Behind the Screens with Joshua Maloni
Normally, when the prime time television season is coming to a close in late spring, fans and critics rally around a few shows on the brink of cancellation. But in 2009, it seemed as if every online blog and column (not to mention fast-food chain Subway) joined together to back one show: NBC's action comedy "Chuck."
With fewer programming hours available due to "The Jay Leno Show" taking over the 10 p.m. timeslot each weeknight, it was uncertain if "Chuck" would make the final cut. At a little past the eleventh hour, the Peacock Network executives ordered a third season of the show, which averaged about 7.5 million viewers each Monday in its sophomore run.
"We love the show. We were really proud of the show last year. We were hoping, you know, against hope, that the show would come back. We knew we were on the bubble," "Chuck" co-creator and executive producer Josh Schwartz says. "We knew, I mean, look, the show has had some incredible challenges outside of itself. Just, you know, the writer's strike in season one; five hours going away to ‘The Jay Leno Show.' I mean, there have been some really unique obstacles that keep getting thrown our way, and yet here we are, which is exciting.
"But, you know, I think for all of us it was pins and needles and mixed with incredible pride in the sense that, like, well we've put our best foot out there. I mean, we left it ... all out on the floor.
"And then, all of a sudden, completely outside of our own power, this fan base uprising began. And it started out small and it just grew and grew, and suddenly the show, which had at times lived below the radar except amongst its most passionate fans, really found a narrative I think in the broader media.
"And all of a sudden, it felt like it became undeniable through the support of fans and critics. And so, we remained optimistic, although it took a while. And there were several twists and turns in the story, and there were dark days, and there were days when it looked like it was all coming up roses. And in the end, you know, we got this third season."
"Chuck" was slated to return in March, after the Winter Olympics. To the surprise and delight of both fans and critics, NBC recently announced the show would return early, and with six additional episode orders. The third season begins Sunday, with a two-hour premiere at 9 p.m. "Chuck" returns to its normal timeslot on Monday at 8 p.m.
"It's incredibly humbling to say the least. To just have a job is a great blessing, but to have a job that you know people care about so much that they band together and let their voices be heard and their collective energy and love and also resources. ... Yeah, you know, I mean, is really humbling," says Zachary Levi, who stars as Chuck Bartowski, a Buy More (think Best Buy) Nerd Herd (think Geek Squad) employee turned spy.
For two-plus seasons, now, Chuck has been trying to rid himself of The Intersect, the top-secret black book of government secrets. The computer program was embedded into his head in the pilot episode. In the meantime, he has fallen head over heels in love with his handler, CIA agent Sarah Walker (Yvonne Strahovski). Paired with military colonel John Casey (Adam Baldwin), the three have unmatched sci-fi/action-adventure/"Odd Couple" escapades.
"I think there's probably something different in the show that insights different people, meaning there's so much inside of the show that could potentially speak to people ... who love the kind of mash up of genre," Schwartz says. "I think it's really satisfying on that end. I think there's people who just are so invested in these characters emotionally, and the romance of the show, and in the coming-of-age story of the show. And I think part of what's made the show a challenge to market and to break out in the broadest kind of commercial sense is the very - are the very same elements that make the show so exciting for its audience.
"You know, I think it is the sort of high-concept premise with this ... very character driven, almost low-concept level of execution: the mash up of genres."
"This show is, I think, truly original, and it's original in its premise and in its execution," he says. "And I think that's the result of a lot of different voices coming together and making it happen.
"And ultimately, I think too, a huge factor is the cast of the show. I think these are people you want to invite into your living room, you know, week in and week out, and that people have really connected with our actors, as well."
Along with Chuck's best friend, Morgan (Joshua Gomez), his sister, Ellie (Sarah Lancaster), and stepbrother "Awesome" (Ryan McPartlin), "at the very core of the show is that family story," co-creator and executive producer Chris Fedak says. "It's like - it's a group of individuals that we really want to see, you know, and see what's happening in their lives.
"And, when we're breaking the story, when we're on set and then we're in post (production), it's like we always find ourselves, we're always going back to our characters; we're always finding the heart of the show there.
"We love to have the fun action sequences, we love to come up with crazy comedy; but, in truth, the heart of the show is the characters and what our cast does with them."
Schwartz says a big part of the show's appeal is that "so many people feel like a Chuck. You know, there's that wish fulfillment of like, you know, ‘My life didn't quite work out the way I thought it was going to be, and what if?' You know, that delicious fantasy of, like, what if I got thrust into my fantasy world?
"And I think there's, you know, there's the tremendous amount of wish fulfillment there for people, as well."