Sunday, March 28, 2010

Why I stopped watching "Chuck."

I feel like I've been ignoring the television side of things. To tell the truth I haven't been watching much television lately and there are few shows currently being broadcast that I'm actively following. My regular roster has been whittled down to about three or four prime time shows, "At the Movies," and "60 Minutes," and I can safely say that I watch more late night programming than anything else. Reaching this low didn't happen all at once, and in the spirit of over-analytical navel-gazing, it wasn't a simple process either. I suppose the easiest way to explain this is to provide the specific example of why I stopped watching "Chuck."

After hearing people rave about "Lost" and "Battlestar Galactica," and missing the fun of having appointment TV to look forward to like "Buffy" and "The X-files" from the 90s, I started watching a bunch of new genre programs at the start of the '07-'08 season, including "Pushing Daisies," "The Bionic Woman," "Moonlight," "Reaper," and "Chuck." This was quickly whittled down to "Chuck" and "Pushing Daisies." Both shows were funny and geeky, had great production values, and were smartly written by good writers. They were also both victims of the '07-'08 writers strike, which left all of these freshman shows with severely truncated first or second seasons. "Pushing Daisies," my favorite of the lot, was axed midway through the second season, with the final episodes burned off over the summer months. "Chuck" received steady network support, however, and secured second and third seasons with the help of a vocal fan-campaign.

I, on the other hand, didn't make it to the midseason point with the second season of "Chuck." The most obvious reason was scheduling. FOX moved "House" to Mondays at 8PM, directly competing in the same timeslot as "Chuck". Because I didn't have a VCR or DVR, it was easier for me to watch "House" live and catch episodes of "Chuck" online. "House" is also available online through Hulu, but there's a significantly longer delay involved between the broadcast airings and when they become available online. So I watched the first few second season "Chuck" episodes through the NBC website weekly, but started putting off viewings for longer and longer periods of time until I finally lost interest and stopped altogether.

I can't say for sure whether or not the decision to stop watching the live broadcasts of "Chuck" sped up my decision to give up on the show, but I can say that once I stopped making time to see the show, I lost a good deal of investment in it. I think I would have dropped "Chuck" at some point regardless, because of changes in the show's content. I realized that the parts I enjoyed all involved the scruffy crew at the Buy More where the main character worked, and I was getting less and less patient with the spy drama aspect of the show and the endless teases about Chuck Bartowski potentially becoming involved with his beautiful blonde protector, Agent Walker.

I might have kept watching simply based on the show being part of my routine schedule, which is why I stuck around for all those lousy later seasons of "The X-Files." But once I started watching "Chuck" online, the sense of immediacy I got from the live broadcasts disappeared, and the weaknesses of the material started to weigh a lot heavier. Once I found another show that gave me the same geeky shenanigans, along with a couple where the nebbish protagonist had already firmly established couple-dom with the show's resident hot blonde girl, there was no going back. This was "The Big Bang Theory," which is not available online through any free sites, and it eventually knocked NBC's "Heroes" out of my viewing schedule too.

I don't think it's a coincidence that the networks that are doing the best now, CBS and FOX, have significantly higher barriers to accessing their first-run content than their competitors NBC and ABC. Online content is characterized by universal accessibility, so the urgency to watch anything is seriously diminished. And there are so many viewing choices available online, including original content, commercial programming can get lost in the din unless you're looking for it specifically. The shows that I still watch online now are ones that I tend to be diligent about keeping track of the scheduling for: "The Daily Show," "The Colbert Report," "Project Runway," and "The Venture Brothers," among others. Part of watching anything online is actively seeking it, which means the simple act of viewing a program is no longer a passive activity. Casual viewing is rare, and quality counts for more than ever.

"Chuck" is a good show, and has a lot to offer to geeks of a certain age and temperament. I enjoyed seeing Morgan evolve from slacker to someone worthy of the lowest rung of middle management. And I enjoyed Chuck using the timeless music of Rush to reach the kill screen of Missile Command. And I really loved Jeffster's rousing performance of "Mr. Roboto" at Ellie's wedding, though I watched that last one online after the video went viral. Maybe I'll give "Chuck" another shot one of these days when the show reaches its conclusion and I can pick up the whole thing on DVD and fast-forward through the angsty soap-opera bits.

Or maybe I won't.

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