Getting From Season Two to Season Three
This was easily the most exciting and dramatic period between seasons during the entire run of the series. I honestly don’t think anyone who experienced it all in real time would actually dispute that. It was a time of extreme highs and lows for this fandom. Granted, some fans may have been all excited, all the time; but the overall mood was intense, and up and down. After the jump, we’ll look at a very engaged fandom, and a very exciting period.
Chuck was a bubble show, pretty much from beginning to end. Chuck also inspired extreme enthusiasm from many of us, if you’re reading this you likely know that all too well. For myself, Chuck first transitioned from a very good show, to something extraordinary long about Chuck vs The Cougars (2.04). And it was shortly after that I became a regular reader of the old Chuck Forums at NBC.com (long since taken down). One of the first things I discovered, much to my horror, was that Chuck’s ratings were pretty marginal. So while I was first interested in reading about characters, analysis, and behind-the-scenes, I was also very concerned with the show’s future. The weekly ratings results were followed with much concern, and by the end of the season we were still pretty marginal. So the first “save the show” campaign started before the season even ended. NBC was starting their great Jay Leno experiment which left less time for quality entertainment. Fortunately, NBC was pretty disappointed in their crop of new shows, so there remained some hope.
Chuck fans responded by aggressively reaching out to sponsors, especially Subway. The first salvo was a “Footlong with the Finale” in April of 2009. And we let Subway know why we were eating more of their of sandwiches. Its hard to quantify the success. But we got a lot of media buzz about it, and the NBC chiefs took notice. The story goes (and I have no idea how true it is) that the last hour-long slot came down to Chuck or Medium. Medium was also a long time bubble show, that was well into decline. While the Chuck audience was enthused and dynamic; and supposedly someone from Subway spoke up and said they were well pleased with what their sponsorship of Chuck was getting them. And that was enough to decide it. (Medium did get its last season too; it was in that critical one more season for syndication position. It was a CBS produced show, so to CBS it went).
There was much rejoicing. And Sir Robin’s minstrels were eaten. But there was a big catch. This was now May of 2009, but NBC announced we were back on the schedule in March of 2010. Ouch! And it was only a 13 episode order, with little chance of more we were told. But even so this was a very exciting period to be a Chuck fan. The discussions at NBC.com were intense and active every day! We were speculating like crazy. I remember getting into fan fiction about this time, and some of those early stories were awesome, many are still among my favorites.
We were all eagerly awaiting Comic Con in July 2009. We knew there would be a big Chuck panel, with cast and show runners. And that season three would start shooting the week after. And this is where it takes a sad turn. All that fan enthusiasm turned to anger in record time. The show runners’ talk about the show ahead was greeted with groans and boos. And I kid you not, the forums were easily 90% opposed to what we were hearing about the show. Talk about Chuck not being able to handle the new Intersect, Sarah being his Kryptonite, and multiple love triangles. I hadn’t seen a bigger PR fubar since New Coke. Well at least we fans were mostly unified…
There is much that’s interesting about this. Sadly, much of the discussion was lost forever when the NBC site was removed. But you can still see all of our discussion from about September of 2009 on (when this site was formed) by going back in our archives. A few things happened in the months ahead. One is, cooler heads emerged (I can’t really say “prevailed”!) Some fans did calm down and decide to be patient with the story the writers wanted to tell. But it’s revisionism to claim they were ever in the majority, they were not. And to this day I’d call this a very poor creative/business decision. The chosen story for season three was unpopular before it even started filming. Now I know, by the time we had information on the story, it was too late to significantly effect Pink Slip. But I have no doubt episodes later on could have been re-written into something more fan friendly if there had been any heart for it. I called this hubris at the time and I stand by it. It was a betrayal of the fans who had just fought for the show. CF even bragged about creating an all new show on the skeleton of the old one. Well guess what, I wasn’t eating all those subs for an all new show, I was fighting to save the show I loved. Sorry, there’s still a lot of bitterness about this. I think this is a staggeringly bad way to treat your customers. And we had a pretty good idea things were getting worse in the production bubble too, two different times we heard Brandon Routh’s contract had been extended, and Routh’s interviews had given us a pretty good idea what was going on with his character. I remember trying so hard to find a positive spin for what we were hearing, but nearly every week brought some new interview that sounded worse than the one before. And again, the prevailing mood in the fandom was pretty dark.
But it wasn’t all bad news. Two great things came from one situation. The Jay Leno experiment was failing and NBC ratings were plummeting across the board. So the first good thing to happen was our March date was moved up to January. They even made a pretty big deal of it for us with a big event. The first two episodes would run on Sunday night, January 10th; and the third episode would run that next Monday night in our regular slot. Even better news was NBC deciding on a six episode back-order. This still would make for a short(ish) season, but it was much closer to full. And I can’t explain exactly why, but I felt a huge relief about it. This all transpired fairly late in the game (December maybe?), and many of us strongly (and correctly) assumed this meant the original arc we were dreading would still be resolved by 3.13; giving us a whole new, and hopefully more satisfying, arc for those back episodes.
The mood those last few weeks before the season premier was one of extreme ups and downs. I tried so hard to be optimistic, and my posts here from that time show it (although much of my writing was laughably bad, I don’t encourage anyone to read it). But that optimism was largely based on the idea that the show we knew well would never go as dark for as long as some feared. I’ll save more specific S3 bashing for the weeks ahead. Our optimism for the back order was better placed; but it sure would be a tough journey getting there. I won’t do that again!
Next week I’ll do my first alternates post. Of course I’ll take a contrary position to much of what will be written at this site’s main posts. We will talk about that some, but I will also look to be more constructive too. I will look at fan fiction, probably every week during this season; and I would encourage everyone to think about what you would have liked to see happen during this season. All are welcome to participate, and borrowing from fan fiction is encouraged (as long as you credit your inspiration!); but if you honestly say what you most wanted is what we got you might want to stick with the main post. There will be some bellyaching, but I think we can have a lot of fun with this too. I hope for a positive experience for everyone with reservations about the misery arc.