Joe vs. NBC, Fox, CBS, ABC…

Did I say NBC?

Our friend Jason (aka, Oldresorter) noticed something different lurking within the television network machine.

[S]omething I think you’ll find interesting, ABC let the ‘Revenge’ showrunner go, because the show was heading in a direction that fans and critics both disliked.

A network responding to fans? That seems like new news. To Jason’s comment, friend Uplink added support for that idea:

With the industry the way it is now can shows afford to piss off the fans and tell a story that both fans and critics see huge flaws in?

The examples he points to are The Good Wife and Smash, which took the trouble of changing their formula (or at least, story line) ostensibly because of fan reactions.

After that, brother Dave added:

I think its good if we’re seeing more accountability in commercial television. An advantage of the internet and twitter is more immediate feed back on what’s getting made and a better chance for studios to respond to what their customers actually want. I’m not really eager to see show runners loose their jobs, but I am eager to see them be more responsive to their viewers.

Um… Don’t want to burst your bubble here, and I’d like to think that’s correct, that we’re seeing more accountability. But I’ve been seeing evidence that we’re w-wr-wr (it’s stuck in my throat) WRONG! Ack!

The More Things Change

I too thought that the networks were becoming more responsive. Then I saw this:


NBC says it’s planning a 12-day-long, around-the-clock competition show to air this fall.

The network said Wednesday that the trivia-based game show, “The Million Second Quiz,” will air live in prime time from a specially built studio in the heart of Manhattan.

Huh? Who ordered this? Show of hands, please. Now, everyone who raised their hands – GET OUT! WE HATE YOU!!!

Oh, wait. When I look around the room or virtually ask anyone, I see this is most definitely not what people (viewers and non- alike) are asking for. Airing a marathon game-show session seems like the last thing a network should do if it wants to have good ratings.

…That might seem like a counter-intuitive move if you are still under the naïve belief television revenue is all about eyeballs. But that is simply not the case anymore.

Again I say, “huh?” There’s something going on, and subsequent discussion in the What Would A Chuck Movie Look Like? thread chronicles our struggles to describe it.

The quote directly above is out of context, but the context only makes my point and adds to my confusion. It goes like this: There is yet another new device, this one called Aereo, that allows users to stream shows directly from the airwaves to their notebooks, tables and ipad-like devices. The networks are fighting this furiously because the over-the-air content (yes, you can still get over-the-air TV, although a digital converter is now needed) is not providing (much) revenue to the networks. ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC recently lost a major court battle concerning it’s legality. From

After winning a major court battle last week, Aereo has Fox Television so freaked, the network is considering becoming a cable channel, which would mean yanking their broadcast from the public airwaves.

It goes on to say that Fox, in particular, is considering converting to a pay-for cable-only station in order to recoup that revenue lost to Aereo. Now, the above quote in context is:

That might seem like a counter-intuitive move if you are still under the naïve belief television revenue is all about eyeballs. But that is simply not the case anymore. Television networks and those who own them (like News Corp.) make a fortune from cable television. That is the golden goose these days, not ratings.

In other words, John Nolte (the author of the quoted passage) is implying the networks are no longer “selling eyeballs to advertisers.” They’re selling content to cable franchises, and cable franchises are more interested in filling the bandwidth then they are about quality.

Yes, I Said NBC

I am loath to admit it, but Nolte’s idea explains why NBC is now owned by Comcast and why MSNBC is still on your cable line-up. Advertising money is not paying for it. You are, inadvertently, every time you pay your cable bill. You still are paying for MSNBC even if you are one of the hundreds-of-millions who are not watching.

What does this have to do with Chuck? Nothing, directly. Except that it makes it less likely we’ll see another such fan-intensive TV show coming our way soon. It’ll affect the chances of the show becoming a made-for-TV movie, but it’s not clear how.

For now, all these board-room machinations are leaving television a vast waste land (and Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose). NBC seems to have the worst of it, so far.

“’The Voice’ is not only NBC’s biggest non-football hit, it also helps prop up some of the network’s other shows. Ratings for ‘Smash’ and ‘Go On’ have plummeted since they lost their ‘Voice’ lead-in, and ‘Revolution’ took a four-month break to avoid airing without ‘The Voice’ to cushion its place,” Yahoo! TV Editor Dave Nemetz told FOX411’s Pop tarts column. “’The Voice’ is the linchpin that holds NBC’s entire prime-time lineup together.”

But experts and insiders we interviewed told us that prime time is only a fraction of NBC’s problems, and that things have gotten so bad, some at the network are scared for their jobs.

“Many think they’re going to get fired,” a source close to the network FOX411’s Pop Tarts column. “The mood is bad.”

It’s bigger than that, though. The notion that the audience is NOT closer to the decision makers (but even more removed!), if true, may mean that network TV is dying a slow, ignominious death as aging Baby Boomers and older Gen-X’ers (the demographics most addicted to television) pass away, as all generations do. Younger audiences are not watching TV nearly as much. Ultimately, the number of viewers does matter and the network execs are only delaying the inevitable in their attempts to get around that iron law.

“That’s so five seconds ago.”

The kids have their entertainment addictions too; it’s just that a new group of execs in a different industry will be it charge. It’s pretty clear, if NBC and Comcast are examples of what’s coming, the old ones aren’t going to be around long. If shows like Chuck are going to survive this they will – they must – evolve into something presented more directly to the target audience and at lower cost on-line, surreptitiously providing quality under the radar, as they always have. The ones who count, the kids, will be watching (on their smart phones, of course).

That is, they will until their children and grandchildren come along and tell them to get with it and have their entertainment injected directly into their brain…

In the mean time, I’ll be doing my best to keep up with the technology just in case they come up with something worth watching.

– joe


About joe

In my life I've been a professor, martial artist, rock 'n roller, rocket scientist, lover, poet and brain surgeon. I'm lying about the brain surgery.
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85 Responses to Joe vs. NBC, Fox, CBS, ABC…

  1. Hey Joe! I hope things are well with you.

    Interesting post.

    Throwing this out as food for thought in terms of showrunner accountability from Spartacus Showrunner Stephen DeKnight in an interview with Ryan McGee over at the AVClub:

    “AVC: As you look ahead to your next projects, as different as they may be from this one, what has this show taught you about making compelling television?

    SD: This may sound counterintuitive, but I think one of the things that really makes a great TV show is that you can’t create from a place of fear. You can’t create while worrying about what the audience will and won’t like. You just have to concentrate on, “What makes a crackling good story?” Spartacus is a great example of that. When the show was working so well in season one, there were discussions for around a month saying, “Should we delay Spartacus breaking out of the ludus for another year?” And Rob Tapert and I very strongly felt, “Well, yes, that is the safe choice. But that would be the wrong choice for the story. That would be a false move to get to the very end of that season and have him try to break out and not be able to, and it’s like, ‘Oh, we’re here for another season!’ It’s a bait-and-switch for the audience. But more importantly it’s the wrong choice for the story.

    So I strongly feel that of course the audience is important—you have to have them watching to keep the show on the air—but on the flip side, you can’t look at what the Internet is saying and people’s reactions and base your storytelling on that. That’s just a losing proposition. I always go back to my mentor Joss Whedon, who said, “I give the audience what they need, not what they want.” I’ve always taken that to heart. And yeah, you’ll get some very vocal people who are very pissed off. I still get hate mail – SPOILER REDACT – if the story requires it. It doesn’t matter how popular they are, or how angry people will get. If it works for the story, you should do it. Because at the end of the day, the only thing that matters is telling a good story. If you tell a good story, people will show up. And if you pander, eh, people will smell that out.”

    This is an excellent working perspective for a showrunner or any storyteller to being operating from IMO. If the premise of the story is sound then any story direction is possible. When it’s not, then discussions that predominate this blog are what results.


    • joe says:

      Looooouuuuu! Good to see you. I’m doing well (and thanks for asking), even if I can’t run five miles three times a week like I use to. You know. It’s that dreaded disease, age. 😉

      What a quote.

      the audience is important—you have to have them watching to keep the show on the air—but on the flip side, you can’t look at what the Internet is saying and people’s reactions and base your storytelling on that. That’s just a losing proposition.

      Did I write that? I could have! I’ve seen a bumpersticker saying “Expect the unexpected.” To me, That’s the job of the artist, the creator, the inventor. Giving the audience what they (say they) want gets boring for everyone involved pretty quick, usually.

      But monetizing creativity is hard. The business part seems so ortho-normal to that, I often stand in amazement that it can be done at all and I understand that entertainment is a business run to make money as much as it is run to make audiences happy. I think the trouble comes about when those two things get out of balance.

      Very Zen, isn’t it?

    • atcDave says:

      I get that you have zero respect for me Lou, that’s your right. But I think you badly misrepresent what most discussion here involves. Obviously an honest story needs to be told, the vast majority of comments I’ve seen here center on discussing that exact issue, whether the story is actually honest to the characters and setting. For many viewers and fans, that is the key issue when a show fails to satisfy. It’s certainly not the ONLY thing that matters, but it is one of the very biggest.
      But that said, its absurd to take the viewers out of the equation. A show that completely disrespects those who would watch is unlikely to stay in production long. The reason writers like Joss Whedon remain popular is because their work is accessible and crowd pleasing. Even if the man himself comes across as arrogant and self important, as long as he creates appealing content he will be a success in the industry. If he creates less entertaining content, his customer base will decline. It doesn’t matter one iota what he SAYS in the meantime. That’s the beautiful thing about capitalism, its about performance.
      And the thing about fan sites like this, plus forums and twitter; is it does give feedback to the writers. Even if they deny caring, the people who handle the money care. Not to say they care about every bit of outrage or extreme reaction. But they care about trends and what keeps a product popular and profitable. The writer who says he doesn’t care about that is either very fortunate to like the same things a paying fan base likes, he’s lying, or he’s soon to be unemployed. There is no other option.

      • Sorry you took my food for though post that way. It was simply meant as presented – food for thought.

        We both recognize our viewpoints and wants from our entertainment are different. Neither viewpoint is right. Neither is wrong.

        What do we share in common is the agreement that Season 3 did not work. But our viewpoints as to why it did not are totally different. I find that fascinating and highly instructional that two different perspectives can arrive at the same determination.

        As to taking viewers out of the equation the quote supplied notes the importance of viewer feedback:

        “of course the audience is important—you have to have them watching to keep the show on the air—but on the flip side, you can’t look at what the Internet is saying and people’s reactions and base your storytelling on that. That’s just a losing proposition.”

        I parse that as saying feedback from the internet represents a small sample of the viewer audience and should be judged accordingly.

        A story’s success certainly depends on the capabilities of the writer(s). Joss Whedon’s body of work speaks for itself.

        So does Fedak’s.

        It does indeed come down to performance.

      • atcDave says:

        It is amusing that S3 seems to have failed on multiple levels. Even among those I mostly agree with we often end up at odds over details, or where the exact rock bottom point came…

        But your comment about feedback looks like trying to have it both ways. The Internet is not one group mind, I think a pretty full range of thoughts and opinions are present. Even better, they are often explained and discussed in quite a bit of detail. I would agree entirely with saying one needs to be careful about responding to a single extreme position that may be forcefully expressed, but is not representative of a larger number of viewers. But many shows have multiple fan sites where different fans with different biases are present. I think it has to be considered an excellent source of fan opinion.
        Don’t get me wrong, I never mean that every desire or whim of the audience should be pandered to. But mood and expectations are very important. A good information source like the Internet or Twitter should be taken advantage of. And if a large part of the audience is unhappy for a long period of time it bodes ill for a show.

      • It sounds like we are saying the same things just rooted in our preferences. 😀


        No one should tell an artist how to paint, a musician how to play their instrument, or a writer how to write.

        In the arena of mass media, if those artists want to make a living at it, they should definitely have their finger on the pulse of WHAT the target audience wants and tailor their work accordingly. But that should be a flavoring or seasoning to their existing vision. If it becomes the driving force then such work is doomed to fail. This can often be seen when shows try to imitate other successful shows.

        As to the internet I totally agree with you that it is a great resource for a wide variety of fan feedback. But it is only a single resource and one that represents a very small portion of the entire viewing audience. It can be a good barometer if there is a consensually shared majority opinion. In my experience that rarely happens. As mentioned on this blog elsewhere viewer reaction lives in the realm of closing the barn doors after the horses have already gotten out of the barn.

        Pity TV production could not work in test viewings before an episode airs to allow for tweaking like they do with movies. Though that has its pitfalls as well.

      • Ernie Davis says:

        One thing I look forward to as Amazon and Netflix become content producers as well as providers is their ability to shake up the way TV is made. From a recent article on Amazon’s original content by Alan Sepinwall:

        Of the many dysfunctional, outdated aspects of the network TV business, the pilot process may be the most broken. Every year, dozens of very expensive pilots are produced in a short, identical window, with everyone fighting over the same tiny pool of actors, decisions being made in a rush based on limited data, often just on the gut instincts of a handful of people. Only a small handful will ever air, and only an even smaller handful of those will make it to a second season. It’s an inefficient process in virtually every way.

        Why do the network do it this way? Because, like so many other aspects of the business, this is how it’s always been done, and it’s hard to steer around this particular iceberg. The networks pay lip service to the idea of doing year-round development, for instance, to avoid the casting crunch, but it happens only in isolated cases.

        One potential fix in the age of Hulu, iTunes, etc., would be to make all of the pilots available online for viewers to sample and offer feedback on. It’s not an ideal solution — it would be a self-selecting sample that, by its very nature, would probably be more likely to watch shows online (where the networks don’t make remotely as much money) than on TV — but it would still provide far more feedback than the networks get now, and possibly more useful feedback than the traditional network testing that inevitably give high marks to terrible shows featuring recognizable stars. But the networks can’t or won’t do that, because there are too many entities involved with too many egos to potentially bruise. Some pilots are so terrible they should never see the light of day, and no executive wants to be second-guessed if one of their pet shows gets lower marks than one they passed on.

        Crowd sourced niche TV could be the wave of the future, and it’s looking better and better for the consumer.

      • atcDave says:

        Yeah Lou I agree with all of that. Screenings for test audiences is an interesting part of film production, with its own set of pitfalls as you mention. But apart from maybe the occasional key episode (Pilot or finale), I don’t think it would ever have much influence on television/serial type productions, I just can’t imagine the logistics of screening and re-editing 14-20 episodes a year.
        Although the more I think of it, I really could see it finding use for finales. So many high profile shows over the years have been undone by broadly unpopular finales. Especially as we see production models changing for programs, new things are bound to be tried.

        Thanks Ernie for that fascinating article on Pilots. I’ve always wondered how many shows never got made that might have interested me. Of course I also wonder at how bad some of the Pilots that never saw the light of day might be. It could be interesting to see more of them for a variety of reasons. But then it also may increase the frustration of finding a show you love that no one else is interested in.

  2. atcDave says:

    Not sure I agree with some of your conclusions Joe. At least the more detached part of it, I think you’ve mixed up two completely different issues. The more competitive marketplace and quicker feedback are absolute good for viewers. Its just that broadcast television is not a medium with a future, so decisions to air “I’ll Buy That For a Dollar” may signal the end of network TV, but not necessarily the end of quality programming . We’ve been saying for years that broadcast networks will eventually just be about sports and “reality” programming. More and more quality scripted content will come through some sort of “on demand” vehicle. And I think that’s great news; even if the networks sink into oblivion, quality programming will continue through other means. And I think those other means will be more responsive to the demand of their paying viewers. After all, not only do we have more avenues for feedback, but the impact is more immediate if suddenly viewers aren’t buying a product as opposed to a slip in the ratings. With ratings a network may write off a slip as a scheduling glitch, or a change in the weather or DST. But when people suddenly don’t buy an episode its pretty obvious something has gone wrong. The future is bright (or at least not bleak…) for content, just not for broadcast TV.

    • joe says:

      Actually, Dave, that *was* what I was trying to say! Essentially, we’re in agreement about Network TV and the future of scripted content.

      The problem is that I’m much more downcast about it. And that may be because I’m more TV addicted! It’s the flickering silver light and the family watching Ed Sullivan on a Sunday night that will disappear. Even if my granddaughter is fine with it, Ryan Seacrest will not ever do it for me, especially on some sort of ipad-like device, because the addiction is to the atmosphere that has surrounded TV for decades. It’s that atmosphere and élan that I’m addicted to, and that’s what’s changing.

      • atcDave says:

        Yeah I agree with all of that Joe. I already don’t watch as much TV as I used to. Although I think a lot of we do watch is better than ever, that is maybe the source of some optimism on my part. We have long padded out our weekly viewing with older series. (currently Remmington Steele and Muppets). We have added a lot of cable shows to our mix, but so far, no internet series. I’m sure that will come next.

        One of the things I think I will/do miss about the newer way of watching; is that loosing those commercial/station breaks leaves us less plugged into the community in some ways. We often don’t know as much about local news, events and other network programming as we used to. We’ve been doing most watching by DVR (VCR before that!) for years anyway, so actually that change has been pretty gradual. But I do consider it a loss.

      • joe says:

        The station breaks? Oddly, I agree! When I DVR, I seldom watch one episode, but save up a few and watch them one after another, in order. It’s much more like a movie, then. (And of course, my finger is on the FF button, twitching incessantly…) Thank God for the pause button!

        That’s another point. Mrs. Joe and I just finished watching The Sopranos again, front to back, often seeing four or five episodes in one evening. It’s a monster, and it’s fantastic. There’s so much in it that I don’t understand how anyone could watch just one episode a week, twelve a year for eight years and get even half of the content out of it. I know I didn’t. Seeing episodes in quick succession allows you to see the longer arcs in far more detail and see a lot more of the continuity built into the story, as well as the characters’ evolution.

        I’m watching Downton Abbey like that now, to the same effect.

      • atcDave says:

        Yeah I can easily see where watching more episodes in a row would be beneficial. In principle, I would like to watch that way. I can’t even tell you how much fun it was to do that Chuck marathon with friends a couple weeks ago. But really, I can never wait for shows I like. I must be loosing enthusiasm for The Simpsons, its the only show I still watch that piles up on my DVR, and its not exactly the sort of thing that benefits from a marathon!
        No doubt though, for those more timeless shows like Chuck or Firefly, its a lot of fun to watch back to back episodes.

  3. oldresorter says:

    I’d guess eventually the ‘next’ big thing in TV / movies / visual entertainment will sort itself out and become commonplace. I could have never thought the use of the internet would become so part of my life, but it has. I’m ready to embrace whatever is next. But exactly what that is, or how, I have no idea. Star Trek’s communicator’s from the 60’s look one heck of alot like cell phones, who’s to say ‘halodecks’ won’t be around in another 20 or 30 years???

    I wish I would know where I read this, but somewhere in my internet travels, I read something, from I believe it was a showrunner, how TV / movies / books tend to follow behind major current events and how past generations tend to hang on to the old stuff, while current generations embrace the new stuff. I think it came from someone on Alias, who used westerns, world war 2 movies, the vietnam / rock music revolution, then the cold war as examples of past stuff, while 9/11 was the inspiration for Alias and much of the TV in the first part of this century. I think the ones who get in early, have an easy time ‘telling compelling’ stories, and those on the backend must get more creative, and often end up mixing the genre’s, etc – think Hogan’s Hero’s as the late world war 2 stuff – LOL, while Mash was more cutting edge Vietnam War.

    My in their mid 80’s mother and father, both alive and living in the home I was born in, would much rather watch an old John Wayne movie, than anything made in the past 40-50 years for example. Often when I visit, Sanford and Son’s is playing, both of them prone to LOL, even though they had to have seen every ep a dozen times.

    But at the end of the day, I think the best stuff in one’s generation has to touch something in the fans of that generation’s heart, and leave them satified that they did it right. I think the degree of the satisfaction, and the reasons why, might be more individualistic than wholistic. But of this I have no doubt, feedback comes quicker today than ever, and I don’t think anyone who ever has been in charge of anything for long, ignores feedback, so yes, I think the types of things we all (on both sides of the Chuck divide) tried to do means something. To what degree? I don’t have a clue. Evidentily it had some impact on Revenge.

    I did find the link of where I read why he was let go (last paragraph of the link), I would caution that it probably could be taken with a grain of salt, as I googled and found the official word was ‘mutually parted’ even though in this article the quote I refered to was ‘Kelley was let go because ABC didn’t agree with his direction for a potential third season and saw the same problems with season two that viewers and critics alike have been vocal about since the get-go’.

    • atcDave says:

      Some great stuff there Jason.
      I think there is a certain timelessness to real quality stories, apart from the contemporary mood and themes. Although I enthusiastically embrace modern shows and movies, there are modern trends I’m less enthused about (I have little tolerance for moral ambiguity or anti-heroes, yet they are clearly more popular than ever). But I think “nostalgia viewing” works for many of us on a couple levels; older shows are often a chance to relive favorite shows and moments from the past AND they are often throwbacks to values, styles, even technologies that were meaningful to an earlier stage of our lives. Although to be honest, I enjoy a lot of shows and movies that are far older than me too!
      However I don’t think (?) I will ever tire of seeking out new material. I still value newness and stories of the modern world, even if I am older than an increasing number of writers and stars. Ideally, there should be plenty made to please all of us.

    • garnet says:

      I like your thoughts on this, but I would caution that just because one has been around for a while doesn’t necessarily mean that they are not open to new things. I loved MASH when it was on, and if the opportunity arose, I’d watch some Family Ties, Night Court, and WKRP., but I LOVED CHUCK and really like Dr. WHO, Downton Abbey,and Castle, and I am quite willing to give shows a chance. What is often lacking is a show having something that I really want to watch.

      BTW I am old enough to have watched Hogan’s Heros on the original run, and, as a kid, it wasn’t that bad to watch (these days I expect most of us would cringe watching it). And before anyone asks, yes it also means I can still sing the theme songs from Gilligan’s Island and the Beverly Hillbillies. The Brady Bunch I am still trying hard to forget.

      • oldresorter says:

        you and I are probably within a few years in age. I was in second grade the day Kennedy was shot.

        I wasn’t really trying to say not open to new things, but I guess it came off that way since both you and Dave mentioned it. What I was trying to define is how TV in each generation gets inspired by what’s going on around them. Hence, reality TV might not appeal to as broad of an older base as say Chuck, or Castle, or Downtown Abbey. I’d have to think the rate of change will only increase the next 10-20 years, so we all better be pretty darned open to new things and flexible.

        But I honestly doubt, that fan feedback, and the affect of fan feedback on the creative product, is going away, rather, I think fan feedback vs the creative product, has only just scratched the surface.

        Could you imagine a Chuck, were I could dial in my parameters and the rest of you individually yours? I’d get 91 Honeymooner types eps I suppose, while the rest of you, something else – LOL.

      • atcDave says:

        I think we’d get pretty close to the same thing there Jason. If they could have done Honeymooners 91 different ways I would have been a pretty happy guy…

        Although I’m pretty happy to through some DeLorean and Phase Three into the mix too.

      • joe says:

        I loved MASH when it was on, and if the opportunity arose, I’d watch some Family Ties, Night Court, and WKRP., but I LOVED CHUCK and really like Dr. WHO, Downton Abbey,and Castle, and I am quite willing to give shows a chance.

        Heh! That list is pretty much my viewing also. I think you can add Babylon 5 for my favorite show of the ’90s and that’s pretty much it until you get to the NCISs and USA network shows for the ’00s.

        Your list of ’60s shows (Hogan’s Heroes, Gilligan’s Island (which I want to call, Maynard G. Krebb’s Island 😉 ) The Beverly Hillbillies & The Brady Bunch) is interesting, because the only one of those I can see today is The Brady Bunch.

        Now get that song out of my head, will ya?

  4. uplink2 says:

    Well I have some first hand knowledge about some of this at least on a more local level but I think it translates to the networks as well. Local TV ad revenue is less than half what it was 8 years ago in my market and that is not just because of the 2008 crash. The total pool of money in advertising has so many more options than they did a few years ago so TV stations and networks have to look for other sources of revenue to make up that loss. The best a local station can say their place with the competition is that they lost less than the others because we are all losing revenue.

    So stations and networks do what they can to survive. They cut staff, automate more, and reduce expenses any way they can. The market is changing and you have to look at other source of income and that is all about subscriber fees. Last I heard ESPN gets around $5 a month from every cable subscriber in the country. They are by far the biggest. TBS and their group are less than $2. They run in the black before they sell even one commercial. Local stations can’t compete without subscriber fees. In the case of what they were saying about going straight to cable, the costs of operating TV transmitters etc are huge dollars and in many markets it serves only 5% of the viewers. What was mentioned above has been discussed for years. Why pay to run a Megawatt TV station if less than 10% of your audience watches it over the air. The other advantage to cable is the type of adds you can run like liquor and more ‘adult’ adds that are restricted to certain time periods over the air. On cable you can run them whenever you want.

    On my point about Smash it was another case where a showrunner got fired because of fan and critical reaction to the storylines. I love the show but many elements were awful last season and needed to go. But in its case it was too late. Online negativity and declining ratings killed it before it even began this season with a much better show.

    I think Lou’s point is correct in some ways. A showrunner shouldn’t give the audience everything it wants. they should give it what it needs. But the most important part of that “need” is quality. A storyline that some fans hate that is done well can be great TV. I point to Dexter. I think the Hannah storyline was fantastic and not just because my favorite actress played the role. But certain elements of the Dexter fanbase HATE Hannah. They are very vocal about it. But yet the show had its best ratings ever last season. I’d rank it second only to season 4 as the best the show ever did but you will hear from some elements a much different story. But the key there is it was done well. In the case of Chuck it was neither liked by a large part of the fanbase nor done well, even for the biggest season 3 fans. They all admit to some serious failings with the central being Sarah/Shaw. With the exception of a very few, mainly one who hasn’t posted here in ages, poster I don’t think anyone feels that was a good creative decision or the pairing worked well at all. In that case the showrunners needed to hear it loud and clear. It seems they were even hearing it from their own staff but it was too late to fix it.

    The industry is changing rapidly and subscriber fees that can be documented are where things are headed. Nielsen is simply statistical voodoo. How can 658 homes represent everyone watching TV in a top 10 major market. For services like Netflix, they know exactly how many folks are watching and so do cable services.

  5. dkd says:

    Joe’s article covers a lot of topics and I’m not sure where to start, but I’ll go in the order of the points in the article:

    “Accountability and responding to fan desires”

    It’s interesting that The Good Wife and Smash were cited as shows which responded to fans.
    The former’s ratings have not gotten any better and Smash was an absolute flop after the changes.

    It’s funny that “responding to fan reaction” is considered a new thing. Daytime soap operas have been doing it for decades. Part of the reason has nothing to do with technology. They did is by reading letters. The reason they were able to do with it is because of the soap production schedule. Soaps are filmed just weeks before they air. Writers can respond to the lack of chemistry between some characters they put together quite quickly.

    So, it has nothing to do with how quickly a viewer can respond to what they’ve seen, it has to do with (1) how soon the writers can react to it, and (2) willingness to do so. The soap operas never really had any auteurs who said “it’s my way or the highway”. They pretty much were an amenable group of writers who were happy to respond to viewer feedback or ratings. Despite their fan responsiveness, no one is pointing to the daytime soap opera as a paragon of quality writing.

    Technology may give us the illusion that we can can be listened to immediately, but the economics of production makes it more and more likely that an entire season of a show is in the can before we even see it.

    Yesterday, I went to the Yahoo “newfront” where Ed Helms and Zachary Levi announced a web series that will be released in September. The entire season will be released at the same time. This makes sense from a production standpoint. I suspect that the availability of the actors, budget, and logistics made it necessary to film it all within a short period. But, you can tweet all you want about things you’d like to change after you’ve seen—say—the third episode. It won’t matter. It’s in the can.

    Netflix’s House of Cards and Arrested Development revival are also “entire season” releases.
    Most of the most respected series in TV history used very little viewer feedback to succeed.

    “Who ordered this”

    Innovation never comes from polling viewers on what they want to see. Viewers rarely suggest anything different than what they have already seen.

    “It makes it less likely to see a fan-intensive show coming our way soon”

    There are always fan-intensive shows. You just may not be watching them. ABC has a show called “Scandal” that has people going wild lately. I was overhearing 20-somethings at work talking about “The Following” today. People who follow twitter traffic say that shows like ABC Family’s “Pretty Little Liars” get more tweets per viewer that Chuck ever did. We have to realize that for every show we get intense about there are other shows that other people get equally intense about. It’s a very very fragmented market.

    “Younger viewers as saviors”

    They do indeed watch more on “2nd and 3rd” screens but they also are more open to reality programming than any other demographic. They made stars out of the Jersey Shore crew. They watch Teen Mom and Duck Dynasty. Chuck actually had a median age in the low 50’s by the end. It wasn’t a young show. So, if you think the younger generation is going to save scripted TV, you are barking up the wrong tree. They’re the ones who are more willing to try something different. They see no advantage to scripted TV with actors over unscripted TV with people plucked off the street.

    I was at the E! upfront last week and the 20-somethings were flocking around Ryan Lochte who has a new reality show on the network.

    Not your father’s or grandfather’s TV.

    From uplink: “The industry is changing rapidly and subscriber fees that can be documented are where things are headed. Nielsen is simply statistical voodoo. How can 658 homes represent everyone watching TV in a top 10 major market. For services like Netflix, they know exactly how many folks are watching and so do cable services.”

    The networks that MSO’s pay the most fees for are sports even though they aren’t the most watched. HBO knows how many subscribers it has, but it still uses Nielsen to tell it which shows people watch more than others. As I said in a previous paragraph, Netflix is ordering entire seasons before they get a single bit of feedback on how many people are watching.

    The truth about the subscriber fees the MSO’s pay is that we, the consumer, don’t get to choose which networks we get–other than the pay channels. They come on our box regardless of whether we watch them or not. If we think some channel stinks, we can’t call the MSO and have it dropped.

    • atcDave says:

      Couple of pretty funny things there DKD. I know you’re just joking about how stupid we all are, but I will clarify a couple points anyway.
      We all get that we’re currently stuck paying for content whether we like it or not. That has been a topic of discussion here many times. And that’s a big part of why we’re all enthused about Internet downloads as a way of getting away from cable and its bundled channels. That way we can pay for the content we want and ignore the rest. Its pretty exciting to see it all happening right now, and know that we’ll be free of the current network and cable companies at some point. I’m not rooting for anyone to go out of business, but I sure would like to see more a la carte options. I think cable will have to move that way or be buried by the Internet.
      We’ve also discussed here several times the fact that there is a substantial lag time between content we see and what is currently being made. And its been mentioned quite often that by the time S3 of Chuck started running it was already too late to impact S3 with our feedback. But the really exciting thing was how our feedback obviously impacted S4 and S5. I remember after S3 the biggest lingering concern for many of us was that they were setting up a story of lies and secrets between Chuck and Sarah; and yet that was addressed and ended in 4.01. And the way it was done was pretty satisfying for all of us who’d been commenting on it for several months at that point. I also remember Ryan McPartlin commenting at Comic Con the sort of lessons that had been learned by TPTB as a result of S3; it was obvious we had got through, and the results were plain on screen. In many ways, S4 remains my favorite. And I think that’s partly because they did listen to fan feedback, and delivered almost exactly the show I wanted to see.
      One last related point, I’ve always described S3 as fatally flawed at conception. A big part of that is because it never should have been. If they’d been paying attention to their viewers after S2 like they did after S3, they never would have made S3 the way they did. We’ve often discussed how small the changes could have been to make a more satisfying season. S3 is a product of ignoring feedback and a large portion of the fan base. S4 was clearly made to respond to fans. Much as I am frustrated by the malfunction of S3 I am thoroughly pleased with S4. I know not everyone feels that way. But for very many of us it looks like our voices were heard, and we had the impact we wanted to, eventually.

      • dkd says:

        “We all get that we’re currently stuck paying for content whether we like it or not. That has been a topic of discussion here many times. And that’s a big part of why we’re all enthused about Internet downloads as a way of getting away from cable and its bundled channels. That way we can pay for the content we want and ignore the rest. Its pretty exciting to see it all happening right now, and know that we’ll be free of the current network and cable companies at some point. I’m not rooting for anyone to go out of business, but I sure would like to see more a la carte options. I think cable will have to move that way or be buried by the Internet.”

        We got side-tracked by the Season 3 discussion. I wanted to get back to the “TV business” discussion.

        There’s a difference between some internet/on demand model co-existing with the business model that works for cable and it replacing the cable model altogether.

        Right now, a lot of internet content is “add on” to existing models. For instance, the vast majority of things that Hulu and Netflix broadcast were broadcast first elsewhere. So, if NBC didn’t foot the bill first for Chuck, Netflix certainly wouldn’t have it in the aftermarket. While Netflix is getting its feet wet with original production, it remains to be seen how much they can do it and do it profitably.

        A lot of what the consumer considers good about internet delivery and VOD is not properly monetized to support itself if other revenues weren’t coming in from traditional forms. Some of it isn’t monetized at all. If you take away revenue streams like advertising, is the consumer really ready to increase how much they pay for content directly? It remains to be seen. Yeah, many don’t mind paying for HBO or a Netflix subscription, but that’s a fraction of all the original television that is produced. Most of it is ad-supported.

      • Ernie Davis says:

        My biggest wish with all of this is that the online distributors may be able to finally break up the bundling cartels. A while ago I was reading about how Steve Jobs was hoping to pull off an Apple TV that would do just that. Cable companies most annoying practice is bundling. You can have one of these pre-determined sets of stations, 70% of which you have absolutely no interest in for an inflated price. Apparently Jobs wanted to break that in the same way iTunes broke the recording industries $18 CD model. A la carte pricing. You only pay for the channels you want, presumably through the iTunes store, and you get them streamed with your cable company merely providing your internet connection. Needless to say the cable companies didn’t like the idea, but the thought was if you get the networks to buy in you can get around that. Unfortunately Networks like selling bundles too. (like ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNclassic, etc) Several of my younger employees have basically taken that step. They pay for internet access only and stream the content to a TV box essentially giving them a la carte access to only what they want to pay for.

        Now your point about much of the cost has already been recovered by the time the networks are selling rights to Amazon or Netflix, so the true cost of that content isn’t apparent in the price you pay is a very valid one. That is why I think the Veronica Mars Movie kickstarter is such an interesting development. It shows there is a tremendous resource that can be tapped to help fund the creative side of the entertainment industry directly. This has the possibility of changing not only the way content is distributed but made and promoted. Pilots can be promoted directly to the audience, and a show launched if it gets enough subscribers willing to pay and canceled only when the subscriptions fall off to the point where it can no longer be made at a profit. Suddenly the studios can be freed from defecit financing content for the networks and can be “in the black” practically from day 1 (there is still the cost of the pilot to cover). Consumers get first-run access to the shows they want, and the producers have a revenue stream that directly supports production, plus the possibility of additional streams from the more traditional sources such as DVD sales and cable or network channels. In addition, being freed from the need to run commercials producers are no longer slaves to the 43/22 minute six acts format imposed by networks.

        Are there potential downsides? Sure, fan entitlement being a big one, but with this model the fans do have some power via their subscription. There is also the danger that without the buffer of networks some producers could end up producing timid or pandering material out of fear of losing subscribers, and there will no doubt be some of that.

        All in all there is a great deal of potential in online providers starting to think like a TV channel. When HBO realized they could be a content producer in addition to a provider and use that to expand their subscriber base it ushered in what Alan Sepinwall calls “The Golden Age of Television”. I’m quite looking forward to a second golden age online.

        As a total aside dkd, since you seem to be “in the industry” any idea of what’s up with Netflix and streaming Chuck?

    • joe says:

      Lots of truth I can’t argue with there, DKD. But reading those points (especially the example of the ol’ daytime soaps) makes me understand that the differences between what your saying and what I’m trying to point out are definitional. That is, we’re not really talking about the same thing.

      Those soaps are a good point. I’m under the impression that, back in the days of VHF and UHF TV, they were ubiquitous, profitable and watched by a relatively few loyal fans. That is, each series had a relatively narrow fan base, compared to the prime time giants that were watched by 30% of the country. The actors were newcomers trying to break in (Susan Lucci excepted, of course), as were most of the crews and they were eager to please.

      They were considered loved and profitable, but not quality entertainment, the prime example of Minow’s vast wasteland. So if we ask the question “Is this what we want?”, the answer may well be “YES!” The answer may be “no” at the same time, depending upon who you ask.

      It’s pedantic and obvious to say so. But I’m saying that, either way, my answer is “I want more Chuck!”

    • Ernie Davis says:

      I think it’s important to remember that for most television series it takes a while for the writers and the actors, and the producers, editors and directors, to find their common ground. I see three distinct steps in Chuck’s evolution with Tango, Truth and First Date. By mid season 2 they were at their creative zenith. Other shows like Parks & Rec or Castle (which started as a mid-season replacement) took nearly a full season for the crew to mesh. This meshing is often done without much feedback from viewers. It is the natural process of experimentation and tweaking that come with any new endeavor. It is also why show-runners are often reluctant to tamper with the existing temperament, it means there will be a time where adjustments will be needed until the crew incorporates the changes into the show and it’s new baseline is established. Season 3 was a big change in what was a well ordered machine in addition to a pivot point in the story so there was a time where they were all likely finding their new baseline and the new temperament of the show. Dave would likely say that was the first 13 episodes of season 3, I’d say there were two big changes for story purposes and one for the production. For the story adjustments there is one at the beginning of season 3, done by about First Class and another starting with Final Exam done by Honeymooners. With the new realities of the production environment I’d say they had a handle on that in the back-order, but not much before that.

      With Chuck’s third season, while some consider the premise fatally flawed, and I’ll concede there were flaws, the premise was not the main problem. Most problems were in execution. Critics such as Mo Ryan and Alan Sepinwall, writing at the time, thought the direction valid and interesting even if they thought the WT/WT on shaky ground. The biggest flaw in conception was probably writing from the climax of the series backward and then being unable to make the adjustments that I noted above are always a part of messing with the established dynamics of a show to make the changes in characters or situations seem to grow organically from the story, so Sham seemed forced largely because it was, even if it had a place in the story they were telling.

      As far as the show runners philosophy I still say that if they aren’t going with their instincts their story will not ring true. They have only what they consider the best story to go by, and trying to convincingly tell a story they don’t believe in isn’t the way to go. However we all know that in network TV that rarely happens. Everyone from the studio to the network to the major advertisers wants input from time to time. That is why the best TV is largely living on cable nowadays. They have the time to develop a show and get full season orders as opposed to being canceled after 3 episodes or going into a season not knowing how many episodes you’ll need to produce.

      • atcDave says:

        I agree with more of that than you might think Ernie. But I always think its a huge mistake to isolate the needs and wants of the writers and the audience. Unless the writer is an amateur writing for their own pleasure, the impact of their material on an audience is really the main reason for a story’s existence. Now I have never said, and never will say, that an audience should be able to dictate terms to a writer. That is clearly no way to create anything worthwhile. But a successful story will work only when it provides what the audience does need. And I think a writer smugly proclaiming he will provide an audience what they need, whether they want it or not, is a disastrously bad start to the relationship. (And yes, I know that was Whedon, not Schwartz; but as the attitude has already been invoked I think it’s fair game). I think the best writers passionately care about meeting audience needs. Perhaps a gifted few can instinctively craft a tale that has broad appeal with no outside help. But given just how short the life span is of most television shows I would guess most writers could actually learn something by really paying attention to their viewers.
        Ideally, a story can be found that will appeal to both audience and writer. In fact, I think succeeding at that is really the key to a successful show. So much of our discussion paints things in an extreme contrast like its one side against the other. And that is hopelessly ridiculous. The writer(s) needs to write something that excites and pleases them, something they can be proud of. And the audience needs some patience to let the writer tell their story. BUT, the writer does need to produce a story that will satisfy their audience. If large numbers of viewers are unhappy, the writer has failed. I get that it looks different to you because you actually liked S3. But a large swath of the audience left unsatisfied is a problem. And I don’t believe it serves the writers well to just explain or justify what they were trying to do. They will never learn anything that way. If a large portion of the audience is disatisfied it is important to know why. And it’s never about just one show. Obviously our focus here is Chuck, as it should be. But for me, criticism of S3 stopped being ABOUT Chuck a long time ago. It’s about the type of television I want to see get made. It’s about being sure my taste, opinion and desires are “out there”. Especially when it looks like television written “for me” seems to be an endangered species. I never expect my opinions to be central to any writer’s “vision”. I would rather they be true to themselves and write a story they can believe in. But that doesn’t happen in a vacuum, they need to know what the viewers want too.

      • Ernie Davis says:

        Dave, I’m not saying the show-runners should remain deaf to criticism, just that they are primarily responsible for finding their shows strengths and tone. Once they find that they can tell their story in the manner they see fit. If it doesn’t find an audience it goes the way of Firefly or Wonderfalls, but I wouldn’t want either Joss Whedon or Brian Fuller to have changed a thing about either of those shows. The fact that they never found the audience they deserved is tragic, but part of TV.

        If the show-runners respond to fan criticism it should only be in the most general sense of “this isn’t working, how do we fix it” as opposed to story, direction or tone of the show. That has to be something they believe in, and for Chuck they believed the proper way to end the series was with Chuck and Sarah in a Paris hotel room, so I wouldn’t want them to change that. I’d have preferred a better developed and cast Shaw character and that both the breakup and the OLI’s been given the time and attention they deserved, and if they could have pulled those things off better but didn’t through lack of effort or understanding their importance, then that was their failure. To say however the very concept was a failure before they’d filmed a single scene because a lot of fans groaned at COMICON and then took to the message boards to complain and they didn’t change their direction based on that isn’t fair in my opinion. Chuck has often faced production challenges because of NBC’s decisions and this is one of those cases. After COMICON they went into the production bubble. When they resumed production after Christmas they made adjustments. The first episode produced after the break was Honeymooners. Essentially they responded to what wasn’t working as soon as they could, asked for patience from those eager to see some storylines resolved and moved on. To me that isn’t arrogance, it’s taking the fans seriously, but sticking to your vision as the only one you believe in enough to tell convincingly. There will be no pleasing some of the fans at the extremes like the commenter who wanted to boycott Schwedak into submission and dictate the story, so they shouldn’t try. There are those in the shipper community who take the fact that Shaw ever came back as a personal insult, yet in the broader community of the fandom you see at sites like ChuckTV he’s their most popular villain. Should a fractional faction dictate what TPTB can do for the entire fandom? You know there are actually fans who liked Brandon Routh in that role. We sometimes forget that this site became a bit of a bubble in season 3. The broader fandom is a lot more forgiving than the dominant voice here.

        Now I understand that it represents a failure to make the kind of show you want to see on television, and since Chuck was in the past, and failed in a large part of season 3, I see why you characterize it as a failure from your point of view, but you wouldn’t characterize Breaking Bad or The Sopranos as entertainment failures because they aren’t the sort of show you like, so I think it is more fair to acknowledge that their chosen direction was just that, one that wouldn’t entertain you, rather than conceptually flawed.

        A writer has to be arrogant enough to feel they know what will entertain their audience better than the audience knows, otherwise they’d never become writers. If they believe that any fan posting in an on-line discussion could do as well as them, well why bother? Whedon’s goal is to give the audience something better than what they think they want, and he believes he can do it because he has more imagination and skill at translating that to the screen than the average Joe on the street. I’d also have to say he’s been proven right often enough to be taken seriously when he says he knows his audience better than they know themselves. Just maybe that climactic battle in Serenity wouldn’t have kept you on the edge of your seat if he hadn’t killed off Book and Wash first, firmly establishing that yes, they could die. Would I want to see Wash killed? Of course not, but I don’t question that Whedon felt he needed to to make me invest so heavily in those final scenes.

        Did I want to see Sarah date Shaw? Not really. But I don’t question that Schwedak felt they needed to make Sarah into more than the NFG and show her as a flawed person in search of redemption, making bad choices without Chuck in her life. Much of the growth we celebrate in seasons 4 and 5 is set up in season 3 when we see just how much Sarah has to overcome. I can wish they pulled it off better, but I wouldn’t have them change it.

      • oldresorter says:

        Ernie – just read both of what you wrote and what dave wrote. The first thing you wrote, I more or less agree with most of it too, same as dave. I wish you would keep trying to write ‘nicely’, when you are objective, you write better stuff than anyone here. The second part, you were a little more you’re old self, trying to throw stuff at fans you don’t like, because they don’t say things you want them to. You have toned down your style a great deal, but seriously, we are all here as fans, why try to pick fights?

        But, to your last set of points, at the end of the day, we really aren’t exactly sure why the creators did things how they did in S3, they really haven’t said why. I think it’s as huge of a mistake for you to assume you know why because you liked it, than it is for me to assume why because I did not (which I have been guilty of countless times). By the same token, none of us has any idea if Honeymooners thru the end of s4 was always the plan, or was seriously changed after the first part of s3 caused controversy? I’ve always thought the writers change all the time for all kinds of reasons, and the notion of a great universal concept driving story, damned the fans, is largely made up. But that is my opinion, I could be way wrong.

      • uplink2 says:

        Well I actually agree with a major point that Ernie brought up in his first posting. I have said the same thing a number of times. One of the biggest problems with season 3 and why it feels so incredibly contrived to me is that it was written backwards. The destination was decided before any of the journey was written it seems. That is why it doesn’t feel (sorry folks) “organic” to the story. It seems like many times it didn’t matter how they kept them apart as long as they got them together in that hotel room. It’s why it doesn’t feel “earned” because it isn’t. My opinion was that none of the deeper subtext that Ernie mentions about showing Sarah’s flaws or Marc’s concepts about the characters not being people but “symbols” isn’t evident in the writing or execution. It’s more about trying to rationalize a flawed story with some deeper meaning so that you can accept the flawed story based on intent rather than execution. What I see is much simple than that. It’s break them up at the beginning, throw some OLI troupes in their way because its easy and cheap, do some stunt casting and then put them together at the end whether they deserve it or not.

        I see absolutely no evidence that the relationship grew in the least by the journey they took them on. No deeper growth or commitment to each other came because of the LI stories. Chuck and Sarah the couple are not better off because of what happened. In fact the post Honeymooners journey feels more “organic” after Colonel than it does after Other Guy. TPTB simply believed that once they put them together all of the flaws would be forgiven as long as they got them there. Too bad they really miscalculated on that one.

        There are elements of the early season 3 story that are important. But unfortunately they get lost beneath the weight of the unimportant. Though I hated Pink Slip it could have been redeemed and it looked like it was going to be by Operation Awesome. But then the second reset happens and for me at least all of the necessary spy story gets lost under the awful LI storylines. It also shows what the real intent of Pink Slip was, to set up the betrayal that leads back to that empty LI well one more time. Josh may have said we wouldn’t get WTWT fatigue but it seemed he was clueless that we already had. Much of that was because the story was written backwards and because of that they limited themselves in how the story could evolve naturally. So they ended up having to sacrifice character for plot. That ultimately ended up damaging both Sarah and Chuck severely as characters, particularly Sarah. Throw in the casting problems and we got a very disappointing first 13 for me.

      • atcDave says:

        Obviously Ernie we will just remain at a complete impasse on some of that. I can’t give any benefit of the doubt, at least on the “PLI” issue. Other parts I can imagine being better crafted and more enjoyable as entertainment. But both PLIs damaged characters and undermined my enjoyment of the show with absolutely no benefit I can see. And part of the problem I have with the dogged defense of the story is its so easy for me to imagine a multitude of other ways to tell it. And I have no doubt in an alternate universe the story could have been told in a way that would have pleased all of us, just as the story-tellers mostly succeeded in the first two seasons. Yet you continue to defend what was written like its the only possible story, that just drives me nuts. I won’t even defend the stories I liked best like they’re the only possible story! I see countless variations for every story told. In fact it’s those variations and what ifs that keep everything interesting to me. I guess the one good thing about S3 to me, countless re-writes and fixes keep it fresh and interesting.

      • atcDave says:

        I’d agree entirely Uplink.

        I guess I can even concede the Paris hotel could have been a great ending, especially if Chuck and Sarah were celebrating that they no longer needed to keep their real relationship secret…

      • Ernie Davis says:

        Jason, you should always read my posts as if I’m a Vulcan or Sheldon on Big Bang Theory. There is absolutely no intent to offend, it’s just me being clueless or in-artful in my wording.

        We can know why they did some things based on what they’ve said and the questions we are supposed to ask that are set up in the scenes. Deleted scenes also sometimes give context. But in the end this is all for fun and I think I can make a good case that I occasionally stumble upon something cool and new, even this late in the game.

        Dave I suppose I’m actually “defending” or “rationalizing” because it is the story we got, not the only possible story. So in that sense it is the only possible story, the one they decided to tell how they told it. I just think it’s better to accept the writers premise to the greatest extent you can and then see where they lead you. If you can’t accept the premise you aren’t going to enjoy or understand a lot of the story (my constant FOD complaint). All I’m trying to do is lay that out.

        And yes, we won’t agree, so I’ll drop it.

        Uplink, there was no growth in the relationship because there was no relationship. Chuck and Sarah are on individual journeys at this point. The first airing of season 3 it took me until about Beard to realize that, then I gave up my expectation that there would be any relationship movement till the end. The resolution isn’t some sort of growth of them as a pair but individual growth and understanding each other until they are a suitable pair. They come together so easily because as Ellie said they just had to decide to be together and then work out the details later. In the end the only thing keeping them apart was themselves thinking they had to change or give up a part of themselves to fit into each other’s world or had to ask the other to sacrifice a part of themselves to join them in theirs. The relationship begins in Honeymooners and we see that their previous problems are still there, they’re just more mature and confident and can handle them now. Again, I know I’m not convincing you, but I sometimes feel it is necessary to make a counter-case for the readers who are persuadable.

      • uplink2 says:

        One other point about changing a story path during a season. Unfortunately it can get worse. DR again, yes I know, in his blog where he talks about the people on the show realizing that Sarah/Shaw wasn’t working mentioned that around the time that 3.5 and 3.6 were being written, a writers meeting was called because some folks thought things weren’t up to standards. He believes that what came out of it was the Sarah/Shaw arc that begins in Fake Name. My guess, and this is clearly just a guess, is that folks saw that with the reconnection that was hinted at in 3W, Angel And OA they couldn’t justify keeping them apart all the way till 3.13. That Sarah/Shaw wasn’t working very early on and they decided to take things darker to justify the pairing because it was integral to the delay of their getting them together till 3.13. Maybe that is when as has been reported Schwedak came up with the idea of the name reveal so that Sarah would “hurt” Chuck. Thereby driving the wedge between them that leads to her running to Shaw instead of Chuck after she almost was killed. That the relationship gets shattered once more allowing them to delay the reconnection till 3.13 even if it wasn’t “earned”.

        I think this could be the justification for the change of 3.08 from Chuck vs the Nose to Chuck vs the Fake Name. It may be a case where trying to fix a failing story ended up making it much much worse.

        If all of this is true then it shows to me at least that there was no deep character driven basis for the story. That necessary relationship growth or showing flaws or examining symbolism was behind it all. The intent was simply to delay things till the ending. The destination drove the story and quite poorly at times.

      • uplink2 says:

        Where is that edit button. Of course it should read “wasn’t behind it all”

      • Ernie Davis says:

        I think it is clear the plot ending where it did drove the story far more than it should have, but remember they were trying to achieve that epic conclusion and give the fans what they wanted, Chuck and Sarah together. But to say they had nothing in mind for what needed to happen before that is I think unfair. There were some very specific things that did happen that indicate to me they had very specific plans for both characters, but I’ll leave the rest for the episode posts and deal with them as they come up.

      • atcDave says:

        No doubt things did get much worse at that point. It would be interesting to see a well documented article on the BTS stuff, I’d like to see something better than rumor.

      • uplink2 says:

        Ernie, you may be right but the problem with it is I never saw it. You said even you who were more open to the season didn’t get it till 3.9. So in that respects it fails if the audience can’t see what you are trying to do. And I contend that isn’t the viewers fault. But all I saw was a poorly crafted character played by a boring actor with no chemistry with anyone that every time he was on screen just drags down any enjoyment of the characters I do want to see “individual” journey. I just wanted him gone and not in a good way. I could have enjoyed a journey of growth for Chuck and Sarah individually that leads them back to each other but it all gets lost beneath a painfully misguided LI story. Plus to jam that LI story down out throats they had to sacrifice much of what I loved about these characters.

        This goes to our basic disagreement that we have come to accept won’t change, to me intent means nothing if it isn’t shown on screen. Believing that they were trying to give us that individual journey you mention, if true, doesn’t change my reaction one bit to what I saw on screen. The overall story was flawed, the execution terrible at times, and the stunt casting didn’t work. The important journeys were lost beneath the weight of the OLI story choice and its failure. In some respects knowing the intent behind it only makes it worse.

      • Ernie Davis says:

        In my defense the first time through there was a lot of gnashing of teeth, rending of garments and looking so hard for the subtext or the head-fake that you lost sight of the actual show unfolding in front of you. For me the process started with Mask and this review.

      • uplink2 says:

        Ernie, thanks for posting the link. I think the most important thing I take out of that discussion is the idea that you had to lower your standards to enjoy it. I find that in many ways appalling and at the very least disheartening.

        On your other point about the writers having specific things they wanted to address I think that’s fair but the problem is there are very very few of them beyond just the delay them getting together til ep 13. I see 2 things for Chuck, first he had to burn an asset, that showed him what Sarah went into her mission with him believing would happen. Second he had to shoot to kill. That is and all of that can and was done in 2 – 3 episodes. I find nothing for Sarah other than the diminishing of her character to sell the LI story. So that is 2 story ideas for Chuck, 0 for Sarah, 1 for them as a couple and virtually every character get’s diminished except Morgan.

        On your concept of them being on individual journeys a commenter then, Liz I believe brought up the idea of why would the showrunners ever want to abandon their biggest strength, the on screen chemistry between Zach and Yvonne. What makes this show work best is when we see them together as much as possible. That kind of chemistry is extremely rare and is something that should be cherished and taken advantage of. Substituting it with a story that keeps them separate and where there is absolutely no chemistry between what they did show is simply nuts.

      • Ernie Davis says:

        Ernie, thanks for posting the link. I think the most important thing I take out of that discussion is the idea that you had to lower your standards to enjoy it.

        I did not say standards, I said expectations.

        Standard: 1) a rule or principle that is used as a basis for judgment
        2) an average or normal requirement, quality, quantity, level, grade, etc.: His work this week hasn’t been up to his usual standard.

        Expectation: 1) the act or state of looking forward or anticipating 2) something expected; a thing looked forward to.

        They are not the same thing.

      • uplink2 says:

        It is a shame in a way, I’ve had to lower my expectations to be able to enjoy the show.

        Yes you did say expectations but I chose to pick up more on the word “lower”. Though the words are different in this case I see the idea of lowering expectations as being similar to lowering standards. You didn’t say “altered” or “rethought” your expectations, you said you had to “lower” them. To me my expectations are a part of my standards. I expected this show to deliver certain things and when it fails to do so I don’t see lowering those expectations as keeping those standards in place. Especially when one of those expectations is the entertainment value. If I have to lower my expectations of being entertained by the show, why the hell am I still watching it? That entertainment value is what makes it easier to accept the obvious plot holes, inconsistencies and dropped plot lines.

        It’s more than a shame to me, it’s a failure to deliver on the standards the show had set for itself if I have to lower my expectations to enjoy it. Which by the way, I didn’t.

      • Ernie Davis says:

        I’ve been writing about expectations in terms of anticipating certain story developments or resolutions and judging the show on the basis of what you wanted rather than it’s own terms for going on three years now. And I think I’ve been pretty clear on what I think expectations are and that I consider them something other than standards.

        Make your argument as you wish, but don’t enlist me in endorsing it against my will.

      • oldresorter says:

        Ernie – for as long as you’ve talked about expectations, I’ve talked about the writers put those expectations out there. S1 / S2 were all about CS pairing up, in the Colonel, they paired them up. S4 first half was about engaged, at the end, they delivered. S4 second half was about marrying them, at the end, delivered. The two exceptions were s5 – tease a red door, white picket fence, happy ever after, instead they brutally stripped Sarah of all her memories and left with starting over at best. And s3, they more or less told everyone they are getting together, then instead of having fun teasing us with gentle humor, they wrote a plot that disgusted a large portion of their fanbase, such that the payoff did not even satisfy many, until an episode later. The second of s3 was in some ways even worse, when they literally did nothing at all in terms of expectations. We don’t want them together, getting engaged, marrying and living happily ever after, unless the show is written that way. How the payoffs were delivered (or failed to deliver) is up to the writers, not the fans.

      • oldresorter says:

        One other thing about Chuck. I view Chuck as a comedy. I think Chuck, taken seriously is a joke, with no serious characters, other than Sarah (AND ORION, which is one of many reasons why s2 worked better than the rest). I also thought Sarah was by far her best, when she was funny, or the straight man in funny settings.

        Hence, I felt whenever the show went dark, it was lousy, because it didn’t have enough depth to go dark, or enough places story and character wise to go. It was hard for me to laugh at Beckman and Chuck fooling around or Jeff and Lester hijinxing data hacking, while Sarah is getting punched in the face for an entire episode for example.

      • atcDave says:

        Jason you really hit the nail on the head. Although I do think a little more highly of the show’s forays into drama on occasion; I agree exactly that I saw it as a comedy first. The four seasons that worked for me were characterized by mostly sweet stories and humor that was gentle and respectful towards the main characters. Even the secondary characters were mostly likable loosers. The season that didn’t work took itself too seriously for too long, and pointedly did not reflect well on the characters involved. It was a wholly different show, that didn’t work at all for me.

      • Ernie Davis says:

        I’ve always said it is virtually impossible to approach the show without expectations, and some certainly grow out of the storyline, but some also grow out of our own prejudices and desires. Your contention that there is no place for the darker aspects of the story-lines in the show is the perfect example. It is those expectations or externally imposed rules we bring to the show that often blind us to the unfolding story or skew our views of it in odd or unpredictable (to TPTB) ways. Those expectations are not the responsibility of the writers or producers.

        You want a pure comedy with no dramatic passages or turns to the dark side of the spy-life, but that is not the show TPTB were making and hasn’t been since the beginning, so your distaste for those parts is purely about your desires and taste, not about expectations of a pure comedy put there by the writers or some objective failure by TPTB to make the show you wish they made.

        I try to judge and write about the show on its own terms that it presents to me, not on the basis of what I wish it was. I think it is sometimes necessary to point out when people are criticizing the show based on what they wish it was as opposed to what it was.

      • atcDave says:

        Ernie I think its completely fair to say one season was starkly different in tone from the other four. I also think its reasonable to say, on any show, that not every element may work equally well. So when Chuck skewed in a direction that emphasized a type of story many of us didn’t like anyway it becomes a problem. And that IS back on the creators, they are the ones who changed what the show was.
        Ultimately, I think anytime a sizable portion of a fan base is disillusioned the responsibility falls on the creators. Even if we can’t know the numbers with certainty, I think we’re talking about AT LEAST a third of the audience. I think its just completely off base to blame a third of the audience for not liking a CHANGE in tone and style on the show.

      • joe says:

        Jason, you’re arguing that Chuck should be seen as a comedy, and that’s right. First and foremost, it is. But when I think about it, the comedic parts are not the ones that stick in my head.

        I guess it’s personal. You’ve probably seen me writing about this before, but some here won’t remember that I was on an odd journey myself when the show was on the air – I went on an exercise regimen, took daily walks at lunch time, lost 38 lbs and rediscovered music because I got my first ipod and played stuff for at least an hour every day. Since a lot of my playlists contained songs I first heard on the show, I generally walked around in a semi-hynotized state, thinking about what I had seen on Monday night with that music in my ears.

        Yeah, there’s plenty of good comedy, but it was the other moments that I mulled over. It was the look on Yvonne’s face that kept me guessing “What is she trying to convey?” That becomes “What is Sarah thinking?” and “What does that mean for Chuck?” pretty fast. That’s not comedy; it’s drama.

        Then there’s the hand touching, their resolutions to move forward or step back as the situation evolved, the shoe-string catches and most of all, the soliloquies that could change things completely at a moment’s notice. Maybe it’s not Shakespeare, but sometimes it seemed to come close.

        I’m not saying you’re wrong, because the show was a comedy. But to me, the comedy was a set-up for the romantic drama that could come at you like a punch to the gut sometimes.

      • uplink2 says:

        OR I agree completely. The writers set the expectations by how they set up the payoffs for two seasons. There is lies the disparity. If the story they were really telling, an individual journey as opposed to the journey of the couple following Colonel that Ernie suggests, then they did a lousy job of changing those expectations for we the viewers. I can and will never blame that on the viewer. It’s their job to show those changes and get us to buy into their new expectations. Plus if we have to “lower” our expectations to enjoy the journey then to me they are in some ways admitting they can’t achieve the standards they had made me set previously.

        I agree with you that Chuck is basically a comedy with overtones of drama and most definitely romance. Much of its appeal has been based on being a fun, light, entertaining show where the two leads have some of the most powerful on screen chemistry I have ever seen. Those were my “expectations” going into season 3. TPTB changed that formula and never sold me on their new one. It wasn’t fun and we rarely saw any interaction between the leads. They instead gave the guest stars way, way, way too much screen time and yet STILL couldn’t sell a believable story for them. So for me my “expectations” were not delivered on and the new “lowered expectations” didn’t deliver a believable story. So yes that means they did not meet my standards for enjoying this series. There is a reason this was called the Misery Arc. It wasn’t just because it was full of contrived angst, it was because it wasn’t any fun to watch anymore. It was misery for the viewer and not just the characters.

      • uplink2 says:

        Ernie, I didn’t see your post as it took a while to finish mine but as I’ve said before I could have really enjoyed a darker journey into the spy world. How an “innocent” like Chuck learns about what Casey and Sarah in particular have had to deal with over their careers and struggle to keep his identity. How it could have grown his understanding of the woman he loved and his “mentor” now friend John Casey. The problem is we never saw that. What little there was of it was buried under the contrived OLIs. The time spent on the OLI’s story should have been focused instead on exploring that revelation. It should have been spent on Sarah learning about how friendship, family and love can still be found in a life of lies and deceit. How she could help guide Chuck through the changes and keep him focused on what she told him in Pink Slip was a real life. Make sure he remembers the things that made him great. But there was no journey for Sarah. There was no growth for her. Her character was diminished for no reason other than contrived angst. And the only “dark” things from the spy life that Chuck had to deal with was burning an asset and shooting to kill. The rest of the season was focused on keeping them apart, and contrived OLI’s.

        In the alternate threads we talk about how things could have been better and improved. For some reason there wasn’t an alternate thread for this weeks episode. But the area that could have been improved was why couldn’t Sarah have gone to talk to Chuck after he burned Manoosh? Why was it necessary to have her just sit there watching him get drunk to deal with things? If their relationship was now based on being friends then she wasn’t a very good one if she thinks letting him drink by himself is an appropriate way for a friend to act. But the reason it was done had nothing to do with dealing with Chuck’s darker journey into the spy world. It was to keep the contrived distance between them intact so they could try to sell the disastrous LI story that would begin in earnest with the worst written episode of the series coming next. If they let Chuck and Sarah actually act like true friends then the contrived mess coming the following week becomes even less believable if that’s possible. That could have been a fantastic scene. Those are the moments that made this show great in the prior 2 seasons. There was no honest reason for her just standing there except to ramp up the contrived angst and it failed.

        The darker spy story that I could have enjoyed was never the focus of the season or at least they never sold me on it. It was the destination and the contrived LI stories that they put there to delay them getting there till 3.13.

      • atcDave says:

        Alternate post will be up tonight. I was asked to delay it for this post.

      • oldresorter says:

        Ernie – too many absolutes in what you said, nevers and no and so forth. But overall, I do see your POV. I watch quite a bit of TV, and no show ever made me feel as mad at the writers as Chuck, possible by several orders of magnitude. Unfortunately for me, it took the final season, for me to realize, I simply don’t like how the writers write.

        I think you, in your absolute characterizations of me, are being very unfair. WIthin the reality of romcom, certainly drama is allowed. But, it should not be disgusting, say like the prostitution hints of Sarah in Pink Slip. A 6 or 7 or 8 ep arc of sleeping with your boss, who appeared to sort of dislike Sarah and she did not appear to be fond of either was pretty gruesome too, I mean she looked almost in tears when she went to him at the end of Fake Name.

        And, very few (you notice I did not say NONE) of the characters really are dramatic characters, Morgan Grimes, Mr and MRs Awesome, Mr Grunt Colonel Casey, Yoda Beckman, Big Mike, Jeffster, and Chuck Bartowski all are skewed to comedy. That is not my expectations, that is how they were written and CASTED – again, for the most part.

      • Ernie Davis says:

        I’ll reply this time because you asked directly but I think this conversation has come down to irreconcilable viewpoints. I don’t expect you to be convinced, but…

        Sarah didn’t go to Chuck because her professional responsibility is to toughen him up and have him handle things on his own without relying on his team. Chuck as much as says so when he says he needs to burn Mahnoosh. Running over to hold his hand or dry his tears isn’t the way to make him less dependent on her. In season 2 that wasn’t a consideration. She would have burned Manoosh to shield Chuck from the nastiness of the spy life just as she tried to keep him from seeing her as a cold-blooded killer with Mauser. In First Class Shaw convinced Sarah that trying to shield Chuck from the reality of being a spy wasn’t doing him any favors in the long run. This is a different Sarah and a different Chuck from season 2, so we shouldn’t expect them to act as they did in season 2 anymore than we expected Sarah to act like season 1 Sarah in season 2.

      • atcDave says:

        I completely agree they weren’t the same characters; THAT is precisely the problem and that is why a third of the audience was thoroughly disgruntled.

      • Ernie Davis says:

        Jason, if I exaggerated your position too much to make my point I apologize But we can’t lay ALL our problems with the show at the feet of TPTB. The fact that we all like different things in different degrees and want the show to conform more closely to our own tastes has to be acknowledged.

        The things you complain of largely didn’t bother me because I try to follow the lead of TPTB. If they don’t dwell on it I won’t.

        I also think a lot of people read too much into Sarah’s season opening scene. The scene’s purpose as I see it was 1) get Yvonne in a bikini and 2) make us wonder if Sarah had quit the spy-life and settled down after all. Seduction missions in season 1 and 2 implied far more than that scene.

      • uplink2 says:

        Really Ernie? Did anyone question whether Sarah had quit the spy life because of that scene? I certainly didn’t. That one really is a projection to try and explain what was simply a gratuitous skin scene and a teasing of the Sarah has had sex with a mark troupe.

      • Ernie Davis says:

        No I don’t think anyone did, we’d all been too spoiled and she needs to be a spy for the show to work, but they did nothing to establish that scene as a mission until after the credits. It’s purpose is pretty obviously an “OH NO Sarah is over Chuck and with a new guy!” cliffhanger before the credits. My first thought certainly wasn’t Wow Sarah’s sleeping with a new mark, there is no context for that in the scene itself.

      • Joel says:

        I don’t agree that Ellie is a comic character…she’s funny at times, but more often she’s a serious dramatic one. Casey does start out almost entirely comic, but after Alex becomes a regular character he becomes more dramatic as well. Beckman makes a good straight woman for Chuck, but she’s only occasionally funny.

      • Joel says:

        And really, if Chuck Bartowski himself were as heavily skewed toward comedy as you say, I don’t think the show would have ever gotten such a loyal (even if divided) cult following.

      • dkd says:

        I wish I could have responded earlier, but some “real world” things needed to be taken care of.

        I should say that in its entirety, I quite like Season 3. A few episodes weren’t executed very well and the character of Daniel Shaw wasn’t well cast, but Chuck is hardly the only TV series in history that stumbles a little.

        I should say, as explanation, that it was the “hero’s journey” that Chuck was on that intrigued me most about the show. The early part of Season 3 was the portion of the series where Chuck showed the most progress on that journey. I liked episodes where he was challenged to do something he hadn’t done before. From a conceptual perspective, having those challenges thrown at him when he and Sarah weren’t together made it more interesting.

        The key flaw of arguments where fans say TV writers should listen to “the audience” is that there is now singular audience voice. Different people watched Chuck for different reasons. Even professional critics differed in what they said about the show.

        Mo Ryan always brought up the example of Matt Roush, who is TV Guide’s reviewer. Matt vocally hated anything at the Buy More. He thought the writers should have gotten rid of it early on. Other critics, like Mo, liked the Buy More.

        I don’t know if any of you watched Farscape, but Farscape showrunner David Kemper once wrote a hilarious essay in Farscape magazine in which he imagined giving the fans what they wanted. But, he found examples of different groups of fans wanting exactly the opposite. The end result in Kemper’s essay imagining giving fans just what they want was a mess of a program.

      • Joel says:

        I know this is controversial (especially on this blog), but I think 4.5 is almost as bad as 3.0 and maybe worse. There are so many half-baked storylines in it and the Intersect 2.0 starts to become a crutch for lazy writing (to their credit, they did remove it at the end). Wedding Planner is the only one I could really call a top-quality classic Chuck episode.

      • Joel says:

        Though when I say “almost as bad”, I still like 3.0 to an extent. And 4.5.

      • Joel,

        I agree about season 4.5 being as weak as 3.0. The Vivian Volkoff storyline was almost as bad as Shaw. (Almost).

      • atcDave says:

        Okay DKD, I’m getting really tired of this argument, but since you base so much on misunderstanding or misrepresenting things I’ve said I pretty much have to respond. I have never suggested writers should give in to everything fans want. At every turn I have advocated patience with letting the writers tell their story. When there was so much concern over Morgansect, I was patient and ultimately quite happy with the result. With panic running to the finale I advocated letting the writers tell their story, and while I wasn’t thrilled with it, I’ve come to accept it. After S3 when we were all concerned about secrets and lies being a problem in the season ahead I spoke for patience, and was quite pleased with the outcome (and I remain convinced it was a good example of the writers awareness of responding to the mood of their audience). There’s really only one story path chosen that I think was disastrously bad, and a sizable number of fans agree with me. I have not ever advocated fans controlling the flow of the story. That is however completely different from saying the writers should be aware of the mood and desires of the fans. They do not ever need to write exactly what everyone wants, your example of the David Kemper’s story is both amusing and obvious.

        But here’s the thing. My wife is a fine artist. She paints for fun, for sale and to teach. If left to her own muse she would paint mostly butterflies and flowers, and perhaps be a satisfied amateur, but nothing more. But she paints FOR others too. She has done two paintings of local sports stadiums that she has sold more copies of than all her flower paintings combined. In teaching she has done a lot of architectural paintings, still lifes, landscapes and a limited amount of portrait work. She even helped with a museum restoration project I was working on that involved replicating a piece of pin-up art on a WWII warbird (that was REALLY outside of her normal comfort zone). In all of these projects she used her own judgement and her own skills to satisfy the needs or wants of a broader audience. If one of her landscape projects was dominated by a giant tulip in the foreground it would have been unacceptable for the task at hand, even if it pleased her to no end. If her Michigan Stadium piece had a giant butterfly that covered over most of the field she surely would have sold fewer prints of it.
        And that’s more the sort of thing I’m getting at. I never expect a writer to write to MY demands. I hope they are writing to satisfy as few external demands as possible. I want them to follow their vision and create a work they can be satisfied with and proud of. BUT, I am not shy about saying what I want to see or what I think of what I do see. That is called feedback. I can give it both before and after the fact. If I say something out of line with mainstream I expect I’ll be ignored. That’s fine, I may end up quitting the show as a result; but I get it, not everything is for me. But it does become an issue when large portions of an audience are unhappy. The S3 issue on Chuck is so pertinent to this because they actually changed the mood of the show. It was a change that fans were overwhelmingly opposed to when it was first brought up. No doubt they won some fans over, and in the end, it was less unpopular than when it was first brought up. But I am quite confident at least a third of viewers remained unhappy with it. That is tragic when you look at how clear and strong fan voices had been for months beforehand. Fairly small changes could have avoided the Chuckpocolypse entirely. And those desired changes were well expressed and documented long before anything was set in stone. It was poor decision making for professional writers. No matter what you or I or anyone else thought of the actual story, if a third of your audience remains unhappy with the story when complete I think it has to be considered a failure.

      • Joel says:

        Yeah, Vivian doesn’t work. Neither do the Gretas. The Harley Winterbottom story is rushed, and it’s too bad – it was a good idea for Ellie’s character, and Timothy Dalton should have been in more than two episodes in the latter half! Decker is introduced too late to be an effective finale villain, though he does work well in early S5.

        Also, maybe it’s just me, but even for a show about a supercomputer in someone’s head, the Norseman seems absolutely ridiculous.

      • Ernie Davis says:

        I’ve come to the point where I think I have a handle on season 3’s problems. The budget of course played a part, but for me, structurally it comes down to 3 things.

        1) Writing the final season geared to a specific ending.

        This caused them to simultaneously stall story-lines that needed movement and rush story-lines that needed time to develop.

        2) Being simultaneously too obvious and too subtle.

        A good example is the Chuck is changing theme. We got hit over the head again and again that Chuck becoming a different person was causing Sarah to question if she could still love her and to re-live her entry into and distaste with the spy-world, with the final realization that she was responsible. The only problem is that they did little to actually change Chuck. His supposed sins came across as misdemeanors in a land of felons and it made Sarah’s response and actions seem flakey and over-wrought.

        3) Daniel Shaw as a plot device. He was poorly developed in the early stages and poorly cast, making the romantic aspect of his character a particularly hard sell in light of the Levi/Strahovski chemistry.

        That said I’ve enjoyed the season so much more than the first time around. Being aware of the flaws and accepting them for what they are, stumbles, not catastrophes, I can now let them recede into the background. Understandably however those three things I note above combine to form a catastrophe in the eyes of some fans.

        As for 4.5, the interesting thing I noted was that people who liked season 3.0 seem to be the same who didn’t like 4.5. I think it comes down to stakes. There didn’t seem to be anything at stake in most of 4.5 without a good villain like Volkof. I think they should have done away with Vivian and just used Ray Wise as the main Villain. Also the Agent X angle was a bit much for some, so it often comes down to if you can buy that twist. But if you can accept it as just some lighthearted fun I loved a lot of the episodes.

      • atcDave says:

        It’s funny Ernie; for me it will always be fatally flawed at conception. As I’ve said many times, I never would have bought the LI stories. But with so much of the season being poorly constructed I seem to end up with a lot more allies than I likely would have had if say a more likable actor had been cast as Shaw, or some of the more outrageous continuity or OOC issues had been better executed. I’m a little glad they failed on multiple levels, although it is often funny when we get into the “what sucked worse” sort of arguments.

        It is also amusing what a small minority you end up in. That is, those who liked both S3 and S4.5. Although I can acknowledge some shortcomings with the S4.5 episodes (Vivian was a weak villain, continuity was sloppy, the Norseman was very silly…) overall I had a complete blast.
        And to remain consistent with idea we befriend those most like ourselves, the couple I recently introduced to the show and had an S3 marathon with thoroughly loved S4.5. We were laughing hard just the other day about CATs and Sarah making sound effects with Star Wars collectables…
        Too much fun…

      • atcDave says:

        One other thought about the S4.5 situation. From comments I’ve seen, I’m quite certain the story could have been adjusted in ways that would have pleased everyone. The biggest complaints seem to involve continuity and back-story issues; with a boring main villain and a couple of silly plot issues as secondary factors. None of these things relate to what I absolutely loved about those episodes (the growing and more mature main couple, lighter comedy with less angst, and a pretty well functioning team). So perhaps we should do a series of Alternative S4.5 posts too to discuss what changes would have helped more viewers enjoy the show. Sounds like a fun project!
        Okay, to be honest, I was already planning on continuing the Alternative posts past S3 anyway, at least on an occasional basis.

      • uplink2 says:

        Ernie, I actually agree with your view of the problems for S3. I think there are certainly many others but those certainly hit on most of the highlights, or low lights actually. Dave and I certainly see a very similar show but not entirely. I would have been ok with hem not being together for much of S3 IF the reasons were clear, honest and developed in such a way that you didn’t immediately look to your left for the man behind the curtain. Your view of the writing backwards theme is spot on. I can certainly understand setting the goal of putting them together in 3.13 but the point should have been how do we get them from the 2.0 download to being together as they adapt to their reality but by writing backwards they had to start with such an obviously contrived reset that they were dead before they started. And every time they were at a point where a single adult conversation could have moved the friendship, the careers, and the romantic relatioship naturally forward in and adult manner the pulled the contrived interuption troupe or the “they are crap communicators” troupe or any number of other phoney delaying tactics. And it was all done so screamingly obvious that they had to stop them from talking because then the LI story looks even more ridiculous. As you said the friendship advanced too slowly and the god awful LI story too fast. It simply wasn’t believable. So for me the LI part of 3.0, especially the damage done to Sarah’s character by the romance with Shaw does make it a catastrophe for me and I am certain DVD 2 of S3 will never come out of the box.

        Pre-villain Shaw was a failure there is no two ways about it. Earlier tonight I was rereading the comments from the Mo Ryan interview between AH and OG and they are incredibly enlightening. Many were from folks I recognizer from here. I have to say I have rarely read a better interviewer call out a Showrunner and be in such tune with what the fans actually saw and still come of as incredibly respectful in my life. She is fantastic in that interview. But a common thread in the comments is that people were not surprised he defended the Shaw story but still very disappointed he did. If Schwedak were honest in the pre-planned post Mask damage control interview they said they read everything. I really really hope they read those comments and her well written analysis of the shows problems. If he ever wants to get me to watch any future project of his then I’d love to see him just openly admit they screwed up. But I know that will never happen.

        On S4.5 I think the money problems are more evident there than 3.0. They couldn’t afford Dalton for more than just the 2 eps so they went with a cheaper villain and it was weak. Plus bottle episodes like Muuurder clearly show their bargain basement budget.

        But I do think there are at least 4-5 outstanding episodes in 4.5. Seduction Impossible, Bank of Evil, Wedding Planner and Cliff Hanger up till the last 30 seconds are all great episodes. I will always place 4.5 well above 3.0 mainly because there was a lot of fun stuff in the lighter toned episodes. 3.0 just sucks all the enjoyment out of it.

      • uplink2 says:

        One more thing. I wanted to post this from one of the comments because I think it is spot on and very important.

        ” Budget cuts don’t cause plot holes or inexplicable character behavior. That’s all the writing & directing.”

        Blaming the problems of S3 on money like Schwedak have done really is a cop out.

      • atcDave says:

        Uplink I agree entirely with that take on S4.5. A lot of fun stuff makes it easy for me to overlook shortcomings, but no doubt there were some shortcomings.

        One thought about the budget cuts. After that S3 marathon I did a couple weeks ago my friend asked me if there’d been some change in how they were making the show, because it felt cheaper to him. He commented he still loved the show (well, the ten episodes I’d chosen for us to watch) but it didn’t look as well made.
        I had to think over our discussions carefully, but I’m quite certain I never said a word about budget cuts. So I found it interesting a casual observer, even watching episodes he still enjoyed, DID notice the budget cuts. I told him I was very impressed with how observant he was!

      • Ernie Davis says:

        ”Budget cuts don’t cause plot holes or inexplicable character behavior. That’s all the writing & directing.”

        Blaming the problems of S3 on money like Schwedak have done really is a cop out.

        He didn’t ever blame the budget cuts, he acknowledged them and their impact on the show when Mo Ryan asked about them and their impact. Here is the entire exchange about the changes in the budget.

        Ryan: To some degree was part of the challenge the budget? There was a lack of consistency in who was even on the show week to week. Were the budget issues and the ability to use the regular cast part of the challenge of the season?

        Fedak: Oh, certainly. Based on the changes to the budget, we kind of had to parse out our cast throughout the season a little differently than we had done in the past.

        One of the upsides to it was that in episodes where we did have cast members like Big Mike and Jeff and Lester, and especially Awesome and Ellie, it’s allowed us to focus those episodes more on them. I would love to have all the cast members in the show in every episode, and I think that everybody views that as an asset.

        There are episodes, like “Chuck Versus the Angel de la Muerte” — I actually like the idea that we got to spend more time with Ellie and Awesome in those episodes. And then in the next episode, we were able to spend a lot of time with Awesome. So, it did give us an opportunity to tell kind of deeper stories with our characters. But yeah, it was definitely something we had to work on at the very beginning of the season — structuring when and where each person would kind of fall into the show.

        And when budget cuts cost you a staff writer and two days from the production schedule, yes, they do cause plot holes and poorly written characters. That’s just the reality of it. Not saying they are entirely to blame, but the cuts affect the entire show and when you lose time spent creating each episode, the writing and directing are particularly affected.

      • Joel says:

        The budget cuts affect the show in other ways besides inferior writing too. Besides a few good scenes, the action got worse in both choreography and especially editing, though it did slowly regain its footing over time. They couldn’t used as much licensed music or as many hits. And I think the absence of certain characters hurt the show sometimes. At least for me, a bit of Buy More comedy would have made Mask more palatable.

        To me, Vivian is just the worst instance of what’s wrong with 4.5 in general – there are a bunch of half-baked storylines drifting around that are rushed and/or just plain bad ideas. Even Wedding Planner, a great episode, has kind of a disappointing resolution to Kathleen. The questionable continuity is a minor issue, since Chuck has never been about the mythology (unlike some shows, this is actually true and not a copout). Though it does bother me a bit that it’s so muddled why Orion went underground.

        I don’t hate S3.0 or S4.5 though. I said Wedding Planner was the only episode from 4.5 that I consider an S2-quality classic Chuckisode (Tic-Tac and Operation Awesome are the only ones from 3.0), but I still enjoy many of the others. There are really only a handful of Chuck episodes I consider truly bad.

      • dkd says:

        I’m surprised anyone like Wedding Planner that much. While Gary Cole had a few nice scenes and elevates anything he is in, the episode wasn’t great to me. The plot premise that Sarah and Chuck could be fooled that way wasn’t really plausible.

        The production values of the episode were especially weak. We had a whole sequence written around a Super Shuttle product placement. I’m not against product placements when its funny. I know that sponsorship money helped fund the show. But, it still didn’t do much for the episode.

        In general, “wedding planning” aspects of the season really dragged the season down. I hate TV weddings and shows about planning weddings. The Male 18-34 ratings plummeted when the show focused on the engagement and wedding planning and never came back.

      • atcDave says:

        Wedding Planner is easily my favorite S4.5 episode. I loved the whole season, but WP is the best of the best. (hey, Joel and I don’t always agree. I need to stand up with him when I can!)

  6. dkd says:

    (On the heels of this discussion, I just found this in an emailed newsletter I get from

    Tell Your TV Network How You Really Feel Via Social Media – But Make It Simple
    A media critique by Wayne Friedman Monday, April 29, 2013

    TV networks apparently need even more feedback — in shorthand, if possible — about your feelings, emotions and interactions regarding their content.

    ABC News has announced a new web app called Social Soundtracker that will allow viewers to tap buttons to register such reactions as “clap,” “boo,” “laugh,” “gasp” or “aww.” The app will also let viewers hear a corresponding sound.

    Interestingly, this app applies to news content, not scripted or unscripted entertainment.

    Chiefly, this will let your friends know immediately how you feel about stuff. Your favorite politician gets a big win? Applause, applause. Your favorite football player delivers a crushing blow to an opponent? An “ooh” could be appropriate.

    Networks have always done testing of shows. With handheld devices and other technology, test subjects let producers know their real-time feelings about plot lines and characters. All this — right or wrong — can push producers to make changes.

    We are not too sure how much the less scientific world of social media apps will provide research for the next generation of TV content producers.

    But we can see where some of this is going. These more specific responses can yield perhaps more exacting information — at least for marketers — when it comes to figuring out how to better sell content to traditional TV viewers. It might be better than assigning a positive or negative value to a person’s long social media diatribe about the latest episode of “Grey’s Anatomy” or “Dancing with the Stars.”

    Debuting with ABC News may seem somewhat weird, but the app’s first use was with the most entertaining of news content — the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, which is always filled with lots of laughs.

    And ABC is supposedly working on a future version of the app that would integrate facial detection technology.

    Who would want to do that? Don’t ask me. I didn’t think it was all that important to tell my friends on Facebook how lame a show like “Ready for Love” was. I just groaned when I saw the show in my living room, with no one around. Obviously, I wasn’t thinking about my friends’ feelings — nor those of any network executives.

  7. oldresorter says:

    Joe – To escape the season 3 conundrum (or is it quagmire?) for a moment, I’d like to compliment you on your big picture forward thinking about how entertainment in the years ahead might look like. I think the auto industry had many car manufacturers in its formative years, b4 Ford and Chevy took dominance back in the day. I don’t know how TV worked, when CBS and the like formed, but certainly the computer industry we all grew up with took a while to form and shake out, into dominant players like Apple and Microsoft emerginig, now Yahoo and Google and Facebook. What will entertainment shake out into and look like in the upcoming years? I think it’s hard to say.

    Some food for thought, in all the change that has taken place in the last hundred, two hundred, or even longer, what defines great writing, has in many ways remained constant. A countering food for thought, I’m sure, the horse buggy makers dismissed the new fangled automobile as a passing fad, so we should never be quick to dismiss change and invention. What this all means for the entertainment industry, stay tuned …

    • Echoing oldresorter’s comments Joe.

      The world of entertainment is on the verge of some big changes. I just read Wool by Hugh Howey – an excellent SF dystopian story that started out as a self-published novella on Amazon. Due to the positive feedback he received, Howey went on to write the novel which became a big self-publishing success and then was picked up by a major publisher.

      With technology removing creative barriers to many types of media the possibilities are staggering. Then again so is the amount of dreck that will result but those diamonds in the rough will be worth it!

  8. joe says:

    Just to bring the discussion a bit closer to the original intent (hey, I’m an “Original Intent” kind of guy!), I’d like to point your attention to this article from TV By The Numbers about the NBC show Smash. Apparently, it’s anything but.

    Smash has garnered a series low 0.4 adults 18-49 rating for the past two weeks. Has the show, like Ivy circa late season one, hit its ratings rock bottom?

    It’s the old struggle for ratings, except, with an 0.4, ratings hardly seems to matter any more, and that’s one of the things I never expected.

    Oh, btw, check out the third comment.

    • atcDave says:

      Obviously I agree with that third comment (!) but it is sort of all a moot point for a show that’s already been cancelled. Even so, those are shockingly bad numbers for a network TV show.

    • oldresorter says:

      Saw the 3rd comment.

      I’d love to see a tv actikon / romcom come back with Yvonne and Zachary as the co star. So many remakes are done, why not remake Hart to Hart? Since I’m allowed to wish for things, how about make Ali Adler the showrunner?

      I’d watch.

    • aerox says:

      I’m not gonna say I think they should bring Chuck back (beating a dead horse, anyone?) but could you imagine the insane ratings it’d pull on its first ep? Just promo the hell out of it (it survived cancellation, yadda yadda yadda) and boooooom, they’d win the entire season.

      Of course then it’d drop like heck again, but still, it’d be fun for that one episode.

  9. Fox is planning to bring 24 back for a 13 episode season next season. Their ratings were pretty huge at one point, but really dropped off in the final season. If only this could happen with Chuck.

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