bowl so a.) pray for a matchup of either New York Giants vs. Pittsburgh or New York Giants vs. Indianapolis so as many people as possible will watch the Super Bowl, and b.)hope the promotion during the Super Bowl for the special 3D episode will generate a nice bump for Chuck when it returns and that some of those folks stick around.

My opinion at this point is that if Chuck experiences any kind of increases or even stays about where it is now, it will be back next fall. My reasons are basically predicated on two things which may not be true:

1. NBC isn't going to give up completely on scripted shows. Tuesdays (unscripted) and Thursdays (comedies) seem like a lock. But I don't see NBC giving up all of the Monday and Wednesday 8p-10p block over to unscripted programming. At least not yet. And if so, that's good news for Chuck. Knight Rider already appears doomed for next year, and Life (and I enjoy Life very much, though admittedly I enjoy Chuck more) has numbers that Bill would deem so bad, that especially if you're a fan, you have to look away when you see them.

2. NBC is as enamored with Chuck as I am. That may be wrong to begin with, and even if it isn't, a ratings slide would definitely erode how enamored it is. But if it is stable or improves even slightly, I don't see NBC chucking Chuck, Knight Rider and Life all at the same time, and Law & Order hasn't been doing great either. Chuck currently is outperforming all three of those shows (plus Kath & Kim to boot).

I conclude for now that Chuck will be back in the fall of 2009. I reserve the right to change my mind based on ratings or other events. If Jeff Zucker gets in the news by firing Ben Silverman and/or is quoted saying "we don't really believe in scripted programming for the broadcast network" all bets are off.

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