Stunt Casting

With the recent announcement that one of the Bonds (not THE Bond unfortunately) will be joining the cast of Chuck for a multi-episode arc it got me thinking about all the high-profile and interesting casting going on this season.  Stunt casting is a term for a rather unique way of integrating guest stars into a series.  A high-profile guest star may play a minor role, the villain of the week, or may be a recurring or non-recurring character in for a few episodes.  It’s been written about before by Alan Sepinwall, our friend Aardvark7734, and the Sarah Walker Fan Girls.  At times Chuck has raised stunt casting to an art-form.  Think of John Laroquette as the suave yet boozy ladies man or Nicole Ritchie as the snobbish and popular cheerleader who ran the school social scene.  There is something in the persona or image of some actors (be that true or just perceived) that allows them to step into a role and own it.  The sudden perfect fit allows TPTB to use a sort of shorthand rather than having to spend time developing a character that won’t be around too long.  So with all the announcements it got me thinking about stunt casting.  When it works, how it works, and when you should avoid it.  After the jump.

So what makes a great stunt casting?  Why do some work and others seem to fall flat?  Well I have a theory.  I’m sure you’re shocked.  I think the stunt castee needs to have 4 things going for them.  Fame, nerd-cred, a persona that fits the part and a style that fits the part.  We’ll cover each of these and go through some examples, but first I want to look at the ultimate stunt-cast Chuck pulled off, how it didn’t quite follow the rules so much as make them, and how it has helped make Chuck.

Adam Baldwin has been a journeyman actor since he was a teen.  Look at his IMDB page and I doubt you’ll see an empty year.  He’s made a living as a character actor in TV and B-movies for 30 years with some higher profile roles in big budget movies thrown in for good measure.  That doesn’t include his voice work for both animation and video games.  This is the kind of guy that used to get the roles as villain of the week before Chuck started playing with the formula.  But something happened to Adam in one of those TV jobs.  He actually landed a role as a regular cast member in a sadly doomed show called Firefly.  It wasn’t a huge role.  He was comic relief but as a bad ass killer armed to the teeth at all times.  But what happened with Firefly is the stuff of legend.  To say that it developed a cult following would be an understatement.  To say that Adam transformed his role as Jayne Cobb into something more than intended would be a far worse one.

The first role cast for Chuck, even before Chuck,  was Adam Baldwin as John Casey.  The bad assed cold school killer, who would provide comic relief while armed to the teeth at all times.  Do we see a pattern?  With that one move Schwartz and Fedak had made a bet on cashing in on some of Adam’s cult following, and with that bet they bought the goodwill of the sci-fi and Comicon fandom before the show had ever aired.  Why?  Or more to the point, how?

Chuck is my first ever involvement in an ongoing fandom.  I discovered Firefly after it ended, and Chuck after the second season.  Just a little over a year ago.  But I think I’ve learned a few things.  I’m sure you’ll all correct me if I haven’t and I’m wrong.  The core support for a show comes from the fandom.  And face it, we’re nerds.  We’re sci-fi watching comic book reading pop culture junkie mythology loving taking things way too seriously TV addicted nerds.  To put it mildly.  But that doesn’t mean we don’t want to be loved.  Or taken seriously.  Schwartz and Fedak and the rest of the cast may have stumbled on occasion, but by and large they go to extreme lengths to let the core fan base know they love us, and they listen.  That is their investment in us.  Adam Baldwin was the down-payment on that.  John Casey, aka Jayne Cobb 2.0 was a great big wet kiss to the people who they knew would be at the core of the fandom.

So look at Adam Baldwin.  Did he follow my four pronged stunt casting guide?  Well not exactly.  He sort of invented it.  He was the mold and the lodestone for how to do it right.

Fame?  Baldwin, like many journeyman character actors is someone we’d all see as the villain of the week and say oh yeah, that guy.  But where it mattered he had a measure of fame.  He guaranteed a core of dedicated fans would at least check out Baldwin’s new project.

Nerd-cred?  Hello!  Firefly!

Persona?  Uhm, Jayne Cobb 2.0.

Style?  See above.

Adam Baldwin established how to do stunt casting right.  But there is one more thing.  Acting chops.  As a series regular Baldwin was clearly going to have to be more versatile than your average villain of the week.  Someone who is going to be a part of the series for longer than an episode has to be able to carry a range of emotion (yes, Casey has emotions) and is going to need to fit with the rest of the cast.  I think you may see where I’m going with this.  The rest of the cast wasn’t a stunt.  Zach Levi and Yvonne Strahovski read and auditioned for their parts, and they did it together to make sure they fit.  The rest of the cast was done the old-fashioned way.  Except maybe for Scott Krinsky as Jeff who I understand has a history and a similar character with Schwartz from The OC.

In one way it’s unfair to call Adam Baldwin a stunt casting.  The role was practically made for him.  It may have been for all we know.  And not to bash on Adam Baldwin who clearly brings a lot to the show but widespread fame to lasso in new viewers, which is the real reason behind stunt casting, isn’t one of those things.  What he does do is inform us on what to look for to honor both the core and general audience, and perhaps how to make a guest star a draw.  With that in mind lets move on to look at some of the tests I set up.

The first is fame.  In a perfect world George Clooney and Sandra Bullock would be Chuck fans and would work for scale just to help out the show.  Not gonna happen.  But Jerome Bettis or Chevy Chase come close.  People with some measure of fame in the broader culture can help by, if nothing else getting Chuck mentioned in the news as the show Jerome Bettis is going to be on after the Superbowl.  Failing that recognizable stars, people with some measure of fame or a following outside the nerd-centric sci-fi world can fill the bill, like Scott Bakula or Angie Harmon, or  (from my keyboard to God’s ears) Nathan Fillion.  Oh how I wish Nathan Fillion had been cast as Shaw.  Sorry, just letting my mind wander.  Linda Hamilton and Timothy Dalton are perfect in this respect.  Both have been stars of major motion pictures with the perfect connections to the sci-fi and nerd world.  Bond counts in case you didn’t know.  Armande Assante, making a return visit as Premier Alejandro Goya is another pretty high-profile star who fits the bill.  Others like Harry Dean Stanton or Dolph Lundgren may have a measure of wider fame than the purely nerd-centric sci-fi and 80’s pop culture veins that Schwartz and Fedak love to mine so thoroughly (they do know their audience well in some ways), but they bring something else.

Nerd-cred is a big one for the fan base, but not so much for the general public, so if there is a quibble to be had with this point I understand.  And I should allow that not all cred needs to be nerd-cred.  Think of Jerome Bettis for a post Superbowl Chuck, or Michael Strahan as a mighty jock, they each brought something to their roles too.  But overall it’s the sci-fi and nerd worlds, plus the aforementioned ’80’s pop culture, where the best guest stars reside.  Scott Bakula is probably the best example here, though now that we have both Sarah Connor and James Bond we may need to re-consider.  But here is the fun part.  Nerds being obsessive in their attention to detail and trivia are easy to please.  Just show us you get it with a few obscure connections like casting Tricia Helfer as Sarah’s replacement and then having Chuck ask if Sarah has been replaced by a robot and we’ll be giddy for weeks.  It says you like us.  You really really like us.  Yvonne in a Frak Off T-shirt is along the same lines, but this is more about casting.  We could do a full post on all the clever references and pop culture trivia.

Probably the most important of my criteria is the persona.  For this one I always like to use the example of Nicole Ritchie.  She isn’t really an actress, other than on a reality show as Paris Hilton’s sidekick.  But Nicole Ritchie has something invaluable.  An image.  I’m not going to claim that Nicole is like her image, but for better or worse, better in the case of Chuck, Nicole is seen as a popular party girl snob by many, interested in the flashy fun and high living.  She can step into the role of Heather Chandler with virtually no back story, and we get it.  We know who she is.  Robert Patrick was another great example of this kind of casting.  Many are familiar with him from The Unit, but he has a bearing and an image from playing a lot of military men as a character actor.  We get the character the second he appears on-screen.  I look at the next season and I see Dolph Lundgren as the prime example of this type of casting.  Although I will be shocked if Bronson Pinchot doesn’t infuse a lot of Serge from Beverly Hill’s Cop with a dash of Balki Bartokomous into his role.  And this is where we sort of start blending the persona with the style.

They are somewhat linked, but I don’t think they are the same.  Nicole Ritchie has a persona or an image, but no discernible acting style.  John Laroquette as Roan Montgomery was all style.  He inhabits the role effortlessly, and it’s magnified by his having played a similar style on Night Court.  Angie Harmon slipped into the spy vixen style established by Mini Anden with total ease.  Sometimes an actor can have a style so down that even going against type you buy him almost immediately in the role.  Christopher Lloyd is probably the example I like best here.  And here is one of the drawbacks.  An actor or guest star can so define a role or our expectations that it can make it impossible for another actor to make the role their own.  When that happens you adapt or die.  Tricia Helfer had to step into the role of a female spy, and she couldn’t rely on being a Cylon.  The problem was that we had seen some really strong female spies as characters.  I’m thinking Carina and Sarah.  But agent Alex Forest couldn’t be either of those for the story to work.  So she became John Casey, the ultimate by the book spy.   It was an incredibly clever way of one actor using another actor’s established style to pull off the kind of shorthand stunt casting can do.  That is an example where it worked.  And now I come to the dreaded counter-example.

Matt Bomer basically defined the role of a Sarah love interest, much to Brandon Routh’s misfortune.  Bryce Larkin was cool and charming, sincere when the situation called for it, slightly roguish in a charming way, and a little dangerous in that good bad-boy way.  And very dangerous in the spy way, but that’s a minor point in the love interest department.  Jonathan Cake played Cole in a similar way, and the kind of guy Sarah dated before Chuck turned her world upside down was set.  With Shaw they wanted to cast Hero, for the guy that Chuck would have to overcome.  Shaw had to be heroic.  Routh played the role as a stoic, controlled, closed off and authoritative.  Like Superman.  When he went for charm the chemistry wasn’t there, and he didn’t have the same style or vibe that both Bryce and Cole had.  As a result we all just looked and said he’s not Sarah’s type.  He’s not Bryce, he’s not Cole, and he’s certainly not Chuck.  It was no sale from that point on for a lot of the fanbase.  They cast Shaw as a hero and mentor, which I think Routh could have pulled off with the way he played Shaw, but forgot he also had to be Bryce or Cole.  As many have said, maybe they attempted too much with Shaw, especially since Matt Bomer had already defined the role of a Sarah love interest.  The way the hero and mentor was being played was entirely against type for the love interest.  I don’t know if Routh was essentially a stunt-cast, and I understand that his role changed a bit too, but a part of me thinks it was more about having Superman as the hero and rival of Chuck than an actor who fit the part and all the roles he had to play.  Routh was in 11 out of the 19 episodes.  He wasn’t a guest star, he was a cast member, and as I said above, you can’t stunt cast that.

Now that I’ve said that I’m going to play devil’s advocate.   I teased my other example above.  Imagine another actor cast as Shaw.  Me, I’d go slightly older to give him more of an authoritative air, but he’d also have to have a commanding presence and a hint of danger about him.  In addition he’d have to be able to turn on the charm and have a slightly roguish way about him to be attractive to Sarah.  What if Nathan Fillion had played Shaw?  For one thing Nerd-dom would have had a collective seizure with Mal and Jayne back together again, but that’s a bonus.  For those of you familiar take a bit of Malcolm Reynolds and a bit of Richard Castle, shake well and let Fillion add a few original touches and see what sort of Shaw we get.  Older, yes, but not too old for Sarah.  Charming, handsome, a bit dangerous.  He can be commanding if he needs to be, but he can be sincere and a friend too.  I think Fillion, or someone more like him could have pulled it off.  But here’s the problem.  He could have pulled off the dangerous mentor who tosses Chuck into the thick of it and the charmer who woos away Sarah.  But could he have then switched to the dangerous psychopath bent on revenge?  There was a lot riding on the character Shaw, and perhaps casting it perfectly was never going to happen.  But then maybe it’s time to consider the part as written if you can’t find a fit.  Sometimes the part needs to adapt to the actor as much as the actor needs to fit the part.

As we head into season 4 the casting seems absolutely inspired.  Linda Hamilton and Timothy Dalton are both marvelous actors in addition to having the nerd-cred and a bit of fame.  How they play their roles is not likely to be determined by Bond or Sarah Connor, but there is that well for them to draw from.  Dolph Lundgren is practically iconic as the deadly Russian, and will likely have a lot of fun with his role.  Eric Roberts, Joel David Moore, both are fine actors in addition to bringing an image that looks to be a great fit with their roles.  Bronson Pinchot and Armande Assante are both likely to be an absolute hoot in roles that seem written for them.  Add to that the Greta of the week and a Yvonne catwalk fight with Karolina Kurkova and a possible Heather Chandler vs. Sarah Walker re-match, I’m practically giddy.

Now about that Firefly reunion…

About Ernie Davis

I was born in 1998, the illegitimate brain child and pen name of a surly and reclusive misanthrope with a penchant for anonymity. My offline alter ego is a convicted bibliophile and causes rampant pognophobia whenever he goes out in public. He wants to be James Lileks when he grows up or Dave Barry if he doesn’t.  His hobbies are mopery, curling and watching and writing about Chuck.  Obsessively.  Really, the dude needs serious help.
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86 Responses to Stunt Casting

  1. jason says:

    i am making this up, but I am under the impression the story board changed quit a bit this season and so did the ep order. since we are just spitballin, lets leave shaw in place, just let sarah go first, and have her end her perversion start in 3.6 or 3.7 and end in 3.8 fully realizing at the end of 3.8 she wanted chuck, then have chuck go gangbusters with hannah thru 3.12 gettnig closer and closer, with sarah watching family gatherings, sarah watching chuck get comforted by hannah, etc, etc. by the time everything righted itself, life would have been pretty good, routh would still have turned bad around ep 12’s end, chuck and hannah break up mid 3.12 – maybe when chuck realizes sarah is in danger from shaw and he tells hannah he still loves sarah, shaw and sarah still go on missions in 12 and 13 together, they are still partners, chuck saves sarah in paris, they are together at 3.13’s end.

    I don’t think it would have been that hard to rewrite and tweek the show to fit that.

    The girl in everwood held all the cards in the relationship the entire while, it was actually satisfying to watch her want the boy for those last 2-3 episodes while the boy was finding another girl, I must admit by the end the other girl seemed pretty appealing, I think we all would have loved KK by 3.12, and the break up would not have been near universally acclaimed the way sham was. I think the show would have worked pretty well that way actually.

    • Ernie Davis says:

      Well this wasn’t really supposed to be about re-writing the Shaw character or arc, but since you brought it up you did touch on something I’ve thought about.

      TPTB talked about raising the level of drama this season and giving Sarah a real choice. I’d argue Sarah has had a real choice before and chose Chuck repeatedly, but minor quibble. I think most of us would agree that one of the biggest Sham problems was the neck snapping turn around and pace to establish it, only to leave it treading water and unresolved and ambiguous for the next 5 episodes. There was a way to give Sarah a real choice to be with someone other than Chuck. Make Hannah a spy.

      It is now pretty clear that spies dating civilians doesn’t work according to the show. So what if Hannah was a spy brought in to essentially back up Chuck on the jet, and then used by Shaw to separate Chuck from his overprotective handler. Now when that part came out everyone breaks up with everyone else is the likely scenario, so maybe even skip it. Just make Hannah a spy joining the team. Suddenly Chuck has someone he can talk to and the petite brunette is no longer out of bounds. If you want to be realistic about it, it’s Chuck who never had a choice before.

      So with Chuck moving on, instead of shoving Sham together in one episode make Shaw first a confidant for Sarah since Chuck has turned to Hannah, then develop the friendship into something more as Chuck nears the completion of his training and everyone starts to think about their next assignment. In that way Shaw would almost seem to offer something more “normal”, perhaps a desk job in DC with the house and husband to come home to in the evening?

      Perhaps Chuck then gets to experience a bit of spy-love. Sure there’s Sarah who has his heart, but there’s also Hannah, and while it may not be love they like each other and make a great team. Suddenly Chuck can still be a jerk and be faced with a real choice while letting Sham build and develop more gradually and believably.

      • Crumby says:

        Yeah Chuck had a choice with civilian, evil spy and civilian…

        Sarah had a choice with spy, spy and spy.

        Frankly, I don’t really get how they didn’t see it. But anyway…

        If you go that way, you should even make Shaw a civilian. I don’t know how the story would work then, but with Chuck becoming a spy, a civilian would have seen like a real choice.

      • atcdave says:

        I still say changing the actor would have done no good. Nathan Fillion is certainly a better actor than Brandon Routh and could have made a more convincing Shaw, But; Half the viewers I know who left, left at Pink Slip. The problem was splitting Chuck and Sarah at the start and the overall darker tone. It just turned many established fans off from the get go. The Shaw and Hannah episodes cannot be redeemed by casting or story tweaks because so many viewers were tired of the triangles back at Cole, And Colonel was perceived as meaningful when it aired. So many casual viewers responded to Pink Slip with a collective “no thanks.” Even if they rode it out for a while, enthusiasm was diminished. By Mask and Fake Name those viewers were already tired of Chuck and Sarah apart and the worst was just getting started.

        Sorry, I know this is a secondary issue on this thread. I’ll try to behave myself outside of this little discussion!

  2. joe says:

    Wow! Before I can even begin to comment on the real meat of this great post Ernie, I have to say two words about the ultimate in stunt casting.

    Wil Wheaton.

    More, anon.

  3. Crumby says:

    I think it was more the role that was ill-conceived than the casting that was bad. But anyway…

    Really interesting post Ernie!

    The stunt casting has been really interesting so far, I hope it will look good and make people watch!

    • Ernie Davis says:

      As I sort of hinted, I think there was a bit of both at play. The role encompassed almost too much and was miscast.

      Oh, and thanks!

  4. JC says:

    Great post Ernie. Like others said Shaw had to much to do. The entire first thirteen episodes ran through him and none of his roles were developed. What I really don’t understand is why what he did on screen was completely different then how characters perceived him. Routh was miscast once they went the love interest route. But in his defense he didn’t write the terrible lines he had to say either.

    You hit the nail on the head with the idea that Hannah should have been a spy. Let’s be honest Chuck has never had a real choice other than Sarah. The one problem I see is that had they given Chuck a spy LI it would’ve been hard to believe he would pick Sarah especially the way she acted.

    I don’t know if Kruek could have pulled it off. Since we’re talking stunt casting Sarah Michelle Gellar or Eliza Dushku would have been perfect.

    • Ernie Davis says:

      I think giving Chuck a credible spy love interest over a longer term would have meant Sarah didn’t need to flake out and get involved with Shaw so quickly, thus preventing some of the damage to Sarah and making them re-connecting after trying with someone else easier to believe. Of course there’s not nearly enough angst in that.

      (cough) Summer Glau (cough)

      • JC says:

        That’s a really good point. They could have used Carina. Have her stroll into town and make a play for Chuck since Sarah wasn’t going to. And more Carina is always a good thing.

      • jason says:

        had river been chuck’s girlfriend he would have had a great choice, because sarah season 3 was acting as if half her brain was removed too lets see crazy burnette or crazy blonde

        I am super glad a real capable li did not get the shaw part, with routh, he left little doubt the sarah LI route is not a good move for the show, with someone else, who knows?

      • Ernie Davis says:

        They could have done a River/Chuck scene similar to the Bryce/Sarah fight and had Sarah’s jaw drop as she realizes “Wow, they really are great together.”

      • JC says:

        What I find funny is we both thought of Joss Whedon women as a spy LI for Chuck. That tells you something about how he creates strong female characters.

    • Crumby says:

      Oh SMG or Eliza Dushku! I like this!

  5. herder says:

    I think that part of the stunt casting is demographic too. Micheal Strahan and Jerome Bettis were football players (male demographic), Steve Austin, Stacey Keebler and Batista are/were WWF stars (young male demographic). I think that a part of the casting of these individuals is to get people who fit the show’s demographic to sample the show and perhaps become regular viewers.

    • Ernie Davis says:

      An excellent point herder. I concentrated on the core demographic that makes up the fan base, but it is a way they can reach out beyond that pool for new viewers.

      I’d love to see them land a whale as a guest star, either for Greta or as a cameo. Eric Roberts and Dolph Lundgren were both in The Expendables. I wander if Stallone is a Chuck fan or if Schwartzeneger wants to do a cameo as the governor of California.

      Stallone as Greta #7 or #8 ? Maybe now that Yvonne and De Niro are tight she can call in a favor? 😉 OK, maybe not De Niro, but Jason Statham would be a good fit.

  6. JohnClark says:

    I may be alone in this but I still think the casting of Linda Hamilton is less than perfect. Yea she’s certainly got the geek cred but I just can’t buy that she and Scott Bakula could punch out two kids that looked like Zac and Sarah Lancaster. The person I think they should have gotten, and maybe it wasn’t possible is Sigorney Weaver, same amount of geek-cred plus she actually looks like she could be related to those two, especially Sarah Lancaster.

    • Ernie Davis says:

      I know what you’re talking about. Linda Hamilton wasn’t really on our radar here. Most of us were thinking along the lines of someone who looked like Ellie too. However, once they announced her Linda Hamilton made a lot of sense to me. Clearly she can be convincing handling weapons and kicking ass as a protective mother. We don’t yet know what kind of a look they’ll give her. I hope she at least goes brunette for the role.

    • atcdave says:

      I admit I hadn’t considered Linda Hamilton before, but the more I think about it the more I like it. Sarah Conner even started out as the same sort of underachiever Chuck was.

  7. aardvark7734 says:

    Nice article, Ernie! Massively comprehensive in it’s walk through of the various stunt casts throughout the show’s run. Kudos as well for the identification of Adam Baldwin as the primeval Chuck stunt cast!

    Personally, I think way too much energy is spent towards attracting audiences with these gimmicks. Sure, they get a few more people to tune in briefly to see what they have their favorite old star doing, but those people churn right back out afterward if the story and regular characters don’t “stick” them. I think we’d be much better served if they poured this energy into better story and character crafting.

    Well, I’d like it better, anyway. 😉

  8. atcdave says:

    Some really excellent points Ernie. I think the casting, including stunt casting, has been well done on Chuck. I really can’t think of any actors who were total mistakes on Chuck. Nicole Ritchie delivered a few cringe worthy lines, so she may be the closest to a mistake. But she brings such instant credibility to the part it almost makes up for it. I hate to belabor the point but I will mention again, I never thought Shaw’s shortcomings were particularly Routh’s fault. The character was poorly conceived and poorly written.
    I have been so pleased with Chevy Chase, John Larroquette, and Scott Bakula. Casting has generally been a real strength of this show.

    Now that said, I’m not sure of the actual value of stunt casting. I rarely make viewing decisions based on guest stars, but I may not be typical about that. And I can honestly say I would make some effort to see Yvonne on some other show, unless I already knew I hated the show. I think White Collar and Castle may be the only shows I currently watch where casting had some influence on my decision to watch. But that was never about guest stars, and it was never my only criteria.

  9. DavidT says:

    Dead shows stunt cast trying to keep themselves afloat, it’s hardly news. NBC has a bunch of new shows to promote this season, which means Chuck being a show in its 4th season (on the back of a pretty disastrous 3rd Season) will get no promotion. No repeat of the Jan 2010 wall to wall chuck promo from NBC. The storylines are tired they can’t even get the fans excited anymore (cause even the hardcore fans except the ones that are so heavily invested in the show their financial well-being depends on it don’t really have any faith in the show runners any more). So stunt casting is the only way to generate some buzz. And to be honest it’s not really working out, there’s no buzz out there. Back order doesn’t really depend on Chuck doing well, pretty much everybody has discounted that possibility. Back order depends on enough expensive shows tanking NBC will be forced to use Chuck as filler and no amount of actors that used to work in Hollywood 10 years ago will change that.

    • Ernie Davis says:

      I’d agree that some dead shows have tried reviving themselves with stunt casting. Then again shows like Love Boat and Fantasy Island were basically stunt casting vehicles from their conception. Chuck is somewhere in between as far as I’m concerned.

      Clearly the Greta concept is a stunt casting vehicle, something that gives a reason to cycle through a series of guest stars in the B-story without having to tie them into the serial part of the storyline. Others, like Linda Hamilton and Timothy Dalton are more along the lines of placing a big name in a guest role to generate some buzz. But as I said, I think they bring more than that. They have an image that lends itself to a role and can help the show creatively by establishing a character quickly with little backstory. There is a danger of repeating the Shaw problem, expecting people to just “get” a character and skipping too much development, but I think, based on what we’ve heard, they will spend quite some time developing the search for mom story and mythology.

      As for the storylines, I’m afraid you may have a point if they merely repeat (or forshadow, or mirror, whatever) the Chuck and Sarah asset and handler story through mom and dad Bartowski. I say there’s a danger, not that it’s doomed. Still I have hope for the next season. I think TPTB have learned the lessons of S3 even though they don’t explicitly state them.

      And hey, I know Chuck is now a cult show that survives on a crippled network because they can’t find or afford a replacement, but I still enjoy the hell out of it so I’ll take another few seasons if I can get them. 🙂

    • atcdave says:

      David, I do think that is too pessimistic. Chuck has used such high profile guest spots since S2, and for the most part its worked out quite well. Even shows at the top occasionally go this route, what else would you call a not quite healthy looking Burt Reynolds showing up on Burn Notice? (Burn Notice is still the top rated show on basic cable last I saw).
      I do agree there is cause for concern, significantly; can JS and company write a show featuring an adult couple in a committed relationship. It is clearly something new for him, and I’m holding my breath (um… possibly not the wisest thing to do…) to see if he’s up to it.
      Chuck is clearly a cult show, but until the fubar that was S3 it was right on the edge. Given NBC’s precarious ratings position, we don’t need much improvement to hang for a few seasons yet. And the beauty of stunt casting is it bypasses some of the network promotion problem. Has been actors will draw mention in the entertainment press; so would a prime time wedding…

  10. OldDarth says:

    Stunt casting is the ONLY tool the show has left to entice more viewers to watch this season.

    I am most impressed with the guest stars they have procured this season. Each season sets the bar higher than the previous one. Amazing.

    To retain those viewers I agree with Aardie that better crafted stories are a necessity.

    Here is hoping with the new crop of writers for this season the show can deliver both.

    • jason says:

      where are they finding the money for the number of guest stars? I thought the budget was going to be an issue this season such that even regulars were eliminated, instead, alex is added, Ma B is sort of added, I don’t think anyone is cut, and seemingly 2 or 3 solid guest stars for each episode. The only thing I can think of is the new writing team comes at a lower price tag?

      • Ernie Davis says:

        Speaking only for myself I bought a footlong sub every Monday night this last season, and I wrote to Subway telling them I was doing and would continue to do just that as long as they continued to support Chuck. And this last season the Subway deal wasn’t in place till the production was well under way. Think of the look of the production values in First Class through Mask, then compare that to Honeymooners through Ring II. My guess is the Subway and other deals were done a lot earlier this time around, so we may see a lot more product placement, and not just Subway. But it’s just a guess.

      • Josh says:

        Show only pays its leads $40-60,000 per episode (which is cheap by network TV standards ).
        Guests cost less, and cutting down a bit on FX/locations/Sets opens the budget up a fair amount.

      • atcdave says:

        Also, has been actors don’t cost so much. Especially if they’re already fans.

  11. OldDarth says:

    There seems to be a misconception about the cost of guest stars. The amount they can be paid is controlled by the Screen Actors Guild.

    • Ernie Davis says:

      I know there is a minimum set fee depending on things like screen time and days of work etc, but there’s a max too?

    • jason says:

      darth I know you guys ‘in the know’ have explained that to us several times, my observation was more simple than that, just ‘seems’ to be more guest stars than usual which would imply the need for more funds, even at min wage – LOL – really totally an observation om my part –

      rereading your post – your notion more addressed the quality of those stars, which may also imply the need for more funds I guess – which now you are saying is not the case since the show pays them all the same – given that – heck yea – bring on de niro

    • Josh says:

      Minimum amount is controlled by SAG, maximum isn’t. Brad Pitt costs a lot more for a guest slot than a random WWE dude.

  12. OldDarth says:

    I don’t think there is a ceiling but the standard guild rate is ~ $6,000. TV shows have slashed their budgets so guest star rates have suffered accordingly especially since they no longer procure the ratings jump they once use to.

    • Crumby says:

      OD I’m curious about one thing, maybe you can answer me (or someone else).

      Beckman is a regular the season, apart from our Ducker Squee, what does that mean in terms of fee?

    • Ernie Davis says:

      I’m sure there is a whole list of rules for it, but in general (heh) I think it means that Bonita Friedericy will be listed with the rest of the cast under “Staring” or “Co-Staring” as opposed to later under “Featuring” or “Guest Star”, and maybe she’ll get a raise based on what OD pointed out about SAG pay scales.

      It might also mean she’ll get to be onstage at Comicon next year if Chuck is back.

  13. Xenaclone says:

    ‘Chuck’ has mostly shown us how to do stunt casting and make it – for want of a better word – awesome!

    Adam is much more than a character actor; he is also [potentially] a leading man actor. He brings incredible subtle nuances to his portrayal of Col John Casey, just as he did with Jayne Cobb. Why no-one has tapped him for his own name-above-the-title blockbuster/big movie is beyond me. Some of his performances have been Oscar quality, or close to it.

    Shaw worked once he became the villain. Before that, the chemistry just did not gel at all.

    • Ernie Davis says:

      In no way should anything I wrote be construed as doubting or disparaging Adam’s talent. When I describe his career I’m just talking about the kind of work he has done, not the limits of his capability. The mere fact that he works constantly and consistently over such a long time is enough to establish that the man knows his craft. I wouldn’t be shocked if he’s considered for higher profile projects after Chuck.

  14. OldDarth says:

    I love your Adam Enthusiasm Xena but it would be nice if you mixed up your comments a bit and posted about the rest of the Chuck cast from time to time. 😉

    Disagree with you on Adam being a leading man though. The Jayne/Casey character type roles fit him to a ‘T’ something he has acknowledged himself. He also has stated he knows he is not, nor is comfortable with playing, a leading man.

  15. thinkling says:

    Thanks for the post, Ernie. Stunt Casting, hmm. I had no idea what that was. (MIT my ignorance talking) It was an entire education following your thread of the 4 criteria as applied to the various guest stars.

    I speak as an atypical (and newly minted) Chuck fan, but I just take the show at face value and like it on its merits … perhaps because I’ve lived the better part of 26 years in South America, where I developed a profound ignorance of American pop/TV/sports culture. Though interludes in the States plus the technology explosion have caught me up some, there are and always will be huge gaps in my culture knowledge. And I’m fine with that, b/c I know what I like. And I like “Chuck.”

    Shows that depend wholly on pop culture for their entertainment-value bore me. However, Chuck has so much more going for it than its pop culture references and nerd creds. It’s got classic humor (physical, verbal, and situational), action, drama, romance, and great character development (an absolute must for me). The ability to, at times, weave all these elements into one episode and make it work is delightful … and unique in my television experience. I admit that there is a whole other loaded layer to the show that I don’t get, and I’m happy for nerds everywhere that they have that extra enjoyment. But there’s more than enough for the pop-culturally-challenged to enjoy. Pop + Classic … another skillfully balanced blend that is unusual in the television world.

    I’ve enjoyed (or not) the guest stars based on their performance in the role, without the enhancements or limitations of stunt casting. Stunt casting cuts both ways; it can help or hinder an actor in a particular role. Most of the guest stars have worked for me. I had no idea who Nicole Richie was, but I bought Heather completely. (Maybe she has the image, b/c she’s convincing in that type of role?) Laroquette, Helfer, Lloyd, Harmon, Patrick were also convincing in their roles. The only guest stars that totally crashed and burned on my living room floor were the Turners from Role Models. I just never understood why they were cast (until now). I never bought them as the consummate spy couple (or even as has-beens). Plus, they were much too old to be Chuck and Sarah +30. So, stunt casting must have really worked for them. But therein lies the danger in relying on stunt casting too heavily, b/c it’s not enough by itself.

    Oh well, it was a fascinating post and opened my eyes to the greater complexities of casting a TV show. In the future I will appreciate the casting of the episodes more fully, but truthfully, I will probably continue to enjoy each episode unenhanced and unhindered by image or creds (sometimes ignorance really is bliss). Thanks again for your post.

    • Ernie Davis says:

      Thanks Thinkling, it’s always nice to know I helped fill in some gaps.

      To tell you the truth the Turners didn’t quite work for me either, but I didn’t consider them a total failure. I think I got that they were supposed to strike us as arrogant but not quite competent has-beens.

      • thinkling says:

        Glad to know it wasn’t just me. I read so many people that really liked them, and I just scratched my head.

    • atcdave says:

      I’ve always liked Fred Willaird with his sort of smug cluelessness (best part of Fernwood 2nite and Roxanne). But certainly the Turners are more of a possible Chuck and Sarah +40. Possibly Hollywood vanity at play there.

    • Merve says:

      Honestly, Fred Willard didn’t work for me. He just smiled the entire time and delivered every one of his lines with the exact same tone of voice. I don’t think he’s a terrible actor, though. He played a character’s father on Modern Family around the same time as “Role Models” aired(back when I actually used to watch Modern Family) and he was good there.

      On the other hand, I thought that Swoosie Kurtz was fine, but that might be because my love for Pushing Daisies knows no bounds.

  16. jason says:

    I may be the only everwood fan here, sarah lancaster played a blond LI (looks much more like linda hamilton there than anyone has given her credit for) for the teenage lead ephram, bringing gregory smith back as her ex in an episode would be ‘awesome’, in the past, awesome has never been jealous or threatened, lancaster and smith were smoldering on everwood – might make for some real fun

    • jason says:

      I think everwood had a fan base very much like chuck, I am sure for one episode, if smith were on ratings would reflect positively, here is a chuck – sarah like montage for lancaster (madison) and smith (ephrom)

  17. Maria M says:

    Strikes me that if Ernie Davis or anyone else wants to pontificate about what a show is doing and how they are casting and how they are billing guest stars and featured players, they’d at least take the time to READ the rules and pay rates, which are posted for all to see at the Screen Actors Guild Web site.

    But for Ernie and anyone else too lazy, here is the link:

    • Ernie Davis says:

      Maria, you’re welcome to explain it to us if you like, that’s what our little hobby is all about, a virtual water cooler for Chuck fans to meet and talk. And thanks for the link.

      As for me, I’m not really interested in the balance sheets in anything more than a very general “does it affect the quality” kind of way. And I’m more interested in who they cast and for what roles than where their name goes or under what heading. As you astutely observe, anyone interested in that can easily do the research.

    • herder says:

      Yes, but for all the sense that I can make of that it may as well be written in ancient aramaic.

    • atcdave says:

      I agree Herder, not very helpful to us non-lawyers. The only detail that really matters is, as someone mentioned earlier, contract specifies a base not a maximum wage for guest stars.
      Besides, what’s the fun of kicking around thoughts and ideas if we have let facts and figures get involved!

      • Ernie Davis says:

        I think it was Faith who sent around a similar link to SAG minimum salaries for certain jobs a week or two ago.

    • jason says:

      ernie, dave, amy, joe – you guys do a great job with this blog site – I cruised around a little earlier today on the internet, considering what I believe to be the case – that this is a hobby and all volunteer, kind of a labor of love that you gals (first) and guys give to us fans, it is awesome (overused word) or lets say epic (more overused word) – again thanks

      • atcdave says:

        We may be volunteer for now, but I’m pushing for a 20% raise next year…

      • Ernie Davis says:

        In the immortal words of Jayne Cobb (version 1.0)

        I got a share of this job. 10 percent of nothing is… let me do the math here… nothing, and a nothing…

      • joe says:

        Yeah! Let’s picket management!

        Hey – wait… That’s me! Never mind.

      • amyabn says:

        Thanks Jason! We enjoy our little obsession–er—hobby here with all of you. I am very thankful for the great community we have collectively developed. Here’s to a great Season 4!

  18. OldDarth says:

    Thanks Maria!

  19. Gord says:

    I think I agree with your analysis of the Shaw Character. I thought he was too arrogant to be a mentor or to be Sarah’s love interest, but I thought he was an amazing bad guy, and the arrogance he established in the first part of the season went a long way towards making him such a great bad guy.

    Perhaps they should have just left him as an arrogant boss who takes over the team, and found someone else to be Sarah’s love interest. The fact that she didn’t want to be with Chuck because he had turned into a spy, made it seem strange to me that she then decided to date an arrogant spy – her boss no less.

    What if the love interest for Sarah was someone she met outside the spy world. He could have still been a hero type – a fireman or paramedic etc. This to me would have been a lot more in line with her “I don’t want to date Chuck now that he’s a spy” excuse.

    I know it would have meant another guest star to cast, and I guess they figured that BR was costing them enough money already. Also, who knows how it would have changed other aspects of the story.

    I liked what the Shaw character brought to the table in 4, 5, 9, 13, and the finale. As you said, I just didn’t find him a credible love interest for Sarah.

    As for casting of S4. I believe Linda Hamilton also has a lot of cred for the romantics. Although I never watched it, Beauty and the Beast was very popular. With any luck Chuck will draw some fans of that show, and they will probably get hooked on the romantic aspects of the show.

    I am definitely enthusiastic about this upcoming season, and I’m hoping that this is the year that people really start to notice the show. It is too good to be cancelled for a season 5 (6, 7, 8, 9, 10….).

  20. aardvark7734 says:

    For those of you who don’t mind potential spoilers, you might want to take a look at the photo Josh Gomez posted to his Twitter page.

    If you don’t have that bookmarked already (tsk, tsk) there’s a link from my comment at the bottom of the S4 spoiler page on this very site, here.

  21. Faith says:

    Some relevant and interesting info:
    This season’s budget of episodes is 1,250 million dollars while in season 2 it was
    1.750 million.

    And on a sidenote…this blog is being quoted in this french Chuck site! WOW! We have arrived haha.

  22. hiswings says:

    All I can say is that this forum has taught me so much about the inner workings of television and I appreciate you guys’ dedication to blog about Chuck. I couldn’t agree more with the actors and actresses that have been cast in Chuck over the years and I appreciate the JS and CF give so much thought to what we the fans really do like and want.

    Thank you for your in depth analysis and keep them coming.

    • Ernie Davis says:

      Thanks so much for your compliments and continued support, but once again I’ll say we couldn’t do it without all the incredibly intelligent and wonderful people who read and post and share ideas here. It is a great community we’ve built here, and while Joe is to be credited for starting it and putting in the lion’s share of work I don’t think he’d begrudge me saying we couldn’t do it, and probably wouldn’t bother, without all of you joining in.

      • jason says:

        ernie, my observation about success is very much ‘you reap what you sew’ – this blog is a testament to that – “Aces” to the 4 of you

      • joe says:

        You betcha, Ernie. The commenters here are what’s made this a whole lot of fun. I’ll second Ernie’s thank you (and Amy’s and Dave’s earlier) to everyone (and right back at ya, Jason!)

        But “Work?” I’m just [accent kind=”Colonel Klink”] “making with the type-y type.” [/accent]

      • Ernie Davis says:

        It’s true, Joe just randomly strikes the keyboard repetedly and those magnificent posts of his somehow appear. We all secretly hate him for it. 😉

  23. Merve says:

    Sometimes stunt casting works (e.g John Larroquette), and sometimes it doesn’t (e.g. Diedrich Bader). I’m all for stunt casting if it works and if it draws in new viewers.

    TPTB have said that when they stunt cast, they like to use actors/actresses with an established persona. This gives us an idea of who they are within a couple of minutes of seeing them onscreen. I don’t really buy that argument. Many relatively unknown guest actors have managed to establish their characters moments after we meet them. My two favourite examples are Jennifer Jalene as Smooth Lau and Fahim Anwar as Manoosh. It didn’t take long for viewers to figure out what those characters were all about, and there was no real established precedent about what kind of roles these actors played in previous works.

    It makes me wonder if stunt casting is really worth it. If it’s working just as well as regular casting, then the only that makes it worthwhile is the possible ratings boost that it can provide. As long as it increases viewership, then I’m all for it. But if that’s not happening, then why bother?

    • Ernie Davis says:

      When it works it can be fun, but I think one of their greatest guest star casting decisions, Mini Anden as Carina, had nothing to do with being known, or a model, or a persona. She just made that role (spy vixen, aka Loki in a mini-skirt) her own.

      • Merve says:

        Heck, Mini Anden isn’t even an amazing actress, but she can sell the persona of an icy, indifferent spy who’s in it for the thrill better than anyone else.

        That reminds me: Carina needs to return, if only to create an awkward, intergenerational Kathleen-Casey-Carina-Morgan-Alex love pentagon.

      • atcdave says:

        I think a return by Carina would be a total blast; imagine the hard time she’ll give Sarah for being off the market too.

    • atcdave says:

      I know stunt casting doesn’t make a big impression on me, but there are few valid reasons for it. For starters, I think the writers often have an actor in mind when they write a part. If it turns out that actor is available and interested, its a complimentary process. Adam Baldwin is the best example of this. Fedak has clearly said Adam was who he had in mind when the part was conceived, so how can you do better than casting him?
      The other thing is it can generate some free publicity (much like a prime time wedding would!). When a well known actor is cast in a primetime TV show, it gets mentioned on ET and in all the check-out rags you see in grocery stores and the like. I don’t know how many people are really swayed by these things, but free publicity apart from NBC has to be good news.

      • Merve says:

        I hadn’t really considered the idea of writing with a specific actor in mind, so thanks for reminding me of that. If the writers are writing a role for a certain actor, then it makes sense for TPTB to do everything in their power to cast that actor. I was talking more about roles that are written before casting is considered. In those cases, stunt casting is the preferred course of action if it’s attracting viewers. If not, then TPTB should cast whomever they think is best for the part.

        As far as publicity goes, if James Freakin’ Bond isn’t enough to get people watching, then nothing will be.

      • Anonymous says:

        Sean Connery on Chuck?? That would get me to tune in. (there is only one James Bond IMO; though Daniel Craig is a pretty strong second).

      • Merve says:

        Unfortunately, Mr. Connery is 80 years old and doesn’t act much anymore. But he’d be awesome nonetheless.

      • joe says:

        Mr. Connery as Chuck’s grandfather, and Betty White as Sarah’s grandmother?


      • atcdave says:

        Connery would get more than a little attention! But I bet we’ll see minor stories about Dalton too. I mentioned on another thread Comcast had the story up for a day after he was cast, expect more as we get closer to air date. Ditto that for Linda Hamilton and Nicole Ritchie. I’m not as sure about the others.

      • Faith says:

        Roger Moore?

      • Merve says:

        @joe: I always imagined Betty White as Casey’s mother, but she might be a bit too old for the part.

        @Dave: Some other stars could bring in publicity too. A lot of articles about The Expendables mentioned that Dolph Lundgren was guest-starring on Chuck. Steve Austin and Batista should bring in the wrestling fans. Also, Bones fans are going nuts (in a good way) over the Joel David Moore casting. (Sidenote: I remember Moore from Dodgeball, in which he was absolutely hilarious.)

      • atcdave says:

        Merve, its great that they have a following. Obviously the product still has appeal to their fans, hopefully that will work out better this season.

  24. Gord says:

    Has anyone seen the latest Chuck podcast yet with Mo Ryan. In the interview there is a point where she talks about the amazing casting they do in this show. One point she made was that they do such a good job, many of the guest stars they have had, the fans want to see back on the show again.
    How many of us have commented on wanting to see Carina, Rhone Montgomery and Jack Burton again?

    This is a credit to the way they write and cast these characters, and to the actors who play them.

  25. jason says:

    I just noticed this am while surfing, DWTS has jennifer Grey stunt casted there & teamed with perennial winner derek hough – they won’t lose & every dirty dancing fan in the world will tune in as time goes on, they probably mentioned patrick swayze 2-3 times, and I just saw the youtube of one of their dances with a bit of interview – funny this may only help chuck, as house and HIMYM are much more the demo of DWTS – seems like the current chuck strategy is just that, solidify the base with both a fan friendly story & fan favorite guest stars – then twist the numbers in a manner that both house and doggie howser are losing fans while we are gaining – might just work

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