The 'Chuck' disconnect: High quality, low buzz? UPDATED

Another excellently twisty Chuck this week: Bartowski tackled his first solo asset-gathering mission — not that Sarah and Casey weren’t right behind him. Still, the episode was loaded with both up-front action (the asset, Manoosh, had created his own version of The Intersect and was dealing over it with The Ring) and the kind of cultural references that make the series such a snappy pleasure. Sure, I enjoyed seeing Sarah in a (small) “Frak Off” t-shirt, but even better was Chuck reading a trade paperback of Brian K. Vaughan’s Y :The Last Man and having our hero refer to it as “the greatest literary achievement of our generation.”

This episode was so full of prime Chuck material that it could afford to push guest star Kristin Kreuk’s character Hannah into the B-subplot with Morgan. (And, hey, the whole Morgan-Ellie alliance is a nice development, isn’t it?)

But here’s the problem: Ratings for Chuck haven’t perked up all that much. Our favorite clever-spy show is having a difficult time going up against powerhouse House and a revitalized season of The Bachelor that’s got the buzz Chuck needs. (I know, it’s hard to believe as far as my taste-buds are concerned, too, but Kristen Baldwin’s witty TV Watch and Bachelor host Chris Harrison’s well-written blog always explains it all to you, and me.)

Call it the Conan Complex: Like the droves of supporters that came out after O’Brien was being evicted from The Tonight Show, Chuck had a huge surge of fan chatter when cancellation threatened last season. But that rabid following hasn’t produced big numbers for the show so far this season. I’ll update this post when the numbers come in tomorrow, but it’s unlikely that Chuck will do much damage to its time-period competition, as good as it was this week. Equally troubling, to my mind, is that I don’t really hear or read much about Chuck‘s new season from many other sources, do you?

UPDATE: As promised, here’s this morning’s update: Chuck came in fourth in the overnight ratings (6.7 million, 2.4), as has been the case most weeks this season, behind House, The Bachelor, and the CBS combo of How I Met Your Mother and Accidentally On Purpose. Articulate commenter SteveStrifeX below argues that Chuck ranks third among NBC’s own scripted shows, behind The Office and 30 Rock, and is therefore a good candidate for renewal on a network that’s doing very poorly in the scripted area. Good point. But then he goes on to write, “Maybe you wrote this article to get more fire going in the ratings for the series. Or maybe you wrote it to give the impression it’s doing poorly and people will stop watching… It’s doing fine. Stop trying to make waves.”

SteveStrifeX: Believe me, I’m coming from a positive place. It’s the first goal — to “get more fire in the ratings” — for which I’m aiming. As for “Stop trying to make waves,” well, sorry: Making waves is part of my job, if you define “making waves” as stirring up reader interest in a subject. I want readers to be thinking about Chuck on this day, as they also talk about last night’s House, tonight’s Lost, today’s Oscar noms: I don’t want Chuck to get lost in the media shuffle.

What do you think? Is there any way to make Chuck a mainstream hit, or is it destined to be a perennially underrated cult item?

Follow me @kentucker

Comments (101 total) Add your comment
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  • david

    First they already moved the time slot, i keep thinking its sunday every week, I just don’t get why shows move episodes around at the beginning of a season, better once the time slot is established. Secondly, going against house and the bachelor seems like suicide to me. I like both shows, but i only find myself flipping to chuck when house has a poor episode… Im curious what the TIVO numbers are for chuck though…

    • lauren

      part of the problem right now is that its on sunday nights in canada, until the bachelor is over so all the canadians (well me)are watching sunday night. so that may be some views that are missing.

      • boomershookup

        chuck is boring but funny

    • Allie

      Chuck was always on on Mondays … Sunday night was special. They did the Sunday thing just as a jump start.

  • Lynn

    Chuck is a fantastic show, end of story!

    • Dory

      Agreed.

  • meleegi

    Well, it is on NBC and they don’t seem to advertise their best shows, so what do you expect.

    • Pixxie Trixxie

      Normally I would agree except that I have seen many advertisements for Chuck when watching NBC. I have tried convincing others to watch Chuck – it’s a shame – this show really does keep getting better and better.

      Loved, loved. loved the Frak t-shirt.

  • Becky

    I don’t understand why they don’t move Chuck to another night. I like several shows on Monday nights, but not much any other night but Thursday. I was confused when they brought it back why they didn’t put it on a different night and let it go up against other shows. Seems like NBC wants it to fail, even though it’s one of the best shows on TV! Chaulk another one up for bonehead NBC moves.

    • Diana

      I agree, Monday night going up against “House” is a really tough slot.

      • Arash

        It was great to see Claudia again in the Grimm episode Let Your Hair Down. Coincidentally I only live an hour away from Portland and was tihnking of trying to get on as an extra of that series. Now I might redouble my effort because then I could say I was on a show that Claudia appeared on, heh.

  • Chappel

    How to boost ratings? More focus on Adam Baldwin because he’s the best actor on the show and has the most interesting character. He can do more with a grunt than many actors can do with a monologue. More scenes with Yvonne Strahovski in revealing clothes and underwear because she’s one of the sexiest, most beautiful women on TV as well as a good actress. Let’s face it… the plots aren’t drawing any crowds so if they want to get more people watching they are going to have to do something that appeals to more people. Generally, that means more sex and more gratuitous violence.

    Personally, I like the show just the way it is and wouldn’t change anything.

    • Val

      Here’s the thing… they show half-naked Sarah in almost every single episode. Unless she starts forgetting to get dressed altogether at the beginning of every mission, I don’t see how MORE of her in her underwear is going to do anything. Horny geek boys are already as hooked as they’re gonna get.

      NEWSFLASH, NBC: THERE ARE ALSO HORNY GEEK GIRLS, AND ZACHARY LEVI IS HOT! As I watched homely, unfit, unattractive Manoosh wander around in his ill-fitting boxers for five minutes, I couldn’t help but wish that it had been Chuck getting his half-naked on for a change.

      The writing is good. The plot is good. The cast chemistry is good. There’s nothing to tweak without really ruining the show. Time to take one for the team, Mr. Levi. Start strippin.

      • Elizabeth

        Haha. Awesome. I’ve had a bad morning, but that just put a smile on my face. Time for some Chuck p*rn!

      • Levi

        I thought Manoosh was cute.

        But the good news for this show is that even though it will never have more than a respectable core audience, it that it’s consistently getting over 6.5 million and by NBC standards that’s a hit.

      • Cheri

        *snort*
        I love love love him. And seeing the flashbacks to his awesome nerdiness when he first met Sarah made me love him even more. This show only gets better with each episode.

      • Amanda

        Right now, you’re working with both Zach Levi & Brandon Roush, so get to work writers! Bring on the man candy!

  • TheTVObsessed

    I loved the character development in the episode. Chuck is evolving into a real spy and his deception of Manoosh and Ellie shows the danger the spy world brings to someone who is at heart a good person. While Sarah started off as the cold agent, it is now Chuck in that position, and it scares her.

    Review of the episode on my blog:

    http://th3tvobsessed.blogspot.com/2010/02/review-chuck-season-3-episode-6-chuck.html

  • Zooey

    Chuck is already one of the highest rated scripted shows on NBC. I feel like the buzz is there.

    • Johnification

      Yeah, this year it’s been pulling 7 million and change…not bad for NBC! Regularly beats Heroes now…in fact it has higher ratings than it took for Heroes’ early renewal last year.

    • Marylada

      This is the pfrecet post for me to find at this time

  • Matt

    The past few weeks, Chuck has been in the top 3 of NBC scripted shows. It’s doing better than Heroes, and it’s doing better than Parks and Recreation (which just got renewed, so what does that say?). Maybe you should just look at the glass as half full.

  • tvgirl48

    I don’t think it’s going to pick up a significantly larger number of viewers unless it got some high-profile advertising or something. On NBC, isn’t it doing pretty well by their standards these days? Chuck is the lead-in for Heroes. Maybe if Heroes was as good as it was in season 1, Monday NBC nights would be a real force. But I think the writers strike killed its thunder and it never got it back. By then, it had its cult audience but not many ppl were going to seek it out and try it again.

    • Dee

      I think the upcoming Olympics are the perfect high-profile advertising Chuck needs. The Olympics usually bring in huge ratings (especially considering its in Vancouver where North American viewers will be able to watch events without time delay like it was for Torino). More people are going to be tuning in to NBC than usual and hopefully NBC uses the opportunity to promote Chuck like crazy for those 2 weeks. Come on, promos showing Chuck using his flashing abilities in Olympic events is comedy gold!

      • cookiemac

        I agree. I kind of like the Honda commercials where the three of them are travelling to Vancouver for the Olympics. Would be kind of awesome for them to get there, and Chuck is competing, flashing in some of the events.

  • Lorrie

    Tonight’s was a great episode. As much as I love HIMYM, it is regulated to the DVR when Chuck is on. Why Chuck doesn’t have a larger audience is beyond me. Americans make very puzzling viewing choices sometimes.

    • Jenna

      I do the same thing! Watch Chuck and record HIMYM.

      • Pixxie Trixxie

        We watch Chuck, record House on VCR and watch HIMYM on CBS.com -although we haven’t been keeping up with HIMYM since Barney and Robin broke up – just not as interested anymore. It’s weird how you can fall out with a show for really no reason at all.

  • Mike

    The only way to make Chuck a mainstream hit is for NBC to get more viewers. Plain and simple, people aren’t watching NBC. So you have the diehard Chuck fans watching, with probably a million more folks who picked up the show or pick the show back up this season, and that’s about it.

    Of course, the time slot is murderous. It’s going up against impossible competition. The only problem is that I don’t know where it would be better off.

  • Dwight

    Three Words:

    Bring Back Jeffster.

  • SteveStrifeX

    Ummm, maybe we’re checking in on different ratings results here Ken, but…

    Chuck has been holding at pretty good, reliable ratings this entire season (3.0 on the opener, 2.5/2.6 for the rest of the season). And holding those numbers up against House, CBS comedy line-up, and the Bachelor last week, that’s a pretty good showing considering it hasn’t been declining. Almost a miracle considering it’s paired with Heroes, who has been hemorrhaging 0.1-0.2 rating points per week (down to a 1.9 now I believe).

    In addition, unless there’s a huge upset with Chuck’s viewers, it’ll get the renew for next season. In terms of ratings for scripted shows, it ranks third on NBC (behind the Office and 30 Rock). Now, I know that’s not saying much with the ratings carnage at NBC. But, consider this: a 2.5 is decent ratings for any scripted show, nothing to get overjoyed about, but a good safety net. Add in that this is NBC getting the 2.5, that is ecstatic!

    I’m not sure what you’re going for in this article Ken. Chuck groupies have come out in droves to save the show, and they’re still there watching it. Maybe you wrote this article to get more fire going in the ratings for the series. Or maybe you wrote it to give the impression it’s doing poorly and people will stop watching. But I want to give my two cents in here, since you didn’t post any ratings results. It’s doing fine. Stop trying to make waves.

  • Sunshine

    Last night’s episode of Chuck was some truly great TV. Heartbreaking (for any true Chuck fan), funny and action-oriented. I can’t believe people don’t love this show, so I’m going to assume NBC is desperate enough at this point to renew Chuck for next season no matter the ratings. And I’m going to pray that SteveStrifeX is right about it getting decent ratings. I LOVE CHUCK!

  • saul

    Outside of the internet I don’t really hear anything about in the media.

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