How NBC and Warner Killed "Chuck"
A couple years ago, I watched the Pilot of "Chuck", a TV show where a common computer geek gets a supercomputer installed in his brain. It's got geek references, real spies, and lots of fun. It's equal parts drama, comedy, and action, sometimes even a couple of those in the same scene. I haven't seen a tone of television in my years, but it's easily my favorite show currently on television. But that won't last for long, because the show's finale is just over a week away. The finale is not coming as a surprise; the end of every season always contained the question of whether it would be renewed and this current season being the last season was announced over 6 months ago. However, this fifth and final season, while it's been lots of fun and looks like it will come to a great ending, has been less than impressive with viewership. In my opinion, it's clear that NBC and Warner Bros. (who produces/owns the show) did as much as they could to intentionally kill Chuck once and for all.
First, the show was moved from Mondays to Fridays on the weekly lineup. Friday, along with Saturday, are the weakest nights in TV viewing, excepting maybe sporting events. Geek TV fans know that shows like Dollhouse, Firefly, and Battlestar Galactica have aired on Fridays and never did amazing in the ratings. It's just a fact that many folks go out on Friday and Saturday instead of staying home and watching TV. If I didn't have a DVR, I would've missed probably half of the episodes so far this season. Mondays worked much better for most viewers, I'm sure, because all folks want to do after a "case of the Mondays" at work is to sit at home, eat a pizza, and watch Chuck and then Castle.
Second, for the first four seasons of Chuck, there was plenty of content available online. Throughout the first four seasons, the show was available to stream on Hulu the next day, just like other NBC programs. Intermittently, the show was also available for purchase on iTunes and Amazon VOD as well. However, for unknown reasons, season five has not been available on Hulu or any other video providers online. This, combined with the Friday problem, means that anyone who misses an episode may just wait until the end of the season to rent it on DVD. Either that or the fan without a DVR is forced to pirate the show, such that this viewing is not counted in ratings nor any revenue is gained by the show. It seems that the folks at NBC/WB didn't want the fans to come back if they missed an episode because they gave them little choices. This is not what a show like this should do. Look at shows like Lost and Battlestar Galactica: they made it easy for folks to catch up with episodes they missed online and even did promotional materials to get fans caught up with the major plot points quickly if they didn't have the time to watch all the episodes. These are things that NBC/WB should be doing to keep the casual Chuck fans watching if they wanted to coax decent ratings out of the end of the show.
Third, a planned ending to a show should be an opportunity for the networks/producers to experiment and possibly gain new viewers. Many folks got into Lost just before the last season because the entire show was available for streaming on Hulu, Netflix, and other outlets. In fact, after hearing about Chuck and deciding to give it a chance two years ago, I found the pilot available on Hulu and then watched the next six episodes on WB.com. If I hadn't gotten the opportunity to watch those early episodes right away, I might not have gotten hooked. After watching those online episodes, I used my Netflix subscription to rent all the later episodes of Chuck to get up to what was currently available. What Warner Bros. and NBC should have done was put all four seasons on Netflix streaming this past summer. I have no doubt that there would be thousands of viewers that would watch all four seasons and would now be watching NBC every Friday, had NBC given them a chance. Just a couple months ago, CBS's hit sitcom "How I Met Your Mother" was put up on Netflix and there's been a small bump in ratings since then. Also, all my friends who watch most of their TV on Hulu and Netflix are watching "How I Met Your Mother" and talking about it for the first time despite the show having been on for seven seasons.
In the end, it seems that the folks at WB refuse to do these internet streaming things because they fear it will eat into their DVD/Blu-Ray sales. However, I don't believe it. I may not be the average customer, but I didn't buy the Blu-Rays of every season of Chuck until I had watched every episode available. If I cannot rent the disc or view the main feature content online, I will not purchase the product unless it is ridiculously cheap. For me, I see Chuck as something I may want to re-watch in a couple years or share with friends (and I have already), and that's why I want the Blu-Ray. But I would have never bought the discs if I had to search the show's back episodes out illegally. The show needs to be accessible in order to increase viewership and sales, and especially in the last six months, this seems to be the farthest from NBC and Warner's minds. If these ideas were better executed, the show would not be the only thing going out on a graceful note; the folks who own the content would be happy with a sound investment not squandered.