They say every end is a new beginning. In the spring of 2007, I was on set for the last day of shooting The O.C. when I got the call. I needed to immediately watch an audition for the lead of my new pilot Chuck. The actor who had just read? Zachary Levi.
And so began the most quixotic, satisfying, and, at times, surreal journey of my career. In the fall of 2007, I was lucky enough to have not only Chuck premiere but also another series I had co-created, Gossip Girl. What were the chances, given that there are seven days in a week, that both shows would air against each other? They did, and my parents upgraded to a dual DVR.
As momentum for Chuck’s first season started to build, the writers’ strike hit. We didn’t know if we’d be back. We anxiously waited almost a year to return. As season 2 came to an end, we learned that NBC was going to air The Jay Leno Show five nights a week in prime time, eliminating five hours of time slots. Once again our future was in jeopardy. We may not have been a breakout hit, but we had a passionate fan base, and when NBC released its preliminary fall schedule in 2009 and Chuck wasn’t on it, those fans mobilized.
This wasn’t just a letter-writing campaign but something that involved a new weapon in a fan’s crusade to save a show: mayonnaise. We had done some not-so-subtle product integrations promoting Subway sandwiches (which are delicious!). So our fans hit Subway shops around the world, ordering tens of thousands of foot-long turkeys. This garnered attention on a national level. NBC took note. With a mixture of pride and awe I can tell you: Chuck was saved by sandwiches. And by the greatest, most passionate fans in the universe.
What kept Chuck from being a runaway hit was the same thing that made those who loved it so committed: a mash-up of genres — from spy to sci-fi to romantic comedy — with a heart devoted to its characters and a soul steeped in 1980s summer-movie geek culture. Well, ’80s everything.
Co-creator Chris Fedak and I used to marvel that if the 13-year-old versions of us could see the show we were making, we’d lose our minds. It was our adolescent love of Quantum Leap that led us to pursue Scott Bakula for the role of Chuck’s dad. Knowing our precarious ratings situation, Scott advised: ”Keep your head down, keep making the show. Next thing you know, it’s five years later. That’s how we did it on Quantum Leap.”
Casting actors we grew up loving didn’t end there. We were unabashed in our geekdom. Doc Brown’s Christopher Lloyd playing a member of the medical profession so Chuck could call the Back to the Future star ”Doc”? Check. A huge influence on Chuck was Fletch, so it was an honor to have Chevy Chase play one of our best bad guys. Of course, there would be no Chuck without James Bond. The first Bond movie I was old enough to see in theaters? The Living Daylights. So imagine the pulse-pounding excitement we felt when Timothy Dalton signed on for a season. And who else could have played Chuck’s mom than the female icon of summer movies of yore, The Terminator’s Linda Hamilton? The list goes on, and we knew our fans would be as excited about all this as we were.
Now, thanks to NBC Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt, we get to say a proper farewell to those fans with our Jan. 27 series finale. And with every end comes a new beginning. On the last day of shooting Chuck, my daughter was born. That gives you perspective. My hope is one day some kid who grew up watching our show will have a show of their own, and that kid will hire one of our talented actors to appear. Then that actor can advise that kid, ”Keep your head down, keep making the show. Next thing you know, it’s five years later. That’s how we did it on Chuck.”