Ever since NBC pulled the plug on "Southland," I've been getting e-mails and tweets asking variants on the same question: "Does this mean 'Chuck' gets to come back early?" I have no idea, in spite of at least one published report suggesting it could happen. Nor am I sure it's a good idea if it happens. Some more thoughts after the jump...
Look, NBC is in very bad shape right now. "Southland" won't even get to air its second season, neither "Trauma" nor "Mercy" have done well, and the network's really only competitive when "Biggest Loser" airs on Tuesdays. Things are enough of a mess that there could be one or many timeslots opening up soon, and "Chuck" has been in production long enough that it could get on the air quickly. And, if it does well, then the show could get a full-season order, as opposed to the 13 episodes we're currently scheduled to get.
But much as I want Chuck, Sarah and Casey back in my life already, I fear that would only hasten the show's demise.
Now, I was worried about the March premiere when it was announced last spring. Being off the air for so long after the writers strike stole away any ratings momentum the show had from its first season. However passionate the fans were at the end of season two, would they all come back 9 months later? And would more casual viewers even remember that the show existed, or care, after that long a hiatus?
But if they wait that long, they get to promote it for two weeks during the Olympics. And while sports audiences tend to be a borrowed audience, and one you can't rely on to show up for your entertainment programming, the Olympics are still a much, much, much better promotional platform than anything NBC has right now. And advertising the 3D episode during the Super Bowl (another borrowed audience) actually did help, getting the show its best ratings ever. The problem was that President Obama's speech pre-empted the next episode, and all that momentum was lost, as the episode that aired the week after was the lowest-rated ever. So if they can promote the hell out of the show, and if no unforseen events take it off the air a week or two later, it could do okay in the spring.
Bringing it back by late October, as Ausiello suggested, or even early November, and there won't be enough time to make and mount a successful promotional campaign. You'll be throwing the show back on the air with little viewer awareness, and, according to Joe Adalian, in the same Monday at 8 timeslot where the show struggled so much last season opposite "House" and the CBS comedies. (Though "Big Bang Theory" being at 9:30 could help, as both hows both loom large in the geek community.) I know the current plan is for it to air Mondays at 8 in the spring, but so many things could change for both NBC and the competition by March that I'm less worried about that than the certainty that "House" and "Dancing with the Stars" would kick Bartowski butt. NBC's just not equipped to make anything into a hit right this moment, least of all a show that, with its current audience size, needs to be handled very delicately.
As it is, I'm looking on this third season as a gift from and for the passion of the fans. A miracle could happen, and the ratings could suddenly become big enough that a fourth season becomes a no-brainer, but right now all I want is for the show to do well enough for all of the third season episodes (13 or 22) to air. And while neither option seems particularly appealing, my gut right now tells me that March is the safer play, even if it means waiting, and waiting, and then waiting some more to see Chuck show off some kung fu moves, to hear Casey grunt, etc.
If I hear anything that suggests a return is imminent, I'll let you know. But at the moment I'm standing on the sidelines like the rest of you.