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October 9, 2015

'Chuck' Co-Creator Chris Fedak on "Season 3.2"

by Joel Keller, posted Apr 21st 2010 3:04PM
Zach Levy as 'Chuck'If the last episode of 'Chuck' felt like a season finale... well, it's because it was. The episode was initially supposed to have a thirteen episode season, but NBC decided to order another six episodes. According to Chris Fedak, who co-created the show with Josh Schwartz, the good news came at an opportune time: as they were writing episode thirteen.

In our wide-ranging talk, Fedak and I talked about how the pickup affected the writing process, how the new dynamic between the characters on the show is playing out, if he fears the energy will fizzle, why Tony Hale wasn't around this year, and if he's confident the show will get a season four.

(Warning: Fedak talked fast, so this is a long interview, with a very minor spoiler near the end. But there's a ton of good info for 'Chuck' fanatics, so read and enjoy!)

At what point in the season did you get the go ahead from NBC to go from thirteen to 19 episodes?
We were actually in the process of writing episode thirteen. So we had to kind of go back into the story a little bit and kind of rejigger things to come up with a modified episode thirteen that has a lot of the big finale components to it, but also, a lot of it for us was (how we were) going to push some of that to the second half of the season.

But really, when it came down to it, we were in a position where we needed to tell more story. Which essentially is to push into what would have been a season four. So really, what we did was, we kind of created two seasons. There was the first half, which was the first thirteen episodes. And then the second side of it is essentially season 3.2.

What made you guys decide to keep that, some of the elements that tied some of the stories up? It felt more like a season finale in that way.
I think that we had constructed the season very tightly, but we knew that we had thirteen episodes. We didn't know if we were going to get a season four or even more, a bigger order, especially considering where we were going to be launching in the year. So when we were looking at that, we had decided, when we were looking at those first thirteen episodes, that well, let's tell the most exciting thirteen stories we can imagine.

And the key part of it was, that we wanted at the very end of the thirteenth episode, we wanted to put Chuck and Sarah together. So that kind of the heart of the season was that romantic component, was the Chuck-Sarah relationship.

There was also the big thing too, which is that we wanted to have Morgan come into Chuck's spy life, because we were really excited by the idea that Chuck needed his Alfred. He needed his Q. He needed his spy assistant. And that Morgan Grimes, in a way, was someone that really would fit really in a kind of fun and interesting way into the show, into the spy side of the show. So we knew we wanted to do those things.

And then when we got the order for six more episodes, all those things were in motion, to the extent that if we had tried to pad out the season and to take Sarah and Chuck getting together and put that at episode 19, I think it would have felt very, it would have felt dramatically unfulfilling.

And I think, and just for us as storytellers, we knew that we needed to have, by episode thirteen, with the story that we were building, with the Shaw character and how he had changed in his arc, and how it affected Chuck and Sarah, that they had to be together at the end of thirteen. And that Chuck, you know, that the first kill, his first spy mission where he would shoot a gun and kill a spy would be tied into that. So all those things had to come together in episode thirteen.

Yvonns Strahovski and Zach Levy in 'Chuck vs. The Angel de la Muerte'What made you guys decide to not draw out the "Will they/won't they" part of the Chuck-Sarah relationship past that thirteenth episode?
Well I think there's always a degree of neuroses when facing this type of problem. I'm always very anxious about, you know, you're essentially messing with the dynamic of the show, the very core of the show, when you change something up. And we've done that a couple times on our show, and I think that it's always benefited the show. Like Morgan finding out about Chuck's spy life, like Awesome finding out about Chuck's spy life. Or Sarah and Chuck, in a big way, (with) Sarah and Chuck actually now being together as a couple.

But I think there's also the math and science of the "will they/won't they." And I think that the writers, are all fans of television, and we watch way too much of it. And so we kind of understand that we know that there's a shelf life for the "Will they/won't they." And that at a certain point, you have to make a decision of going one way or the other.

But the ace card that we had is that we had two stupendous actors in Yvonnne Strahovski and Zach Levi. They're incredibly funny and charming. And I think the 'shippers or the fans who really are into the relationship side of the show know that deep down, they know that they're great together. And I think that's one of the reasons we wanted to send out our episode fourteen, 'Chuck vs. the Honeymooners,' is because it was great to watch them finally together, and to see just how charming they are as a couple.

One of our readers looked on Epguides and saw that the season finale was entitled 'Chuck vs. the Ring, Part Two.'
Yeah, 'Chuck vs. the Ring part Two.'

That could mean more than one ring. So how permanent is this pairing? Is it in your blood as a writer to feel like you need to see if this is going to be good creatively before you figure out whether they're permanent or whether they're going to break up?
Well, I should say we've actually wrapped on the season. Because of how early we started, we've kind of been, production's always been kind of well ahead of our episodes airing. So the episodes have either been written or shot by the time we've gotten feedback.

I think that we as the producers are super excited by what we've seen for the show, and what we've seen for the Chuck and Sarah relationship, and just how great they are together. I think that from a storytelling perspective, I'm hesitant to promise that the sail off into the sunset and live happily ever after. Because nothing is ever that easy, and especially nothing in television. Nothing in storytelling is ever that easy. There's always going to be challenges.

So I don't have a strong urge to break them up simply to break them up. That wouldn't be fun. I think that would be unfulfilling.

Are you ever worried that Chuck and Sarah are going to fizzle out as a couple? Because the "will they/won't they" tension was the energy that kind of kept the whole show going, in a lot of respects.
I'm afraid of just about everything when it comes to storytelling on television. I have a great deal of anxiety whenever it comes to, you know, how things are going to work. The thing that's always stayed with us is that we have excellent writing and excellent actors who can (pull it off), and we're aware of what's been done before.

I think we're very lucky in the sense that with the first thirteen episodes, we were able to tell a very tightly-knit story for Chuck and Sarah. And that coming into the mix of stuff, going into episode 19, we've actually expanded the show out so it's not like every episode has to be about Chuck and Sarah. We have some spy stories, we have mythology, we have Morgan. And now Morgan and Casey are essentially their own junior spy team. And they're fantastic together. And that's neat.

Zach Levy and Scott Bakula in 'Chuck vs. The Ring'I think that the important thing for the show is that it's not just one thing. So Chuck and Sarah are definitely very much the heart of the show. Their relationship is something we've been tracking since the pilot. I think that what these next six episodes have allowed us to do is that the relationship is now just one part of it. And with the return of of Scott Bakula as (Chuck's dad) Steven, who's just wonderful when he returns to the show, is that we also get a feel for the bigger story, for the spy story, and how the Bartowski family folds into all this.

Can you give us any indication of how Chuck's dad is going to come back?
Well, I think that you know, Steven J. Bartowski, when he does come into Chuck's life, he's a person who's been involved in the spy world. And when we last saw him, he had spent an incredible amount of time trying to get the Intersect out of his son's head. And much of what we're going to be dealing with coming up is that Chuck's now decided to be a spy. And that decision, in episode 22 last season when he uploaded the Intersect 2.0 to save Sarah and Casey and to be a hero, that's very much what this season is about. And the next few episodes will be dealing with the ramifications of that.

Is it good to have a neophyte spy with Morgan being on board? Because Chuck's not really that way anymore, now that he's got the Intersect 2.0 in him and he can do a lot of stuff he couldn't do.
Well, I think two things. One, I would say is that Chuck is always going to be Chuck Bartowski. It's important to the show and I think it's also so much a part about how Zach imbues Chuck with kind of a regular guy (vibe) and that's a part of the show.

Zach Levy and Joshua Gomez in 'Chuck Vs. The Beard'But you're absolutely right. What's been great for us this season is that bringing Morgan into the spy world with another person, another newbie, kind of a virgin to the spy world, who becomes our eyes and sometimes our voice for how incredible the spy world is, and how whackadoodle it can be. It needs to have another person. And Josh Gomez (who plays Morgan), last season when we were talking about season three, he was just so excited to kind of be able to be the new audience, to be the new kind of fish out of water in the spy world.

How were you able to get around the lower budget from a creative aspect? There were episodes where not every cast member was around. Will we kind of see more of the whole crew, especially the Buy More crew in the next six episodes?
Well you're certainly going to see the Buy More crew in the next six episodes. They're so very much a part of the show, and I agree, this season we did have to parse out our episodes a little differently so that, you know we had to essentially tell the story in such a way that we wouldn't have everybody in every episode.

However, when we do have the whole cast in an episode, it's just that much greater. So we are going to have more of the Buy More the next six episodes. The one thing (the lower budget) did allow us to do is that when we had to focus on one specific (group), be it Ellie and Awesome, or the Buy More, it allowed us to spend more time with them in those episodes. But yeah, but it was certainly a challenge.

Are we going to see more guest Buy More employees, like you had with Michael Strahan? I've seen a couple of guest shots here and there, but we haven't seen the guest shots to the degree we saw last year.
You know, it's funny, I think actually if we were actually to compare both seasons, I think it would be comparable, the number of guest stars between the two seasons. But I would love to do more stories with like Michael Strahan coming to the Buy More like last season. We have Julia Ling returning to the show, which is great. And that's a part of the Buy More story.

We actually really enjoy bringing guest stars onto the show. It's just going back to the idea that we all love television. You know, we grew up on shows like 'Fantasy Island' and 'Love Boat,' so the idea of bringing in guest stars, we're not against the idea. And if we offer to bring in stars that people kind of have an idea of who they are, we can play with that idea. Either make them villainous, or make them funny, or make them scary.

There's another new component to the show, that when we bring in someone who's funny, like Andy Richter, or Diedrich Bader from episode nine of this season, is if people who are funny, and when they play a villainous part, it's really neat to see them sink their teeth...especially their comic chops. They can really find interesting and dark things to do with our villain characters. And that's been kind of a neat thing for the show, and I'd love to do more of that.

Tony Hale as Emmett Milbarge on 'Chuck'Speaking of villains, I heard a rumor that Tony Hale might be on his way back to the show as Milbarge?
That would have to be a rumor at the moment. But I would love to figure out a way to bring Tony Hale back to the show. We killed him in episode one of this year, and Emmett Milbarge certainly took a bullet to the head. It's gonna require a great deal of math and science to conceive a way of getting him back to the show. But we have spent a lot of time thinking about it, because he's just so wonderful. Tony Hale is fantastic. Every day I can't believe we actually killed him. So it's something I think about quite a bit.

What went into you guys deciding OK, we're going to kill Milbarge?
Well, there was certainly the budget issue. That was certainly something we had to deal with early on in the season. Because it was a story we set up and we just had... it was just... so there was the budget. And the second part of it was that (in) this season of 'Chuck,' we wanted to surprise people. Because we've taken the show and we've really tested the bounds of the show by kind of pushing Chuck into the spy world, by having him want to be a spy, and what that means. Essentially, does he have the mettle to do this?

So we knew we were going to be going through some interesting and different places that people wouldn't expect. And so with Milbarge's death in episode one, it was a shocking moment (where) we kind of wanted to (say) that this is a show that no one is safe. That was really exciting and unsettling, but also, it showed just what a game-changing season this would be for Chuck. I have to use "game-changing" at least once in an interview.

Because you figure it just encapsulates things so perfectly?
I just always find myself using the term "game-changer." I think I'm going to have to remove it from my vocabulary entirely. So I apologize.

How confident are you now, this year, compared to last year at this time, that NBC's going to be picking up the show for another season?
You know, in truth, I know just as much as you do. We've got a great season. We have an excellent relationship with NBC, and with the studio. But in the end, it's just, I just don't know. I don't have any inside information. We're of course working on season four, and ideas for season four, that are kind of amazing and fun, and I'm really super stoked about telling that story. But when it comes to the TV goddess, I just say I don't know how to read the tea leaves all that well.

So you didn't read into any of the stuff that was going on with NBC and Leno and Conan, and all the openings that they suddenly had for dramas and hour-long shows in January?
I think that right now, the most important thing for our show is just that, these next six episodes, that when we come back with 'Chuck vs. the Honeymooners,' is just trying to get as many people to watch the show live as (we) possibly can. And anything else is really just speculation.

What do you guys think of that Monday time slot? Do you guys wish that you were a little bit free of that log jam on Mondays, or are you just happy that you're on the air no matter where?
Well, I would say the most important thing is yeah, we're most excited just to be on the air. To have our spot, and to have our audience. We do seem to have like a very loyal audience on a very competitive night. But it is an incredible night for television. Eight o'clock on Monday night is a very tough spot. But we have our loyal viewers. And that means a lot to us.

If you had the opportunity to sit down Monday at 8, and 'Chuck' wasn't on -- I don't know if you watch 'Chuck' when it's on, because you're so involved in it...
I actually still do. I actually still do watch the show. I watch it when it's on the air. I watch it live. It's kind of like the last moment to experience it with my wife and my kid.

Do you clue them in on what's going to happen in the episode beforehand?
You know, it's funny. My wife, used to be, back in the day, she would want all the spoilers and what we were going to do. But she much more just enjoys watching the show, real time, and having the surprises come surprise her. My daughter is only eleven months old, so she's not... we're lucky if she's not just vomiting on me or something along those lines.

If you weren't watching 'Chuck,' what show would you be watching at eight o'clock on Monday?
I would be watching the channel that I would imagine 'Chuck' (is) on. But Monday night at 8:00, it's all great television. And as a superfan of television, I watch everything. So I'm, yeah, I think first and foremost, I would watch 'Chuck,' but you know, I'm certainly a fan of all the other shows on, you know, Monday, and throughout the week.

By the way, if you guys do get picked up, I guess we'll see you again at Comic-Con? Is there a shot of that?
Absolutely. We loved Comic-Con. We did it our first season with the pilot, and people went kind of crazy for it, and it was wonderful. And I think that yeah, if we get picked up, we would certainly be back at ComiCon, and we certainly would try to come up with something crazy to do this year as well.

Scott Krinsky and Vik Sahay in 'Chuck vs. The BeardJeffster acoustic was good. I liked them a lot in the episode coming back. I thought that was excellent.
Oh great! Yeah, Jeffster's certainly a part of the rest of the season. Vik (Sahay) and Scott (Krinsky) are wonderful.

I think bagpipes for them might be next. That might work.

Bagpipes, interesting. Actually, yes, Jeffster also factors very importantly into our season finale, so I hope you dig it.

[Follow @joelkeller on Twitter.]

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kevin brown

Chuck is the BEST SHOW on television right now. It's got all the elements of greatness. It has suspense that literally had me, my dad, and a friend of the family, almost yelling at the t.v. saying, 'I CAN'T BELIEVE THAT JUST HAPPENED!!!' It is a show that the family can watch, its got aciton, and the romance with Chuck and Sarah is just one of the best romances I have ever seen in a series in years. Yes, now they are together and i heard a few people mention, how are the producers gonna pull off a new season after he's got the girl? Well, if they can make an incredible show, then they can certainly get the help of perhaps other producers to make Chuck a great show like it has been since it's aired. I mean, other shows not as good have survivied a LOT longer, and I don't see why a GREAT show would be taken off after he just got his woman. Yeah, the excitement of the chase is over for Chuck, but it's the begining of a whole new era of the show! They could go on missons around the world together, they could do so much, I mean I understand there are some boundaries and things like that. But I mean, as far as ideas for Chuck, there are other things they could do. The buy more, there's other celebs they could bring in, they could have contests that would involve the fans. A contest to meet the crew or something would keep the ratings up. I mean just a few things would keep the fire of Chuck kindeled and burning strong for another so many seasons I think. It's just a matter of getting ideas on paper. That's my opinion on the situation of a new season.

May 02 2010 at 5:06 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

these last six episodes are going to be the Crowning moments of AWESOME!!!! Can't wait. =)

April 21 2010 at 7:21 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Just the Facts

NBC if you do not pick up Chuck, I will not watch a single pilot in the new season. If you are going to cancel great shows like Chuck, you will just cancel any new show I like as well.

I'm still upset about Life.

April 21 2010 at 6:14 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to Just the Facts's comment
Matthew P. Christensen

I loved LIFE. It almost made me give up on Chuck, but I kept around just to see where it was going.

April 22 2010 at 5:37 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I so agree!

April 26 2010 at 5:28 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Tony DIMeo

this season has been a huge game-changer NBC better pick it up for a season 4

April 21 2010 at 3:41 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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