4-11: Don’t Freak Out

Originally from here.

Chuck’s Fate Keeping You Up At Night?

Freaking Out?

“Don’t Panic” as The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy advises.  Or in Chuck parlance, “Don’t Freak Out”.

“But Ernie” you say, “Chuck has fallen to a 1.3 in demo rating and only has a few episodes left before it will surely be canceled!  To make matters worse they are ending the series with an episode called Chuck Versus The Cliffhanger!”

I know it seems dire, and it is serious.  Chuck could go away and we need to be prepared to accept that and move on to support the Chuck team in their next endeavor, but I am confident that there is more Chuck to come.  It has to do with the bear, L&O LA, NBC, the NFL and timing that always seems to work in Chuck’s favor.  After the jump.

Chuck tends to be blessed and cursed to that limbo called “the bubble”.  Blessed because at NBC, on the bubble is almost as good as renewed lately.  Cursed because sooner or later that will change.  We all know Chuck’s rocky history.  It started as a highly acclaimed critical and ratings hit, drawing 3.0 or better in demo on a regular basis with somewhere around 7 million loyal viewers.  Then came the writer’s strike.

Between December of 2007 and September 2008 Chuck took a hit, as did all of TV.  When Chuck came back it had shed about 1-2 million viewers and was now only pulling slightly better than 2.0 in demo, putting the show at risk.  Even worse, in the aftermath of the strike NBC decided they were going to ditch scripted television in the 10PM hour for Jay Leno, meaning they didn’t need nearly as many shows.

We all know this part of the history.  A Subway fan campaign allowed WB and Chuck to come back to NBC with a drastically reduced fee, saving Chuck as a mid-season replacement.

I won’t get into season 3 other than to say this is when I joined in the show fandom and really found out what angst meant.  Still, as season 3 drew to a close Chuck had again shed viewers and dropped in the ratings.  But it had one thing going for it.  The Jay Leno debacle left NBC with a lot of schedule to fill, and despite picking up 13 new shows from the pilot season Chuck was renewed, and then given a large backorder as nearly all those pilots tanked.

Which brings us to where we are now.  Chuck on the bubble, and NBC with a schedule full of holes from canceled shows.  I think fate favors Chuck again.

I’ve already made the case for Chuck coming back financially and logistically here, and the artistic case here, and the worst case here, and I still stand by most of that even with the recent drop in ratings.  But make no mistake, 1.3 is bad, even with L&O LA dropping back between Chuck and the bear.  At some point either 1.3 isn’t even good enough on NBC for their new owners, or further drops make Chuck a poor gamble, but I don’t think that time is quite here.

I’ve been doing some reading online and found a few interesting things.  One of the main things I was interested in was the fall pilots, NBC’s in particular.  You can read up on them here at The Wrap.  Another one is a blogger, John Johnson, whose credentials I can’t vouch for, but who seems knowledgable and connected to the industry.  Take it for what you will.  One particular post he did caught my attention.  He speculated on the NBC fall schedule, and in virtually every scenario he had Chuck coming back.  It got me to thinking further about NBC’s situation.  Not only do they have at least 5-6 hours of programming to fill, similar to the hole that Leno left, but they have to plan for the, albeit unlikely possibility that they won’t have the NFL for some portion of the season adding the need for up to 2-3 more hours of programming.  I talked before about how a network can’t fill 1 hour in the schedule on a 1 to 1 basis.  No show can be counted on for a full season in its first year, and the disastrous 2010 pilot season at NBC proves that point.  NBC has 16 hours of programming in development.  That is all that is available for the fall at this point unless they plan to plug holes with game shows and newsmagazines; or try a Leno again.  Given their history, even if they did pick up every single pilot they would have to allow for the possibility that many would fail in the first part of the season and need to be replaced quickly.  The 16 hours of programming is about the minimum I’d think you’d want for 9-10 hours of open schedule they are looking at (especially in the spring after football).  That puts them in the position of having to pick up nearly every single pilot even if they don’t cancel Chuck or L&O LA and assumes a full season again for nearly the shows they are keeping.  I can’t imagine NBC is looking to shoot more holes in their schedule at this point.

But football will be back.  Surely nobody, even the NFL owners, are stupid enough to kill their own cash cow.  I say never underestimate the level of stupidity rich guys are capable of.  More to the point we have timing on our side.  NBC will announce it’s 2011-2012 schedule May 16.  If the NFL hasn’t settled things by then NBC has to be very careful.  Let’s look at their options when it comes to Chuck.

NBC can cancel Chuck (one of their least expensive shows).  If that happens WB does one of two things.  They either do a “hard wrap” on Chuck and tear down sets, closing down production for good, in which case NBC doesn’t have any possibility of getting any more episodes and WB doesn’t get Chuck to syndication.  The other possibility is that WB continues production and looks for a new network or venue, possibly even online as discussed.  In that case NBC again has no possibility of new episodes to fill the schedule.  NBC’s other option is a lot more attractive I’d think.  They get the best deal they can for Chuck, practically free, then announce it as a mid-season replacement with a small order, 10 episodes.  That way NBC can run their new shows and have Chuck as a possible replacement to fill whatever gaps are created.  If they have a ton of hits from the pilots, they don’t have to ever air an episode of Chuck, but WB will likely have started production early as they did with season 3, and one way or another, we’ll get more Chuck.

I’d hope that if I can figure this out that NBC and WB already have.  I’m hoping it’s a done deal.

Still, I want to emphasize, these are all things, like fan support and advertiser campaigns that tilt in Chuck’s favor at the margins.  At some point, if numbers drop too low it may be out of our control, but for now I think we need to make the best case we can where we can and hope that NBC and WB see things my way. 😉