05 January, 2012

21-Days of CHUCK! Day 1: What's in a Name?


Gentle ladies and men. Fans of the show named CHUCK. Gather 'round the final fire of our beloved show as it gloriously rages against the dying of the light with flickering embers of geekery stretching across the night sky toward eternity.

For the next 21-days straight, I will write a new feature about the little show that could. From characters, to story, to relationships, to humor, drama, and whatever else I, or anyone else, can think of (I am raping the language with these prepositions, but then I'm an ee cummings fan so, sue me).

This first article will be about the name of the show. Why? Because through the years there has been discussion about whether it kept viewers away from watching it. Was the name off-putting? Could it have been something else? What effect could a name change have had even in mid-stride?

"CHUCK" isn't a big attraction.

As those who have read my CHUCK writing over the years (mostly over at that other site) know, I didn't start watching the show until episode 1 of season 2. And the reason for that was 60% the name of the show and 40% the promos. The promos just made it seem silly, and not in a good way. But the name just didn't sit well with me. CHUCK? Really? That's the name of the show? Sounds like some feel-good show for 12-year olds! I had no interest in that.

And I likely would have skipped it were it not for several things. First being a promo during season 1 that actually got me thinking about checking the show out. Second was a friend of mine who highly recommended it. And third was the fact that it came on right before a show I loved at the time, HEROES. Funnily enough, I think those three things are the industry standard for how people get into shows.

Still, the name of the show was a big obstacle for me. Even after all those things, I still resisted up until about the final days leading up to the premier of season 2. And boy was I ever happy to have been so wrong. 15-minutes into Chuck Versus the First Date and I was hooked like it was heroin.

Obviously the show isn't made for everyone. Fans like to think that if only someone just checked out the show they love, then they would love it too. That's not going to be true in every case, or even most cases as ratings show. Most people eventually stop watching a show. Why? Either they have found something else they like more, or the show isn't interesting enough to them, OR the show isn't the cool thing to watch (anymore).

So would CHUCK have benefited in having a different name? Would it have become the "cool thing to watch" if it was called any of the following:

THE INTERSECT
THE NERD SPY
BARTOWSKI: NERD SPY
TEAM BARTOWSKI
NERD HERDERS
THE ORDINARY SPY
NERD LOVES SPY
CHUCK VERSUS THE INTERSECT

Insert your own in the comments section below if you like.

Would a name change have helped? Would more people have tuned in? Perhaps. There isn't any way to know for sure. I know that the people I either successfully turned onto CHUCK, or tried to, said either of two things to me when I talked about it.

1. Never heard of it (mostly because they didn't watch NBC), or...
2. Sounds cheesy.

But virtually every person who tried it out, stuck with it for at least one season. Most longer. So the name was one of the obstacles for those individuals. Sure, promos and being on NBC didn't help, but there is a reason why advertisers spend tons of money and effort to come up with the perfect slogan, or the perfect product name. You first have to draw in your audience before you can sell them on the product.

Would CHUCK by any other name be as loved?

Perhaps that is the most important question of all. If CHUCK had a different name, would it have been turned into a different show or even received differently? Perhaps the fact that it had this unassuming name, made it the passion-show for many people. You don't expect a show named CHUCK to be so full of heart, love, drama, comedy, and action. It surprised the hell out of me when I first watched it. I couldn't believe this insignificantly named thing was so huge. So full of life. So crazy good! Had it been named "BAD-ASS COMPUTER TECH IN NERD'S BRAIN AND HE GETS THE HOT GIRL" I wouldn't have been so surprised to see a show about a computer tech who downloads highly important government data into his brain and then falls for his hot CIA handler who tries desperately to hide her secret love for him.

And in the end, we did end up with 91 episodes. 5-seasons. Tons of story lines and multiple series ending episodes that turned out to be just one in many to come. That meant the writers had to deliver progress, on top of progress, on top of progress. Sure, that also meant we got some really weak episodes tossed into the mix because these writers had to do and try things that no other show has ever had to do. Constantly write a series finale that was still open ended, for a show that wouldn't die.

I could answer my own questions. But what's the point? We will never truly know. We could leave it up for debate for the next 50-years, or however long this underrated show lives on in the hearts and minds of the people who love it... and syndication.

But what say you? Would a name change have delivered a bigger audience? And if so, would that have framed the show differently in people's minds? Is it a good thing that the show is named CHUCK and struggled for most of its life because it forced the writers to deliver faster character progress?

Comment below. Anonymous posting is, as ALWAYS, enabled.


54 comments:

  1. I didn't like any of your name suggestions, honestly. I remember very little from my high school English classes, but one exercise stuck with me. You start with a noun, then add a verb, then adjectives and adverbs and prepositional phrases and so forth until you get this incredibly detailed, colorful sentence that tells you exactly what is happening.

    The series has been like that in many ways. You start with "Chuck" (even though Morgan was there, too). Add verbs ("Chuck" because a verb itself!) and descriptors and connectors and several interjections: every episode, every twist and turn, every finale-that-wasn't adds to "Chuck" until you get the show we love. At the beginning, that one-word title didn't say much. Now, it says everything we need to know.

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  2. "I didn't like any of your name suggestions, honestly"

    I wasn't trying to suggest they were better than CHUCK. Just tossing out ones I've heard over the years.

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  3. I think the name is important. I've been put off shows before because the name holds connotations that aren't necessarily true when I sit down to watch them.

    This wasn't true with Chuck, though - at least for me. Maybe it's 'cause nobody in the UK is really called Chuck so it's not a common word to hear and that made it felt more unique.

    Perhaps in the US people are a bit more fickle, but I don't put a whole lot of stock in to the name of something.

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  4. I totally agree, I am almost embarrassed to tell people I like a show called "Chuck" - always have hated the name so much. I just don't think about it now and enjoy the show, but I do think it was a hurdle. I do not, however, have any decent suggestions....

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  5. Sorry, that should read DON'T think in the first line.

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  6. I had the same experience with regard to the name. My grown son raved about it and recommended Chuck to me the first season and said it was his favorite show. I never checked it out because of the name, thinking that it was probably a young man's show. Then mid-season 4, a friend our age raved about it and actually lent us his DVDs. I couldn't stop watching it and have been addicted ever since. I wish I had tried it sooner, but I have made up for lost time by exploring all the back interviews and comic con stuff. I love the show and I admire the two leads for their talent and dedication. I hope many others will discover it as it goes to sindication.

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  7. Vader's My Little Pony PillowJanuary 5, 2012 at 12:18 PM

    I've argued this for years. In my experience the name is the main reason why people turn their noses up and refuse to watch. If it had been called 'The Intersect' I bet millions more would have checked it out.

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  8. I used to make fun of people when they talked about Chuck. I somehow convinced myself the show had to be stupid or why would they name it that? It does sound like a little kids show. Then I was sick from work one day and it was free on demand and I must have been mental because I checked it out and felt stupid and became an instant convert.

    So the name is an obstacle for some people. Hopefully it won't be in sindication.

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  9. Yes, I think the name has been an obstacle. Yes, I'm glad that the show was always on the bubble because we got faster progress. No, I wouldn't change anything even the bad episodes because it all got us to this point.

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  10. I think the name could have been overcome if Chuck didn't face so many other challenges in it's youth...the writers strike in S1, competing with House, TBBT, & DWTS when they were all at their ratings peaks in S2, and most importantly poorly structured promotions without a clear sense of what the Chuck brand was representing. I don't think that NBC knew how to 'sell' or 'position' Chuck at the start and I feel that's why the show never caught on.

    The name doesn't help...it's not descriptive or compelling, BUT I wouldn't change it because having the show called 'CHUCK' meant that the creators/writers had to focus the show on Chuck's story and evolution. In short, it forced their hands to craft a show about the characters. If the show had been titled 'The Intersect' it might have gotten more initial attention because it's more cryptic, but personally I've found the evolution of the characters to be the best part of the show...not the Intersect, but Chuck's journey and those of the people he loves. I have a nasty feeling that if the show's titles wasn't as adorkable as it was, we might not have gotten the show that we did and that's not a gamble I'd ever make.

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  11. Yeah, that strike probably did its fair amount of damage to its momentum. Though, it is very possible that not getting the Super Bowl slot that it was supposed to get (THE OFFICE took its place) was probably the biggest impact on its potential growth.

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  12. Chuck Versus the World would have been good. Dynamic and tells you there's going to be action. Shortened to CVW or CVTW.

    'Hey, did you catch CVW last night?' is much cooler than 'Did you catch Chuck last night?'

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  13. I also think ELLIE would have been good. Why not? Sarah Lancaster is hot!

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  14. I was going to mention the Superbowl thing but the episode that would have aired was Chuck vs. the 3rd Dimension...not the best outing of S2. However, I will say that episode is WAY more impressive after viewing it on an actualy 3D TV rather than just with the flimsy 3D glasses. NBC really did squander that opportunity...the Office didn't do all that great after that game (as I recall) and NBC had partnered with someone to have all those 3D glasses in the Superbowl packs for Chuck & a commercial for a kid's film that aired during the halftime show. Total wasted potential, but we'll never know.

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  15. As a 3D episode, it wasn't impressive. But as a 2D episode, especially for someone who hadn't waited 6-weeks between episodes and wasn't expecting some massive resolution to the previous episode, it was fun.

    I loved that little hobbit rocker! Oh, Charlie! I mean, Merry! I mean... that dude who dated the chick who is now playing an elf in THE HOBBIT.

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  16. Even the post super bowl slot it did get - the following day, I think?, had a nice ratings spike, but it was a silly, gimmicky, episode IMO that didn't really have the show at its best. So I think people sampled it then and said the show wasn't for them - which, based on that episode, I don't blame them. I know it is hard to write an episode in the middle of a show's run that is kind of stand-alone so people can get it, plus they had to work in the 3D angle, so it was a real challenge - I just think the writers/producers didn't step to the plate there.

    But back to the name, I would say it was a bad decision. Much like Cougertown.

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  17. "I think people sampled it then and said the show wasn't for them"

    My family and I got into the show with that episode.

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  18. I must be an oddball because I loved the premiere adds and it was what made me watch the show. I saw a print add The She's the Secret and He's the Agent one in a gaming magazine. I saw nerd + Hot Blonde, this show looks fun. The name actually didn't bother me. I was looking forward to the show and from the opening I was cracking up and by the end of the episode I was hooked. Set a season pass and never missed an episode. I didn't care about the name but the premise is what attracted me to this wonderful show.

    RAC2873

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  19. Personally, I never had a problem with the name.

    I first saw it in the Panel Listing at Comic-con, read the description of the show, and decided to attend the panel. The name matched the description. It got across that the show was light-hearted and character-driven. I also detected a bit of tongue-in-cheek just in calling a show that. There was a "wink wink" quality to it.

    I have also never been embarrassed to say I watch the show. The only thing I tend to keep to myself is how much I'm into the show. But, the same could be said for other shows I've been addicted to.

    I honestly don't know if names ultimately matter. I can only think of a few TV show titles which probably helped drive tune in. One is "Desperate Housewives". It was just such an outrageous name for a series, I'm convinced it helped turn it into an instant hit. It also delivered on the outrageousness the name implied.

    "24" was a good title. "The Event" was a good title, but it didn't help the show any.

    With Chuck, I think the tone of the promos probably hurt more than the title. Plus, I can't think of a better title that would have drawn more people.

    Chuck debuted the same season as "Pushing Daisies". Was that a good title? Bad? How about "Reaper"? The other "geek-oriented" show that year? Reaper is kinda like Intersect. It describes what he is, but didn't describe who he is.

    How about the names of the biggest "hits" on TV? Is CSI a great name? Is that why it became a hit? Is NCIS? Law & Order?

    Ultimately, whether on the bubble or not, this show lasted five freakin' seasons and drew a level of intense fan-love that makes the name irrelevant.

    Here's a list of other new series from the same Fall season of 2007. Which ones made you want to watch on name alone?

    Viva Laughlin (1st show canceled)
    Life is Wild
    Samantha Who?
    The Big Bang Theory
    Aliens in America
    K-Ville
    Cavemen (based on the Geico ads and a failure)
    Carpoolers
    Reaper
    Pushing Daisies
    Private Practice
    Dirty Sexy Money
    Gossip Girl
    Kitchen Nightmares
    Bionic Woman (familiar)
    Woman's Murder Club
    Moonlight
    Next Great American Band
    Nashville (familiar)
    Oprah's Big Give (even the name of the goddess Oprah couldn't save that one)
    Here Come the Newlyweds

    This is getting long, but I offer up the idea that some of the longest running successes in TV started rather modestly. Law & Order was only a modest success in Season 1. CSI began on a Friday and succeeded by quick word of mouth. It really exploded when being moved to Thursday.

    Maybe like you say, the name "Chuck" suppressed word of mouth. I don't know.

    Interesting topic, though.

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  20. *"The Event" was a good title*

    Not sure about that. But this article isn't comparing CHUCK to other shows or their names. Just whether its specific name hurt its potential viewership.

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  21. I find it hard to discuss that without the context of looking at whether good titles helped other shows or not.

    Maybe it's hard for me because I did watch Chuck's first episode and I didn't have a problem talking about the show.

    "The Event" drew big numbers to its first episode. Was it the name? Was it the ad campaign?

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  22. THE EVENT ad campaign was plastered all over the place. Same reason why CHUCK returned to good numbers in season 3. They went all out promoting its early return. But the show could never hold its gained audience. Or build on it. Was it the show? Was the name a barrier to entry?

    But if you are going to discuss show names for comparison, then discuss single name shows with the character's name in the title.

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  23. I don't know if this helps the discussion, but here is where Chuck's A18-49 viewer count ranked vs. other new shows its debut week. I didn't include shows that debuted other weeks:

    BIONIC WOMAN 7,474
    PRIVATE PRACTICE 6,858
    BIG SHOTS 5,950
    LIFE 5,288
    BIG BANG THEORY, THE 4,894
    DIRTY SEXY MONEY 4,777
    CHUCK 4,669
    JOURNEYMAN 4,659
    CANE 3,889
    KID NATION 3,676
    MOONLIGHT 3,249
    REAPER 1,958

    Chuck came in 2rd in its time period. #1 was Dancing with the Stars. Chuck actually beat How I Met Your Mother at 8PM, but Big Bang Theory slipped ahead at 8:30. So, Chuck barely edged out the average of the two to come in 2nd.

    Third place was The Bachelor. Fourth place was Prison Break.

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  24. That last post took a while to compose. I didn't see you comment.

    But, I'll say I don't think the name prevents an audience that HAS tuned in from watching again. That's all up to the show itself.

    An ad campaign can make you tune in (or turn you off), but, after that, the product itself has to draw retrial. Unless you rebrand the product.

    The season 3 campaign was kind of a "rebranding" of Chuck, when you think about it. The whole "no more Mr. Nice Spy" thing where they were really promoting a new Chuck.

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  25. "But, I'll say I don't think the name prevents an audience that HAS tuned in from watching again. That's all up to the show itself."

    Oh, I'm sure there are people who will stop watching something because they think it is uncool to watch it. But I wasn't saying people stopped watching due to the name. However, as people stopped watching, new people didn't replace them fast enough.

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  26. Another ratings factoid: For Men 18-49, Chuck DID win its time period when it debuted. If it has had problems over the years, it's been more with female viewers.

    It's always hard, if not impossible, to replace lost viewers. The longer a show is on the harder it becomes.

    That is partly because once people have sampled it, they've pretty much made their decision on whether it's on their consideration list. So, the longer the show has been on, the more people have checked it out at least once and the smaller the group of "undecided" people is.

    The ROI on ad campaigns drops considerably.

    The other reason is that people feel there's a barrier to getting into a show if they weren't there from the beginning. I feel that way about Sons of Anarchy. People rave about it, but every time I check it out, I feel I'm not getting it the way they did. And I don't have the inclination to buy the DVD's and get caught up.

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  27. No, I don't think the name hurt it all that much.

    When you think about it the name makes sense.
    Chuck is the main character and the show is about him.

    It doesn't explain what the show is about but i can't think of a good name for it that would have.

    Chuck got good ratings in season 1.

    I just think there's so many things on television that some shows are inevitably going to be overlooked.

    Hell i think after NBC cancelled many of their hugely popular hit shows in 2004 people just overlooked the network.

    Spy shows were huge in the 1960s but after that they died off and only a handful of these kind of shows have been successful since then.

    I think Alias was the only one that has been hugely successful.

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  28. "Hi! My name is Robert Bartowski, but you can call me Bob!"

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  29. I agree that the name didn't "sell" the show. But, I also agree with Wendy, after five seasons of remarkable entertainment and all the factors that contributed to that, I wouldn't change a thing!

    Sg

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  30. ED, CHUCK, and ARCHER, all shows with passionate support behind them... and lowly rated.

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  31. I heard about Chuck for years but didn't seriously think about watching it until last year when I caught the episode where Chuck and Morgan hum Star Wars. That was the best episode of television I had ever seen. I'd say the promos and name were about equal obstacles. Both did nothing for me. What did get me was an east coast friend tweeting about the episode and I checked it out that night being a Star Wars nut. I still haven't watched all the old episodes but when season 5 ends I will go back and watch it all. An amazing show!

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  32. I first watched chuck last year in February because I was on Amazon looking at tv series and I saw chuck season 1 (and i had never heard of chuck before) and I bought it then 3 weeks later I had season 2,3 and caught up with season 4.

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  33. I watched BECAUSE IT WAS NAMED CHUCK!!! My name is Chuck!!!!! HAHAHAHAHAHA

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  34. Ultimately, I think, it comes down to what is in the show itself. Unless someone comes up with an alternate name that blows me away, I just don't see this particular show being a bigger hit like, say, Big Bang Theory or House.

    It just isn't broad enough. To really appreciate Chuck you have to be somewhat knowledgable of pop/geek culture--and not everyone is. You have to be somewhat accepting of geeks and nerds--and not everyone is. You have to be flexible enough to dig that it doesn't fit any genre.

    One can argue that BBT has those elements, too. But, it's very broad and the characters don't change. Appreciating Chuck requires you to identify with Chuck and get carried away by his heroic journey. Most of the people who watch BBT probably do so to make fun of the characters, particularly Sheldon. And they do not expect Sheldon to change. Chuck, the character, changed.

    I just don't see the "show otherwise named Chuck" being a huge hit under any other name. It's got cult written all over it.

    However, it may have debuted with higher numbers if the campaign wasn't so lame. But, we'll never know.

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  35. couldn't of said any better myself @mediaSavant

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  36. I don't think that argument considers that people who might enjoy the show wouldn't even check it out because the name didn't draw them in. From a marketing perspective, just getting the customer to check out your product is the hard part.

    You can't hook someone in if they never check you out.

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  37. Yay! Very excited about these articles, Magnus. Just wanna thank you now already for putting the effort in. Feels like being let down easy, to have a place to discuss this awesome show and to read something about it everyday. Been (not-so) patiently awaiting Jan 5th :)

    I can genuinely not remember if I ever had a problem with the name. I know I saw the promo and pretty much saved the date in my mind. It was a new show that seemed better than the other crap that was on TV at the time. I loved it from the first episode so I've never been able to think back about the name being dumb. Right now all it sounds like to me is the name of one of my favourite shows.

    Strangely its normally the shows with longer names that put me off. I LOVE Supernatural (though to be fair I didn't know its name before I watched it) and Fringe. Love Psych and Pushing Daisies. Dirty Sexy Money, for example, I never wanted to try. The Vampire Diaries's name put me off (although I must say, it is a pretty dumb name even when the length isn't taken into consideration), but a friend recommended I watch it and I love it now but I still refer to it as VD. So yeah, the simpler the name, the better, to me.

    As a lot of people above said, it's best that it was named Chuck to keep the storyline focused on him. If it had been named The Intersect, for example, several more people would've had heart attacks when Morgan got it end of S4. And also, now that it's so close to the end, I find my self not caring about its bad ratings. I'm just glad it has an established fanbase who love the show, CHUCK, just as it is.

    Lindz

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  38. Though, had it been named THE INTERSECT, it would have given them the ability to have a real fear of jeopardy for Chuck. After all, the show wouldn't be named after him so he could be killed off whenever (granted, how often does a lead character get killed off even when the show isn't named after him?).

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  39. I know people who laugh at the name or think it's to goofy. I started watching in season 3 for Routh, but once I started, I loved everything about it! Now I don't exactly love everything about it, lol, but love a lot of it and think it's an awesome show and one of my faves ever. IMO, the first 3 seasons are must watch tv for everyone who likes a really fun and compelling spy dramedy (I always need to explain what dramedy means ;)).

    So I don't mind that it's called Chuck, it feels fine to me. I'm just glad it wasn't called Chuck and Sarah.. :P ;)

    S.

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  40. S, you will probably like tomorrow's feature. :)

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  41. In my opinion the show name is not one of the reasons the show never got huge popularity or success
    If you name a show "SHIT" but its somehow appealing to the masses(and it airs on a "cool network") it will be a Hit

    The majority showed they are mostly sheeps who follow what's trending
    they rarely have a mind of their own and i think that's the main reason the show never hit it off(that and the show being on the #4Network NBC)

    Chuck is a great and unique show unfortunately being a mixture of genres made it harder to get a specific target audience and popularity

    So in my opinion the things that made the show great are the same things that kept it from being popular

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  42. I sometimes wonder if Chuck had kept the same structure as season 1 would it have maintaned those ratings it got then.

    Season one didn't have any storyline arcs because of the writers strike and was just basically 13 episodes of mission of the week type stuff.

    Shows like Castle and Bones are hugely popular where it's a case of the week format and then the male/female leads sort of build up romantic tension with each other but they don't get together for a long time.

    Hypothetically Chuck and Sarah would flirt with each other and even date other people but for much longer periods of time.

    Then they finally decide they love each other during season 7 and become a couple.

    Then like at the very end of season 8 Chuck gets the intersect out of his head which is what he always wanted.

    Then Chuck and Sarah live happily ever after.

    I wonder if that would have helped Chuck maintain bigger ratings over the years.

    I personally would have hated that but people do tend to gravitate to those shows.

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  43. If they hadn't named it Chuck, maybe any threat to his life would have been more believable.

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  44. Chuck & Sarah/The Spy who loved me. Just like Mike and Molly. Romance draws the crowd.

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  45. its all about the network, If it was on CBS it would still be running and CS would still not be together. if it was on fox it would of been cancelled after 2 episodes, if it was on abc it wouldn't of been picked up after season 2. Honestly NBC got of a lot more out of this show than i expected because nobody watches NBC except for the nhl and the olympics every 4 years

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  46. I like Chuck Versus The Intersect main reason if you look at the name of each episode it's Chuck Versus whatever and also through out most of this series Chuck has been battling the intersect and if he wants it or not and also if he needs it or not. Also at the beginning of this season Morgan had to somewhat fight the intersect because it was taking over his personality. to me I can see why some people didn't like the name Chuck you should give a show a chance because it could be the next best show.

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  47. Canadian Greg is right. He wins this day. :)

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  48. "S, you will probably like tomorrow's feature. :)"

    Hope so! Did one of your ninja friends liked it? :P

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  49. CHUCK's lack of success has to do with two things: 1) wrong network, and 2) the difficulty of specifying its genre. I guess it's pointless to start asking 'what if' now, but I feel like if this show had remained as light as it was in seasons one and two, and leaned more on comedy than drama, it would have been a hit for USA. I've heard a lot of fans mention USA being the perfect fit for this show over the years, and one fan even made a promo to show how it would look on USA (it's on Youtube, but can't find it to link at the moment). I also think a cable model of 10-16 episodes a season (USA tends to do 16 for their biggest hits like 'White Collar') would have been benefited the writers immensely.

    Speaking of airing on another network though, and I know it's off topic, but has anyone heard any rumors about a possible syndication home? I know WB gave NBC the show for basically nothing this year to drive up the episode count, but there's been no word of a home for reruns. I'd imagine with its ratings, there's no chance that USA would be interested. Maybe Cloo or G4?

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  50. Had CHUCK been on any other network, it would probably have been cancelled in season 1. So, being on NBC was actually the right network.

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  51. HGF?. How do we petition to get Chuck on a syndicated network ?

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  52. "HGF?. How do we petition to get Chuck on a syndicated network ?"

    You don't. WB will sell it to whatever network wants it.

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  53. agreed that maybe didn't call much attention to the show, which was sty they used to say quite a bit about Buffy,I confess that when I first noticed a promo on WB(the channel that shows it in Brazil), and detail it was season 3, and I was like, what's that I never heard of this show, TG one day arrived late for work and as always left on WB to fall asleep and Chuck is on, the next day I was crazy watching all the episodes till then ;)

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  54. They promo the final show at 3:00 am. No wonder nobody could find the show during prime time hours ? Good going NBC.

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