We live in an odd world. Last night NBC aired what it referred to as a “Chuck sandwich.” It was an episode of Chuck followed by The Celebrity Apprentice followed by another Chuck. In my world I'd call that a Celebrity Apprentice sandwich (you wouldn't call turkey on rye a “rye sandwich,” would you?), but apparently NBC does things differently.
The exact goal was unclear; some have referred to NBC's tactic as simply “burning off” the last new episodes of Chuck that were produced before the WGA strike. Others have suggested that NBC's plan may, at one time, have been to leverage the good ratings the new Apprentice received to bring new fans to Chuck as the execs had faith in the scripted spy comedy.
The precise thoughts that would have gone into this second option are decidedly murky. It is true that Chuck may have garnered new fans had the Celebrity Apprentice's ratings maintained the level that the show premiered at, but to what end? Will people remember months from now (it is entirely within the realm of possibility that the next new Chuck will air in October, if a new episode is in fact ever made) that they enjoyed the show, or were they just bored on a Thursday night oh so long ago? People tuned out Heroes last spring after the show disappeared for months, why would people suddenly tune in to something else that they had seen even less of?
The cast of Chuck, which hosted last night's sandwich, promised that they'd be back “soon” with all-new episodes, but even in the best of circumstances (the writers' strike ending today), it would probably take no less than six weeks to rush an episode to air. Famously, Aaron Sorkin was able to write and have filmed an episode of The West Wing, “Isaac and Ishmael,” that was a response to the 9/11 attacks which aired less than a month later (it premiered October 3). That was a rushed production, with minimal sets and, even for Sorkin, a lot of speechifying. Chuck can't possibly get away with such an episode, even if they had something as very grave to discuss.
As much fun as the show is, and as much as I want it to return with new episodes “soon,” it won't. At least “soon” in the sense that I mean it. The best case scenario at this point is that if the strike ends quickly there will be a couple of episodes ready for the May Sweep, and that's it. As it's still January, I'm not going to call that “soon.”
On the plus side, the DGA worked out a deal to avoid a second strike and informal talks between AMPTP and the WGA are starting up. The DGA model ought to help pave the way for a writers' one. I guess that if things aren't worked out soon we can count on Deal or No Deal airing on even more nights this fall.