Why Ratings Challenged Chuck Should Check Out…


It’s that time of year again where those shows that are neither smash hits (Glee) or outright bombs (Melrose Place) have to play the network waiting game. Will they be renewed for another season – or cut loose? In the industry it’s called being ‘on the bubble’ and for show runners and cast and crew it’s a hellish time. The thumbs up mean another year of solid work, but a network ‘no’ means almost instant unemployment. Brutal.

This season there’s been several shows on the bubble – some of which have already been given good news, for a variety of reasons. NBC recently renewed Parenthood after a few episodes on the air – and the mark of confidence has helped the ratings stabilize and even grow a little. Likewise, Community will get a second shot in the fall, despite regularly bringing in less than 5 million viewers. But it’s a key component in NBC’s Thursday night line up so the network judged it worthy of another chance.

But as I type several key shows remain ‘on the bubble’. Personally I think V will be cut by ABC (expensive to make and it’s colossal ratings collapse clearly shows viewers aren’t interested), but Human Target has some second season potential, mainly due to the end of 24 and the fact that Fox has a lot of empty time slots in the fall. Life Unexpected on the CW could go either way, though my instinct is it will be a no. But the one ‘bubble’ show that everyone keeps debating (especially its army of fervent internet fans) is Chuck…

Now in case you’ve never seen Chuck – and I’ve only casually sampled it myself – the show airs on NBC on Monday nights at 8pm and is a tongue in cheek spy comedy starring Zachary Levi (who for some bizarre reason decided that doing Alvin and the Chipmunks 2 was a good big screen career move!). The show’s now coming to the end of its third season and once again its fate is up in the air – just as it was at the end of seasons 1 and 2. Because the fact is that however you spin it Chuck isn’t a hit. Last week it attracted under 6 million viewers and just a 2.1 share.

Now if Chuck was airing on CBS it would be a goner by now. But as has been widely reported NBC has been having a tough ratings year (the Jay Leno disaster, flop series like Mercy and Trauma, the continued decline of Heroes) so it has a lot of slots to fill and launching all new series would be hugely expensive and no guarantee of success. And a 2.1 while not great, isn’t awful. So there’s a decent chance Chuck will return in the fall. But while I don’t want to see people out of work, and hate to swing the ax myself I’m afraid I disagree. Chuck has had three strikes and so for me it’s out. Time to pull the plug!

Personally I just don’t understand why networks persevere with shows that, let’s be honest here, are never going to blossom into big hits. Time and again you hear people using the examples of a show like Cheers – which wasn’t a big hit when it first launched – but of course grew into a phenomenon. Or Beverly Hills 90210 which stumbled in season 1 – but then went on to last 9 more years, and reshaped the teen drama genre. But both those shows were over 20 years ago and I’d argue the TV landscape has changed massively since then. Just like movies, which are now all about the opening weekend, TV now is much more about splashy, expensive pilots (thanks in large part to Lost). Networks spend big bucks to film and promote a new series and in a way almost ‘buy’ a large audience for the premiere. But keeping that audience coming back for more is crucial – because once they’re gone, they’re gone.

For me that’s why V is an easy cancellation. Almost 14 million people tuned in for episode one. Now it’s down to less than 5 million. You do the math. Now how on earth is V ever going to get those viewers back? Simple answer – it can’t and it won’t.

Which brings me back to Chuck. This is a show that’s been on the air for three seasons now and still is only treading water. It’s safe to say that anyone who wanted to sample Chuck has given it a shot by now. Heck, NBC even get it a plum post Superbowl shot last year and it’s still not a hit. If NBC brings the show back what can they realistically expect – that suddenly millions of people are going to catch on to a show that’s in its fourth season. Let’s be blunt – it isn’t going to happen. In fact if Chuck does come back I guarantee it’ll be back on the bubble exactly one year from now.

Now I’m not trying to be harsh on Chuck’s legion of fans – but really guys – you need to know when to call it quits. I feel your pain. Last year I was a big fan of Lipstick Jungle, also on NBC, but when it got cancelled I learned to let go. As great as I thought the show was the figures spoke for themselves.

The fact is in this day and age hardly ever does a bubble show ever come back and hit the jackpot. Arrested Development fans whined and campaigned to get the show back on air but it was never more than a cult hit – and was never going to be anything else. Ditto Dollhouse, another ridiculous renewal that then became a Friday night fiasco for Fox last year (man, those ratings were ugly). And personally I’d be wary of Cougar Town, which even though its been renewed, I can’t see blossoming into a huge success – it’s just too acquired a taste – unlike the far more accessible Modern Family.

So that’s why I think it’s time to chuck Chuck – give the slot over to a new show that has a chance to become a smash – because after 3 years on the air Chuck simple isn’t a hit – and never will be one.

But what do you think? Are you a Chuck fan? Do you think it should get a second, second chance? (Or is it a third?) Please weigh in and share your thoughts… UPDATE: Chuck It Out Part Two