Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Chuck: Chris Fedak vs. the renewal

I have comments from Ben Silverman and Chris Fedak on the "Chuck" renewal up at NJ.com, including the bizarre moment when Silverman told me "It's because of you" that "Chuck" is back(*). After the jump, the transcript of my conversation with Fedak:

(*) Keep in mind that I was also the first one asking a "Chuck" question. While I wrote my open letter, credit should go to a whole lot of people, including Mo Ryan, Give Me My Remote, Fienberg, Joe Adalian, Chuck TV, and, especially, Wendy Farrington, who came up with the Subway campaign in the first place.

Anyway, on to Fedak...

How you feeling?

Feeling great. Josh (Schwartz) and I and the entire cast and crew are so excited to be coming back. We were so excited to continue this story, keep telling Chuck Bartowski adventures.

How close do you think the show came to not coming back?

I think there was always the chance that we would not show up on the schedule. I'm a neurotic person by nature, and a nervous person by nature. The fact that there wasn't an announcement (at the NBC "infront" earlier this month), there was definitely cause for concern. But I was emboldened by the fact that we had such great critical support, and we had the best fans in the universe.

And they all went to Subway.

That was such a great idea. When it comes to great ideas for promoting the show, that was an excellent idea.

When you did that initial scene where Morgan bought Big Mike the sandwich, did you have any idea it might lead to this?

I don't think we thought that that integration would be one of the lynchpins of us returning for a third season.

How will the expanded sponsorship deal with Subway work?

We're still hashing out the details of how that's going to work. But we're excited. Looking at the last two seasons, we've always had fun with the idea of product integration.

Are we going to see a character working at Subway, like Sarah, or Morgan, if the Benihana thing falls through?

That's a possibility

There were all these reports that the pick-up was going to lead to a tighter budget. Is that going to happen?

I think if you look at TV shows across the board, there's been contraction for most shows. However, for any type of budget cuts we've looked at, Josh and I are committed to delivering the same show. The same level of entertainment you guys saw last season, you'll get next year.

Well, what's the situation with the cast going to be? Will everyone be back? Will they be in every episode?

We look forward to bringing our cast back. Because the episode order is for 13, we need to tell our story in a little different way, so you might not see every one of our castmembers in every episode, but that means when we do see them, they'll get more time in that particular story.

(NOTE: Most of the supporting cast wasn't in every episode for season two, either, so this may not be that big of a change.)

You and Josh had already mapped out season three's storyline when you thought you might be doing 22 episodes. How much does the 13-episode order change that plan?

It doesn't change.

Well, one of the things that was great about this past season was that, while you told a lot of big story arc episodes, you were also able to do standalones like "Chuck vs. Tom Sawyer" that had little to do with anything but were a lot of fun. Will you still be able to do that if you're squeezing things into 13?

Yes, we will have room to do standalone episodes. I think that it doesn't change the overall story, but it does change how we structure the story, but we still will do standalone episodes.

Ben also said there's a chance he might order more than 13 and extend you into the summer. Would you be prepared for that?

We are prepared for that if it happens. It just means that we tell more story.

How concerned are you about being off the air for so long?

Obviously, 10 months is a long time. But it is exciting to come back with the idea of the Winter Olympics as a launching pad. We had a long break because of the strike going into season two, and season two was fantastic. We look forward exceeding everyone's expectations for a mid-season launch.

Ben mentioned a plan to give the show a presence online in the fall. What do you know about that?

We're in very preliminary discussions on that at this point.

Given how vague you were when we talked after the finale, I'm guessing you don't want to say too much more about next season. But given how long we're all going to have to wait, is there anything you can tell the fans about next season that might in some way sate their appetites?

I will say this: Season three will not be lacking in romance.


Steve Ely said...

You know, I'm pretty sure I'm glad for Subway's involvement if that's what's keeping the show on the air, but I'm concerned about the idea of Sarah working at a Subway. One or two quick verbal or visual references is product placement. Five cumulative minutes or something per episode changes the focus of the whole thing.

Anonymous said...

They used the Olympics super-heavy for Kath & Kim and My Own Worst Enemy also and look how that went.

Bad idea keeping Chuck off so long.


Alan Sepinwall said...

If it's the amount of time spent at Wienerlicious or Orange-Orange, I'm just fine with it.

W said...

I love Chris Fedak, but c'mon. Could he be any more vague? :)

The Subway integration will probably work out. There's no benefit for Subway in ruining the creative flow of the series. And think of all the establishing shots of the Orange Orange every episode? Replace that with a Subway sign, and you've got prominent product placement each and every week.

(And as aside, I had heard that the plan was originally to make the Buy More a Best Buy...could be wrong though.)

Alan Sepinwall said...

I love Chris Fedak, but c'mon. Could he be any more vague? :)

On all the budget/Subway stuff, keep in mind they still need to work a lot of details out, so he has no choice but to be vague.

As for the plot details, now that the show's coming back, I'm not as annoyed that he didn't want to explain anything after the finale. I was planning -- but not looking forward to -- doing some kind of "Well, now that you're canceled, what would have happened?" kind of interview if the worst happened.

(And as aside, I had heard that the plan was originally to make the Buy More a Best Buy...could be wrong though.)

No, that's correct. Schwartz has said it several times.

Dan said...

What are the rules about product placement in the US, exactly? Here in the UK, a TV show would be in big trouble if they started showing products and basically promoting items inside the program itself. You can't really avoid the odd logo and suchlike venturing into shot, but there's no WAY you'd see a character working in a Subway and the characters all mentioning Subway! Even on the commercial channels.

But, it's kept Chuck alive, so good news. Just wondered what the rules are, that's all. It could get out of hand, surely.

7s Tim said...

I have every confidence that they can work product placement into the show in a manner that fits their tone. And if a lil bit a shilling keeps them on the air, then fine, Silverman can turn them out all he wants. Wasn't the dissing of the Zune, and subsequent ipod reference, this past season an intergration, or was it just a great joke? Either way (or because it could go either way) that's a great example.

LA said...

Alan, when you have a minute, could you make sure I get accepted to grad school? ;)

Mel said...

Thanks for the quick follow-up with Fedak, Alan. It's encouraging to hear that they're optimistic about season 3 given the concessions they've made. I'm confident that this team of writers and producers and cast will create a quality product, even if Sarah Walker is working at Subway.

(By the way, we'll be hitting you up as the Watch Chuck campaign moves forward. Can't let Silverman think you're off his back!)

Anonymous said...

My question is what does "not lacking in romance" mean? Hopefully it means *real* relationships, and we're done with the fake stuff where every other episode ended with Chuck and Sarah longingly looking at each other while a Bon Iver song plays. I really enjoyed that, and Chuck+Sarah is probably my personal favorite part of the show since they are both really good at acting that stuff, but you can't keep it that way forver. Time to move it along, folks.


eac said...

Thrilled to have Chuck coming back but sad that I now not only have to wait until 2010 for more Lost, but also for more Chuck.

Oh well, I suppose beggars can't be choosers.

Very interested in seeing what the aggressive online plan for keeping Chuck in people's consciousness is...

Alan Sepinwall said...

Alan, when you have a minute, could you make sure I get accepted to grad school? ;)

I've apparently become the TV critic equivalent of the sixth episode of "Dollhouse."

(Speaking of which, if you read the initial post, please re-load it for the part where I give shout-outs to all the other people involved in this campaign. I just happened to be the guy on the phone with Silverman.)

Groovekiller said...

I've never had a real problem with commercials - it's just that most commercials are boring.

When watching something on DVR, I'll still stop to watch an Apple commercial and I've watched that Rube Goldberg Honda commercial a thousand times.

This Subway integration gives Fedak et al. a fun way to integrate the product and wink at the audience (like those Snapple spots in 30 Rock).

Crap, if some sort of Chiquita/Hershey partnership could have kept Arrested Development alive, I would have gladly given up 3 minutes out of the 24 minutes of the show for that.

Rick said...

Has anyone seen actual numbers for Subway sales the night of the finale? I'd be really interested to find out exactly how large the "Chuck Bump" was.

erin said...

I'm a little concerned by the 10 month hiatus, and think it's a miscalculation on Silverman's part, but since they've already committed to 13 episodes, i'm good with at least that. I really respect that Silverman understands the importance of fan passion (fassion?) unlike shows back in the day that got canceled for low(er) ratings despite how many people loved them. It means he's paying attention (and can find a way to reasonably pay for the show, a la Friday Night Lights). So, yay for Chuck! I'm totally eating more subs from Subway in support.

MikkyG said...

The Subway deal sounds like Chuck will be little more than a clone of 'Trust Me,' - One continuous, patronizing commercial.

And TNT canceled that.

Sonia said...

I am sublimely happy.

And I have no problem with ANY Subway product integration -- I imagine, as others have mentioned, that it might be similar to the shots at Weinerlicious or Orange-Orange. Plus, I think the writers and producers have been rather clever with product integration -- Mike eating that chicken teriyaki sub made me go out and buy one, and I never stepped foot in a Subway...so there you go.

I hope Chuck and sarah can have a real relationship (and I hope Morgan makes good on his condom IOU).

And MORE John Casey please...it should be interesting to see how he reacts to Chuck the spy with real skillz as opposed to Chuck the nerd.


Yet another anonymous said...

I'm pretty thrilled for the return of this show, and trust that they will do right by the fans. Not exactly the same as what happened to Friday Night Lights, but what IS similar is that I'd rather get the show back even if its return is bound a little more than I'd like it to be.

So, the way it looks now, I won't have too many series to tune into until 2010 (Chuck, FNL, Lost, let alone the cable series I like more than network TV).

Unknown said...

At this point I'm thinking maybe that most of the cast goes to work at Subway, since Milbarge has led to a lot of people quitting the Buy More. This wouldn't be a bad plot point, since it would fit into the world. Like FNL having Tyra and Julie work at Applebees. I don't think it's going to be as bad as say, Psych's product placements where they stop for five minutes to rave about a random food item out of nowhere.

I guess this proves that in order to succeed in a Save Our Show campaign, you (a) get Alan, and (b) hit up the sponsors with business. Sure beats (c) harass the networks with a random food item for effectiveness, I think.

Memphizmike said...

I like the fact that subway is on board to work with the show I am not worried at all because I know that they will not make any crazy demands about placement in the show I mean wendy got the idea for the footlong campaign from a 15sec spot in the show and look at what that accomplished I am more worried about the whole 10 month waiting period for after the olympics waiting that long to bring a show back is just asking for it to lose ratings just look at what happened to Kyle XY ABC waited for like 9-10 months before they brought it back and then they cancelled it a few months later with that in mind I say we as fans need to keep chuck in the news and continue our efforts on all fronts keep up with the footlongs and the donations and also buying season 2 on dvd and blu-ray remember to tell people about the show so that when we are sitting at home with our $5 footlongs and the first minutes of the new season are starting we can happy that we have millions of new fans tuning in to see chuck ,sarah and casey kicking butt.

Nerd Herd 4 Life!!!!!!!

Geneticus said...

I'm pretty sure Subway is a CIA front anyway :P

So, Will Quiznos be a Fulcrum Front?

Will Jerry be turned into a Spy for the show? Maybe he can use his old pants as an emergency parachute or something....

Stellar Drift said...

"We look forward to bringing our cast back."

Yuck, that's a weasel sentence. 10 demerits.

Apart from that, SILVERMAN!!! (Pictures KHAN!) Almost a year?! Are you nuts! Until March - thats bad bad bad bad.

We have to start a new campaign: Get Chuck Back Sooner!

(And call Subway and tell them they are off the menu until Chuck is back on TV ;)

Anonymous said...

I have no problem with the Subway tie-in. When you think about it, Chuck has TONS of product placement in it. Every single episode we see him wearing black and white Converse "Chucks". The Nerd Herd cars are always Toyotas (season 1 they were all Yaris). The store may be a "Buy More" but it's definitely closely modeled after a Best Buy. Etc. So if Sarah has to work at Subway, so be it.

JJ Vega said...

Not to mention both Sarah and Chuck use iPhones religiously during the second season. Product placement is realistic and much less invasive than a ton of ads.

J said...

"It's because of you"Oh, no, it's the Chosen One thing all over again.

But honestly, making product placement a key part of your argument was very shrewd. Yvonne & I will name our first child after you. The production company should at least send you a nifty armband thingy w/a built-in universal remote.

I'd be more concerned about the plan to keep the Chuck "presence" going for 10 months. First, all their promo ideas have been awful in both conception and execution. Second, 10 months of advertising without content is worse than just a basic vacation. I'd rather they held off even mentioning the thing until the Winter Olympics build-up.

Amy said...

Hooray for Chuck! And for anyone and everyone who has played a part in bringing him back for a third season. It's truly one of the best shows on TV. YAY!

Pamela Jaye said...

I've never had a real problem with commercials - it's just that most commercials are boring..

I don't find them boring, I find them LOUD.
actually, the past couple of days I've had to listen to actual radio. Tne commercials *there* are boring - and repetitive!

I'll get to dollhouse eventually.
I heard about Subway Sarah this morning and wondered if it were actually true. But figured the Post-Olympic Monday pickup *was* as Brian Ford Sullivan was complaining that people were "ignoring the 8am PT embargo"

Pamela Jaye said...

i'm worried about February a bit, too. But it's Leno that's still driving me nutty (Mercy was picked up but not till next year as well)

Any chance NBC will bail on the Leno thing if the ratings suck?
We could use the real estate.

Also, if the shows don't start till midseason, when does production start?

It's not like I'm going to be bored on Monday (if I watch House, it will be more like being on LSD or something. I may default to Big Bang - WB likes geeks, huh?)

Kikishua said...

I had my first Subway on Sunday because of Chuck too :D

Unknown said...

Alan, just wanted to show you something I posted on TWOP.(television without pity)

I wrote my letters, I sent in my Subway receipts, I Hulu-ed and I watched. But my cynicism never allowed me to think this would happen. I see some people worrying about the long hiatus, timeslots and the like.

I think we need to stop, take a breath and realize: WE DID IT.

We freakin' did it.

We got media attention, critic's attention, served notice to two corporations that more Chuck would help their bottom lines and we kept it up with a charity campaign and involved the stars of the show.

Everyone should first of all thank Serendipity, who originated the "Finale and a Footlong", which was the most intelligent fan campaign ever conceived. Instead of just begging NBC, we put real money in a sponsor's hands. We bow low to you madam!

Next, we should all e-mail or comment on the sites and/or blogs of the critics who championed the show:

First and foremost:Alan Sepinwall. Ben Silverman told him, perhaps jokingly, "It's because of you that Chuck's back." Silverman was probably referring to this. (HAD A LINK to YOUR Open letter to NBC here)

Others who led the fight:

Maureen Ryan
Daniel Fienberg at Hitflix
Give Me My Remote (who had changed the site's banner to read "Give Me My Chuck")
and of course, chucktv.net

You very humbly credited even more people in this endeavor I see. Very Chuck-like of you Alan. But you deserve a BSG-length slow clap for your work on the renewal.


Nicole said...

I think it's great that Chuck is getting a renewal, and I'm not one who thinks 13 episodes is a bad thing. Most 22 episode shows have a lot of filler and so this will just streamline the show. Now that I watch more cable and UK shows than network shows, I find that 13 suits me fine and I can live with the gap (it's not over a year like it was for Sopranos). This is probably the new model of shows that is being phased in, especially since costs savings seem to be an issue now more than ever.

Mary Yanni said...

Alan, I just wanted to say thanks for all you did on behalf of Chuck. (And all you always do!) You're Awesome.

Anonymous said...

Jimmy Kimmel is awesome! Your thoughts on his performance at the upfronts, Alan?

Steve Ely said...

Alan, I guess it's not just time spent but the content -- Never saw many customers in the Wienerlicious or Orange-Orange. Hard to imagine Subway's up for being portrayed as the restaurant with no customers. I envision Walker making sammiches and discussing their merits with customers each episode.

Really, though, the only scenarios that worry me about what goes on at the show's Subway franchise are the obvious ones that occur to me easily, and I'm hopeful enough that the writers will be clever enough to find ways around those.

What troubles me even more is that Sarah working at any new restaurant at the Wienerlicious / Orange-Orange location is only necessary if Chuck is back at the Buy More. Likewise, Jeff and Lester probably only fit in the series if Chuck's working at Buy More. And for him to go back to Buy More now is really depressing.

If he never quit like he did, it'd be fine. But how does he have much self-respect if he goes back to there now?

James O'Hearn said...

I'm glad Chuck is coming back, but really, it's the only reason I'll watch NBC at all next year (well..maybe Heroes also). It's bad enough they canceled Life, but now that they've canceled Medium, and they're filling Saturday with an encore of Southland, it feels like NBC has almost entirely given up on the whole TV game.

I tell ya, upfront week has really got me bummed. CBS canned The Unit, Terminator is gone (yet Dollhouse lives?), and Eli Stone is dead and buried. Add that to the fact that Battlestar is gone, Stargate Atlantis also, and suddenly the TV week is looking pretty barren.

I just hope shows like Flash Forward and Human Target turn out to be good.

Pamela Jaye said...

random thought on the schedule
Chuck followed by Day One?

Is this like Chuck Saves the World so I can be destroyed in the next hour?

I was one of those who deiberately didn't watch The Day After (there was a movie on JFK that night that I did watch). I'll be FF'ing thru the promos for sure. If I want apocalypse, I'll watch Buffy.

Pamela Jaye said...

just read the descrip of Parenthood. Looks like Brothers & Sisters is a big hit.

(I'm not sure I've seen the original movie from beginning to end, but I saw at least one ep of the original TV series)

Karen said...

Congratulations to you, Alan, and profound thanks. You really did use your bully pulpit to advocate for this show, and it paid off.

I trust Fedak and Schwartz because they've given me every reason to trust them, so I'm not worried about the Subway integration. 30 Rock has shown a great way to do product integration as well, and Chuck has been no slouch in that department, either.

I'm sorry for the wait until February, but I'm just so happy the show's coming back.


Jeremy said...

Thanks for all the work supporting my favorite show. I don't see what the big deal is about Subway. I wouldn't care if they all ate Subway in every episode. The writers would write great comic dialogue about it and the delivery from the actors would rock. It would still be Chuck. I don't even like subs but I'll be eating there at least once a week for as long as Chuck stays on the air. I'm thrilled it made the cut and hope it can for a 4th, 5th, 6th season etc.

Unknown said...

I have a suggestion about how to keep the Chuck fans seriously engaged over the next several months. This past Tuesday at the official press release regarding the renewal of Chuck, Mike Pilot, President for Sales and Marketing at NBC Universal said, “We were thrilled when Subway…expressed a desire to expand their relationship with the series in a creative way.”

That being said why not give the fans a chance to expand their relationship with the show in a creative way by competing in a contest for the best dialog or scene suggestion for one of the upcoming shows in season three? The winner would have his or her suggestion included in some way by the show’s writers. Perhaps he or she could even be flown out for the filming of the episode. This would allow the fans to truly have some creative input with the show beyond buying $5 subs at Subway.

Jayne said...

::::slowly clapping:::::

Thanks to Alan and our girl Mo...

David said...


As I recall, while you've been very supportive of the show, you have, like many fans, expressed concern over the over-and-over angst driven will they, won't they, throw in a love triangle, Chuck and Sarah mess. Legitimate relationship bumps make sense, but the "I've fallen for a hot ___ of the week" thing is getting silly. Hopefully Fedak has read your posts on this and gets the idea. Let the relationship grow, and not be artificially jerked around. Bumps are okay; but much of the so-called "bumps" have been contrived and silly. I loved "Ed" but got really tired of the Ed/Carol back-and-forth, and found the finale somewhat unsatisfying because of it. Lets hope Fedak does not go this route. If you ever have the chance to mention this to him, please do so.


Two Bushes and Two Shrubs said...

Thanks for helping us get the show back, Alan! :)

hashigtb said...

I'm a bit behind on reading blogs, just read your article. This is awesome news! I'm chuffed.

The craziest thing is happening as I'm typing this.. In an attempt to multitask, I'm reading your blog, watching some old Chuck episodes, and installing Visual Studio 2005 (Team Suite) on my laptop. Now, that last thing...you know how software vendors often embed screens with product information to display while you're waiting around for the installation to finish, smiling people in the background and stuff? Well, I just saw Jason Wang (dunno the actor's name) in one of them. Ah, there he is again! You're a sport. Go Morgan!

Oh well.