Chuck’s not even back on yet, and I’m already worried about its renewal prospects for a fourth season.   In truth, I’ve been worried about it ever since it was picked up for a third season.  Here’s what I worry about:

For NBC, The Renew-Cancel Index Could Be Mostly Meaningless

While historically we find the Renew-Cancel methodology of comparing a show’s average adults 18-49 ratings to the average 18-49 ratings in prime time  for the network it airs on an extremely good predictor or renewal and cancellation decisions, it’s problematic for NBC.  Why?   Because typically networks renew shows that perform better than average and right around or even a little bit below average, while canceling shows that perform more noticeably worse than average.   But I’m not sure that works for NBC going forward because the average sucks.  So if you keep shows that perform right around NBC’s average, you are still keeping shows that relative to ABC, CBS and FOX are poor ratings performers.  Which begs a question…

Is NBC OK With Sucking?  And If So, For How Long?

It was clear to me and everyone else, including NBC that it would take a ratings hit by going with The Jay Leno Show five nights a week.  Unlike many with “Leno Rage”,  I think it’s probably performing more or less in line with where NBC expected it to.  And no, I don’t believe anyone at NBC really thought Leno would beat repeats of CSI: Miami, because NBC has access to how CSI: Miami did in repeats.   But at least going into the season, Leno could be justified based on cost and not letting Leno get away to another network.  I’m sure the cost angle still holds up, and frankly, I won’t be very surprised if Leno is back next season.  But I won’t be surprised if NBC toys with a lot of ideas between now and then, including moving Leno back to 11:30p.   As for this season, I think you can expect to see Leno continue Monday-Friday.

Despite unhappy local affiliates, I don’t get any sense that NBC isn’t OK with Leno.  However,  Mercy, Heroes, Community, Parks & Recreation, the already canceled Trauma and even Law & Order: SVU can’t have executives smiling when it comes to the ratings.

But NBC could very well be OK with sucking and sucking for a little while longer.   And the spectrum of possibility ranges from almost completely cleaning house to being OK with another year that isn’t a lot different than this year (only without the Olympics).

Should NBC decide to go the cleaning house route, all bets are probably off as far as how renew and cancel decisions are made.

Don’t Look For the Comcast Deal To Have An Impact On the Fall 2010 Schedule

Barring something miraculous, there is no way that the regulatory approval necessary for the deal between GE and Comcast where Comcast gets a controlling stake in NBC Universal would be approved before the decisions for the fall 2010 schedule are made.

So it comes back to whether or not NBC is OK with the way things are.  And despite the opinions of the trade press, people in the industry and hardcore TV enthusiasts it’s not like “OMG NBC used to be SO GOOD.  What happened!?” is a big conversation with the masses.  Sure, the masses aren’t watching NBC much, but they aren’t thinking about it much either.  So the question is, how much pressure is on to change image perceptions?

I could see both a scenario where NBC cares to change its image and one where it doesn’t.    “Eh, if they’re going to wanna go crazy with change once the deal is done, they’re going to do that no matter what we do this fall, so let’s stick with the status quo,” has some merits to it.  But so does, “Ben Silverman killed us!  We can fix this thing though! Let’s try to get out in front of this thing right now and make an effort to really improve the ratings with better programming.  We’re not waiting for Comcast!”

Huh!?  What Does Any Of That Have To Do With Chuck?

If NBC is ok with the status quo, that’s good news for Chuck should it pull around a 2.4 rating.  If NBC decides, “We’re not gonna take it.  No we ain’t gonna take it.  We’re not gonna take it anymore,” well then, all bets are off and that’s not great news for Chuck, even if it is performing near NBC’s average.

Other Stuff That Worries Me:  The Whole Subway Thing Is Probably A Bit Overrated and Overstated

I think NBC wound up renewing Chuck for a lot of reasons.  I don’t want to belittle the Subway campaign,  it’s a cool story and I’m sure it was one factor that played into NBC’s dealings with Warner Bros, but it’s not like Subway is paying Warner Bros or NBC a ton of money.   Subway’s big bucks are spent on things with huge viewing  like NFL football.  None of the new Chuck promos are promoting Subway.   This is not a “Chuck, brought to you by Subway and the $5 foot long” situation.   And while its great Subway likes Chuck and while it’s great that it turned into a good PR moment for Subway, Chuck and its fans, I worry some people will think “as long as Subway is happy, it doesn’t matter what the ratings are!”   It could be that Subway was a big deal to Chuck, but Chuck isn’t that big of a deal to Subway.

Final Thoughts?  C’mon! There Will Be Many More Thoughts!

A pet peeve of mine is people who close posts with “Final Thoughts” when it’s obvious that those aren’t going to be anything close to final.   There will be a lot more thinking on Chuck.    I’m very much looking forward to its return and I am pretty happy that it got additional episodes ordered even before it aired.  But when it comes to worrying, if it’s just getting the same ratings as last year, I’m going to worry anyway!  Even if the Renew/Cancel Index says I shouldn’t!   Sure, if it pulls a 3.0 rating with adults 18-49, you will see the “Why I’m Not Worried About Chuck!” post.  And if it pulls another 3.0 I will be writing “Why I am Still Not Worried About Chuck, ” etc.

That is not to say that Chuck needs to pull a 3.0 to return, only to say that if it does pull a 3.0 it will definitely return!   But if it pulls its average 2.4 from last year, or worse?  I’m still worried. And will be until the fall schedules are announced.

But Really, Don’t Worry – Just Enjoy The Show!

The fate of Chuck won’t keep me up at nights.  I have almost 20 new episodes to look forward to, and I’m looking forward to them and will enjoy each episode (provided they are good).  I won’t be thinking “Damn, I would really enjoy the hell out of this show if I wasn’t so worried about it being cancelled!  But because I’m worried, I can’t even enjoy the show!”

If you are a Chuck fan, you shouldn’t be thinking like that either.

Posted by:TV By The Numbers

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