With Hulu’s second annual Best in Show winner announced, we spoke to “Chuck” co-creator Chris Fedak to see if he’d share some thoughts on his show winning the competition and talk to us about the series and the growth of its characters over the last four years.
Hi Chris, we were hoping to talk to you about “Chuck” and how it won Hulu’s Best in Show. I have to admit I was surprised a little bit, because it won by a landslide, over “Dexter.”
Chris Fedak, co-creator, “Chuck”: Well, first of all, thank you so much. It’s great to win, and we’re always in awe of our fans. They’re an amazing group. They’ve been fantastic to the show in years past and we’ve always relied upon then. I guess it’s kind of a testament to how much they really did the show, and we really like making the show for them, so it’s really cool.
“Chuck” beat out three other critically acclaimed shows — “Modern Family,” “Community,” and “Dexter.” We asked this of Josh Gomez [who plays Chuck’s sidekick, Morgan, on the show]: Do you think this indicates that “Chuck” belongs in the pantheon of all-time greatest TV shows?
Wow. I think it when it comes to the greatest of all time TV pantheon, I’ll let the critical historians 100 years from now make that decision. We’re just excited to be on the air, making our show, and being the absolute best action-spy comedy set inside a big box store that we could possibly be. We’re of course huge fans of all of those shows. It’s great, but I think I’ll leave the absolute pantheon to the experts.
Speaking of big box stores, I have to ask how that came about. “Chuck” came out at about the same time as “Reaper,” both taking place inside megastores. What is it about that kind of environment that inspired you?
Essentially, you have to go back to 2007. Imagine the fact there was actually two shows with a strong big box component that also had a strong genre component. At the time, Josh [Schwartz, co-creator of “Chuck”] and I were just amazed that there was going to be two shows. We thought obviously we would be the only show doing this. It didn’t turn out to be the case. The show is a mash-up. It’s a combination of one part “The Office,” one part “24,” one part “Alias.” When you mash those shows together, what happens? What we were really excited about is if you built the show like something like “The Office,” where you essentially met all these characters and you loved them, and then how terrifying it would be if Sydney Bristow or Jack Bauer came into the office, because you knew, when those people showed up, that someone was going to get shot, and someone was going to get tortured, and someone was going to get killed. That’s where the initial germ of the “Chuck” show came from. So the big box store was always there at the beginning. That was the basis for the idea: what happens when people from another genre, from an action show, walk into that world. It’s made for a really fun show that’s always been about bending genres. It’s been a lot of fun for us to be working with something so unique.
We asked our guest critic, HitFix’s Alan Sepinwall, what he thought was the secret formula to “Chuck.” And he said it was made with a lot of love directed at its characters and pop culture. What do you think of that?
I think it’s spot-on. I think this is a show designed for people who 1) love pop culture, 2) love TV, and 3) love movies and music. And in some ways, it’s also a love letter to spy shows from the past. When you take all those things together, we don’t have the largest audience in the world, but we do have an audience that just adores the show and really digs what we do. It’s made for that kind of passionate fan base that we talked about earlier. For us, it’s exciting to make as how that can be that specific and have fun with that.
Much has been made of the Subway campaign from 2009. Are you guys still seeing some sort of residual impact of this?
Well my father tells me he still goes to Subway every night we have an episode air, so I think there is some residual. You’d have to ask the experts at Subway if they see an uptick on Monday nights from “Chuck” viewing parties. It’s one of those things where it was very exciting in Season 2 when it was a toss up if we were going to come back or not, and the Subway campaign was a really clever idea by our fans to show how they could influence the show — and of course, looking at our integration partner Subway was a great way to kind of show their support for the show. It was a very clever and savvy campaign by our fans. I think that also speaks to our fans: it’s a very bright crowd. Our fans know about every campaign associated with our show. It’s kind of amazing. We’ve had two seasons since then.
I think that’s a true testament — people typically hate product integration.
The one benefit we have with product integration with our show is that we did set our story inside a store. So that helps a little bit.
Let’s talk about Season 4. I’d say the characters have grown a bit; you’ve shown that they can progress beyond that post-college world where they don’t know where their future lies. What have been some of your favorite moments this season?
I think this season has really been about change, especially for our characters. The show started off as a show about a quarter-life crisis, with Chuck not sure what he wanted to do with his life. But it’s now four years later, so he’s much more of a man than he used to be. Just from Chuck’s perspective, we’ve had some great moments this season where he’s coming to realize that he needs to take the next step with Sarah Walker. Just looking at this season, I immediately think about episode 13 when he finally asked Sarah to marry him. It’s really bookended by episode 11, where he starts to ask her to marry him, and in episode 13 after the birth of his niece, in the hallway with the someone vacuuming at the far end of the hall, he decides to ask Sarah to marry him. I think for us, just working on the show, that was just an epic moment that we’ve been building to for four years. Much like, in the same episode, Ellie and Awesome giving birth to their child. It’s so interesting to take these characters who in the pilot only had a couple of lines and progress them through the show this season.
I think that Chuck seeing his mom for the first time and beginning to understand her backstory and why she left so many years ago was also a very important component to his journey this year. We’re working on our season finale now where, for him to have a happy ending and for him to survive, he’s going to have to become the hero he has to be. If he can do it, this is his greatest test. The finale will very much be a giant moment for Chuck Bartowski moving forward.
You’ve had an incredible run of guest stars through the years. Who have been your favorites, and who can we look forward to seeing in the rest of the season?
Back in the day, we’d say we were the “Love Boat” of spy shows. We found it really fun to write for guest stars. Just off the top of my head, I’d say there’s people like Chevy Chase who, in Season 2, was amazing to work with and actually write that character, Chevy Chase as a villain. I think we were the first show to kill off Chevy Chase, which is kind of a shocking thing to do. I’m kind of amazed my that. We’ve also had John Larroquette. I was a huge “Night Court” fan for many years. It was great to not only introduce him as Roan Montgomery but also to bring him back this season. That’s the kind of fun thing about our show. We’ve built this spy world, much like “Alias,” which is one of my favorite shows and helped to rejuvenate the genre. In Season 4, we revisit this spy world with guest stars like Dolph Lundgren. But I really enjoyed the character of Alexei Volkoff [played by former James Bond Timothy Dalton, and named after the Russian wrestler Nikolai Volkoff, a nod to Chris’ days as a WWF fan]. We’ll get to see him again in our next episode.
Now what about the season finale? Since the fate of “Chuck” hasn’t been decided yet, will you leave things hanging?
We’ve always been inclined to do really crazy season finale episodes. This one is called “Chuck vs. the Cliffhanger,” so you know it’s going to be a big one.