Adalian Column: Can Twittersphere Save ‘Chuck’?
The Twitterverse and blogosphere rose up last week up in a preemptive bid to keep NBC’s “Chuck” on the air.
Yeah, I know: You’ve heard this story a thousand times before, from “My So-Called Life” to “Moonlight.” The plotline never seems to change: Fans beg, networks pretend to listen and, in the end, the show in question disappears.
What’s more, most TV shows these days seem to spawn an Internet-based grassroots support group within hours of their premiere. The whole situation veered dangerously close to self-parody last year, when some of the loyalists in Joss Whedon’s legion of supporters mounted a “Save Dollhouse” campaign months before the show debuted, effectively putting the show on the bubble before it was even on the air.
But what happened last week seemed different. At least a little bit.
Unlike prior Save Our Show campaigns, the Save Chuck movement didn’t begin with loyal fans launching an Internet petition or buying an ad in a Hollywood trade paper. Instead, this revolution was sparked by the decision of well-established TV blogger Kath Skerry to change the name of her site for a week.
GiveMeMyRemote.com suddenly became GiveMeMyChuck.com. Ms. Skerry declared it “Chuck Week” on her blog and turned over the whole of her home page to collecting news about what was being done to make sure “Chuck” wasn’t ... chucked.
Thanks to Twitter, nearly 1,000 of Ms. Skerry’s readers—myself included—knew about her plans instantly Monday morning. Word spread quickly around Tweetsville that it was “Chuck Week,” and anyone who liked the show needed to step up and demonstrate support for NBC’s 8 p.m. Monday series.
Not surprisingly, plenty of civilian bloggers did just that.
But so did Mo Ryan, TV critic for the Chicago Tribune, and Alan Sepinwall of the Star-Ledger in New Jersey. They changed their Twitter icons to “Save Chuck” labels and began serving up “Chuck”-centric content on their Web sites and Twitter feeds.
Michael Ausiello of Entertainment Weekly put aside his Smurfs-and-scoops obsession long enough to tout “Chuck Week” to his army of Ausholes (his label, not mine).
Instead of simply sitting back and reporting on a fan campaign, some of the nation’s best-known TV columnists jumped right in and became soldiers in the campaign for “Chuck.”
Mr. Sepinwall, a rather new (and reluctant) resident of Twitter Nation, said his online activism caught him by surprise.
“I had no idea this was going to happen,” he told me. “I was on Twitter and saw all these links and ‘Chuck’ logos and said, ‘This is cool.’ I figured I might as well join in.”
Mr. Sepinwall said the “Chuck” campaign may have popped in part because it’s grounded in reality. Rather than simply flooding Ben Silverman with tchotchkes, the goal of “Save Chuck” is to use the power of the Internet to boost the show’s ratings in the final weeks of the season.
“This is a good show, and we need to remind people that it’s a good show,” Mr. Sepinwall said.
Ms. Skerry said that’s exactly her point.
“With much respect to fan campaigns that encourage people to send items in to the network, I think the network responds more to eyeballs in front of a TV,” she wrote me via e-mail. “It’s a business, so the only way I thought I could help was to encourage fans of ‘Chuck’ to become evangelists for their show and do what they can to get others to give it a shot.”
In addition to increasing the raw numbers for “Chuck,” some other supporters of the show are mounting an Internet campaign to get viewers to buy a footlong sandwich from Subway on the night of the “Chuck” finale. If the chain reports a big uptick in sales, the logic goes, NBC might be further inspired to order a third season.
And, while sending stuff to networks might seem cliched these days, some fans are considering just such an idea. A commenter on Mr. Sepinwall’s blog thinks loyalists ought to ship NBC suits a lifetime supply of Nerds candy, a tribute to the geeky types around which “Chuck” revolves.
Sounds good to me.
I’m not a completely unbiased observer in the “Save Chuck” movement, by the way. Ms. Ryan’s and Mr. Sepinwall’s actions inspired me to change my Twitter avatar to one featuring a pro-Chuck message. I’ll also no doubt tweet this column once it’s posted to TVWeek.com.
I’m also realistic about the fact that “Chuck” may well not return. NBC will have very few schedule holes in the fall, with Jay Leno at 10 p.m. weeknights, and “Chuck”—unlike the just-renewed, lower-rated “Friday Night Lights”—is owned by Warner Bros. TV rather than NBC’s sister studio.
And yet I also know that “Chuck” has maintained a solid, if small, audience base all season long Mondays at 8 p.m., a timeslot that may well be the most competitive in network TV right now.
As witnessed by the ratings for “Kings” and “The Chopping Block,” it’s also easy for NBC to attract far worse numbers at 8 p.m. than the ones “Chuck” has been earning as of late.
Bottom line: "Chuck" is a well-crafted series with a loyal audience and strong pop culture buzz—something few networks can afford to easily abandon these days.
For his part, “Chuck” creator Josh Schwartz is just happy people care enough about his Nerd Herd to rally around it.
“We are extremely appreciative,” he said. “We love making the show. And to know that there’s a passionate audience out there who feels strongly enough to campaign on the show’s behalf is so gratifying. Everyone who works on the show knows about it, and takes no small measure of inspiration from it.
“Every bit helps!”