TV Writers vs. Early Pickups [updated May 26]

Gray Jones (me) with Chuck co-creator Chris Fedak
Gray Jones (me) with Chuck co-creator Chris Fedak

Time to dust off my blog.

In case this is the first time you’re visiting, I’m a reality TV editor / writer located in Toronto, Canada. I have a great love of scripted shows, and in particular of NBC’s Chuck, about which I host one of the world’s leading podcasts, “Chuck vs. the Podcast.” I have met all of Chuck’s writers personally, shared meals with them, seen where they work, and personally interviewed all of them at least once (except for Josh Schwartz – still working on that one).

On to the network news this week…

Overall, I’m incredibly excited.  Most of my favorite shows are back — in particular, “Chuck,” “V,” and “Smallville” all could have been axed because of low ratings, but their respective networks have thankfully considered more than just the Neilsen numbers.

The only sad omission for me was “Heroes,” but that was not unexpected. It wasn’t just the ratings… As happened with “Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles,” my Monday night TV group had gradually lost interest in Heroes long before the ratings declined. That said, I followed it to the end, and would be very happy if NBC tied up the series with a 2 or 4 hour TV movie, as has been rumored.

Also, I have a long list of new series that I’m eager to check out. “The Cape” (NBC) looks promising, and not just because of Summer Glau. “Undercovers” (NBC), about a spy couple, created by Josh Reims and J.J. Abrams? Oh, yeah! I loved the quirky movie “Outsourced,” and am eager to see what NBC can do with this story in series form. I’m a sucker for superheroes, so ABC’s “No Ordinary Family” is a no-brainer for me, particularly since my favorite TV writer, Ali Adler, will be involved.

But isn’t Ali Adler one of the key writers for Chuck? Ay, there’s the rub.

In fall 2009, it was announced that Scott Rosenbaum, one of the senior writers and executive producers for Chuck, was selected by ABC to become the new showrunner for V, starting with the 5th episode. Great call, by the way – with Skeeter at the helm it has quickly become one of my favorite shows.

Then, on Thursday of this week, we found out that another senior writer and executive producer, Matt Miller, would be leaving Chuck to be the showrunner for another WB-produced show, “Human Target.” Great news for Human Target! But for Chuck?

Well, at least we have senior writer and executive producer Ali Adler… oops! On Friday, Ali broke the news that in the void before NBC announced Chuck’s fate, she had accepted ABC’s offer to write for No Ordinary Family. She says it was very tough, and she will miss her Chuck family and the devoted fans.

One other Chuck writer was in a similar position… Phil Klemmer.  When Chuck’s demo ratings dropped to 1.9, renewal wasn’t looking very good. It was a very hard decision to make, but when a job offer came from another show (NBC’s “Undercovers”), he had to go with the “bird in the hand.”

Gray Jones (me) with Chuck writer Phil Klemmer
Gray Jones (me) with Chuck writer Phil Klemmer

Before we continue, please read this enlightening article by Nellie Andreeva on the effect of early pickups on writing staffs.

So should we fault the writers?

Let’s consider the landscape, particularly for a writer on one of the many shows in the bubble range. Even a critically acclaimed or well-rated show can be canceled or have its budget cut. In pilot season, writers take home stacks of pilot scripts, trying to get a sense of which shows they could aim for if they lose their job. When the time comes, they will have to think very quickly, because if they make the wrong decision, they could A) take a job on a show that only lasts a few episodes, or B) wait too long and miss out completely. If the latter happens, they may have to wait as much as a whole year for the next viable staffing season.

Not only that, but when a writer is offered a job on another show, there is a long line of other writers waiting to take that same position. There is usually a ticking clock on the offer, and if that clock runs out, the job instantly goes to someone else.

Writing salaries may seem high, but so is the cost of living in Los Angeles. These writers have mortgages, car loans, health care costs, and mouths to feed just like the rest of us. Imagine going a year without work? It’s not like these writers can go on Craigslist or look at job websites to find a job.

A case in point is Chuck. It was one of the last renewals to be announced. With two straight weeks of 1.9 ratings and strong new pilots getting buzz, renewal was never a sure thing. NBC could not promise jobs to the writers before announcing their decision. Should these writers have waited for the upfronts on May 17th? By then, the clocks would have run out on their offers long before, almost all of the staff positions would have been filled, and they would’ve had at best slim pickings.

I’ve got a family to support. I know what I would do in that situation. Wouldn’t you?

So should we fault the networks?

Well… I’ll let you decide this on your own. As for me, I try to look at the positive. Chuck could have been canceled completely! Is that what we would’ve wanted? And who knows what goes on behind closed doors. If NBC had been pressured to an early decision, that decision might easily have been “No.”

Where the magic happens - Chuck writers room
Where the magic happens – Chuck writers room

So where does that leave us? Let’s consider three things.

Firstly, new writers can bring much needed freshness to the table.  My favorite episode of Heroes was written by a writer’s assistant who had never written an episode of TV before. Rafe Judkins and Lauren LeFranc had only written a few episodes of the short-lived “My Own Worst Enemy,” and yet their first and second episodes of Chuck, “Chuck vs. the Tic Tac” and “Chuck vs. the Honeymooners,” are two of my favorite episodes of season three (“Honeymooners” is in my top 5 for the whole series).

Secondly, it is part of a TV writer’s job description to write within the style & tone of a series and the voices of the characters. In order even to get the job, they have to show spec scripts that demonstrate these abilities.

Thirdly, the TV writing process is very collaborative, and has many fail-safes. First, a whole room of writers discuss the arcs of the characters and mythology for a season, and ideas for the various episodes. Then, they work together to “break” the stories into acts, sequences, scenes, and even beats within scenes. Next, individual writers are assigned to write drafts, and these drafts are brought back into the writers room for critiques and rewriting. Along the way, all the executive producers have a hand in running the room, which includes shaping and rewriting, giving notes on drafts, etc. Finally, there is the all-important showrunner pass, where the executive producer acting as showrunner will go through the script to tweak the dialogue so that it is consistent with the way the characters have spoken from the beginning. And that’s before the network and talented directors and creative departments weigh in. Then there’s a read-through with the cast, who can offer even more suggestions.

Do individual writers have strengths and weaknesses? Absolutely. However, if you look back at episodes of a well-written show, you will find that each writer can write for each character, and even experienced writers have stronger and weaker episodes. Once the collaboration is complete, the average viewer (stress “average”) can tell little difference between episodes written by different writers.

Do I have favorite writers? Yes. I will certainly miss Ali Adler. However, as Chuck fan Nicola Burke said, “LeJudkins. Dare I say it, they could be the new Ali 2.0.” I don’t think Rafe Judkins and Lauren LeFranc could replace Ali, but I can honestly say I’m just as excited now for a “LeJudkins” episode as I am for an Ali episode.

The next generation - Rafe Judkins and Lauren LeFranc
The next generation – Rafe Judkins and Lauren LeFranc

I’m sad to see these writers go. But I’m eager to see what new writers will bring to the table. And most of all, I’m ecstatic that we have more Chuck to look forward to.

Let’s keep up our support more than ever! If you want to ensure this doesn’t happen again, the only thing you can do is help get the ratings up. Please watch live, and tell all your friends to do the same! During the hiatus, let’s host viewing marathons, use social media, buy lots of copies of the three seasons on DVD to loan or give to our friends and family, and get as many new eyes on the TV as we can for when Chuck returns this fall!

The cup is half full. Actually, from my perspective, it’s a lot more than half.

– – – – – – –

[updated May 15, 2010, 7:15pm with details about Phil Klemmer]

[updated May 26, 2010, 4:15pm with more details about Phil Klemmer (NBC “Undercovers”)]

[Click here for a fun interview we had with Rafe Judkins and Lauren LeFranc on the podcast.]

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Gray Jones

Graham “Gray” Jones is a TV editor / writer located in Toronto, Canada. He hosts the TV Writer Podcast, partner of Script Magazine.

26 thoughts on “TV Writers vs. Early Pickups [updated May 26]”

  1. Great post. Especially the part about how it is a collaboration in the writer’s room. I think ‘Chuck’ is lucky to have such talented producers and creatives. And the fact that the actors all really own their roles, I don’t think we have anything to worry about with the recent news from Ali or Matt.

    I will say that I think ‘Chuck’ really, really needs a good story editor, esp. now that we’re going into season 4. Continuity is SO key, and ‘Chuck’ weaves a complicated story at times. That could only make it better.

  2. Hey, thanks for all of your input. This is an important topic going forward with Chuck, which is supposedly going to go some serious change in the next three episodes and into the fourth season.

    All I can say is I know that near 100% of the people reading this article is not the “average” viewer you refer to that can’t tell the difference between a writing style from episode to episode. If they are reading this article it is because they have noticed differences in writing styles from episode to episode, and they know which writers wrote their favorite episodes.

    Another is the failsafe. Although it has happened rarely I can think of at least a couple of episodes where we can see that the show-runner has failed to “tweak” the dialogue in such a way that keeps the characters consistent. In terms of Arks, I can think of one in particular that I think many remember as overstretched and stale, which this “failsafe” failed to prevent being filmed. I agree with the comment above, it is paramount that continuity is maintained, especially with all the “game changers” queued up for the last 3 episodes.

    Although I am not sure that having the writers mentioned stay would keep another misguided episode or sour ark from recurring, it is nice to know that there are “senior” (as you put it) experienced writers on the staff that know how these things work in that room collaborating to write fresh, interesting episodes that stay true to the qualities we value in Chuck.

    My point is is that as a Chuck fan it is extremely unsettling to see creative, experienced, beloved writers leaving a vacuum behind and just having to hope that the post of creating a quality episode of Chuck every week will be filled by a couple of largely untested writers. I hope you are right that they can repeat the performances we saw in Vs the tic-tac and honeymooners.

    Thanks for helping reassure us. I do feel a little better.

  3. Thank you for this very informative post. I think Chuck fans will miss their writers but I share your vision of the future. New writers can bring good idea and freshness. 4th season has not to be a suicide run because of the departure of some members of the team.
    Let’s hope they will have a great experience where they are going. They’re still, somewhere, part of the family.

  4. don’t know if you respond to any of these, but I was wondering how many eps ‘LeJudkins’ can write, as far as I am concerned, I’d let the super spy couple get written as many weeks as possible by the super writing duo – love their work.

  5. Thanks for this wonderful article. I just have a favor to ask. Next time you interview Josh or Chris. Can you ask them about that last scene in American Hero? Did Sarah pick Chuck or Dc? Or were we really no suppose to not know until Casey showed up? Its debateable either way and only the writers would really know their intention. Thank You and we really do appreciate everything that you are doing.

  6. Gray, you make some excellent, well-reasoned, thoughtful points. I’ll miss Ali Adler too, but I’m incredibly glad that she has a job still and will be able to pay her mortgage and feed her son…AND that Chuck is coming back. It’s a win-win situation as far as I’m concerned! And as you said, we get to look forward to excellent new writers like Rafe Judkins and Lauren LeFranc, and seeing what they can do! And really, what better fate could we wish for a TV writer than a job on Chuck?

  7. Hi,

    Thanks everyone for your feedback, and kind comments.

    One thing I probably should have mentioned in the post is that Rafe & Lauren are not the only pre-existing writers who are still there. The all-important co-creators Josh Schwartz and Chris Fedak are still both leading the room and writing scripts. Zev Borow, who co-wrote the Chuck comic book, isn’t going anywhere. Then there’s Max Denby, and of course Rafe & Lauren.

    One of the reasons Ali and Phil are so present in our minds is that they have appeared on the podcast many times, and have maintained a much more public presence than some of the other writers. Also, keep in mind that while they may have written drafts of some of our more preferred episodes, all of the writers in the room collaborate together on breaking the stories, and providing critiques and notes.

    Also remember that though I used the word “fail-safe,” there is no such thing as a 100% fail-proof story. Even the best movie, TV series, or book has weaker parts. Phil Klemmer was assigned to write the unpopular “Chuck vs. the Mask,” but what if Ali Adler had been chosen to write it instead? It would have had the same plot points, beats and scenes.

    Often a part of a story or even a whole episode just doesn’t work as well on the screen as it did in the room or on the page. In the case of the Shaw character, I think it actually might have worked very well with a different actor. It was bad luck that there was such a long arc written for this character, and his lack of chemistry with the other actors wasn’t really clear until two or three episodes in, by which point the commitment line had already long been passed.

    So… overall, only 33% of the writers room has been lost (not considering Scott Rosenbaum, who was already long gone). That means 67% of the writers are still there. Also, losing high-salary executive producers means they have the budget to bring in experienced writers to replace those who have left.

    Let’s stay positive! As Bethany said, it’s a win-win.

    Thanks,
    Gray.

  8. Gray, This is my first time on your blog and reading it really put me at ease. I’ve been a fan of Chuck vs. the Podcast for awhile now and really enjoy your insights. My biggest fear with some of the key writers leaving would have been maintaining the integrity of the main character’s backstories and histories. But as you pointed out, 67% of the staff who have written for the show in the past few seasons are still there as well as the Co-creators who have the ultimate say over the script. As another commentor pointed out, continuity is a key element for this show and important to its fan base. It’s my hope the new writing team will continue the tradition of continuity from the past few seasons. Of course, occasionally even long-time writers can make a faux-pas with backstory as I noticed in Chuck vs. The Tooth, when Chuck was telling Dr. Dreyfus that he had never done therapy before. I seem to remember a very special moment between Chuck and Sarah in her apartment in Season 2 (the Gary Cole episode), when he mentions that it took a lot of time and therapy to deal with his feelings about his dad leaving. But these things happen and doesn’t take away from the great writing of the show overall. I am so very happy Chuck has been renewed and per your very thoughtful comments I am very jazzed about the fresh perspectives new writers may bring. Long Live Chuck!

  9. phillymom makes a great point about continuity…I also remember Chuck telling Sarah about therapy. And this is why hiring a story editor, who would be in charge of making sure details like this were addressed, would be a good move for TPTB

  10. Hi Mizenkay and phillymom,

    I just wanted to point out that on scripted series like this, the less senior writers often act as story editors (and are credited as such). For instance, if you look at Zev Borow’s credits in IMDB, he is credited for writing 6 episodes of Chuck, but acting as story editor on 11 episodes:

    http://www.imdb.com/name/nm2859316/

    On to continuity errors…

    There is often creative license when writing a series such as this. You tell the story you need to within the context of a single episode, and ideally the season, but often little details are changed from season to season — hey, even actors are changed, like how Jimmy Olsen was played by 2 different actors in the series “Lois and Clark,” and if I remember correctly, the character was written quite differently too.

    For instance, in the Christmas episode of Chuck, Casey’s mom referred to him as “Johnny Boy.” That served that scene/episode very well, and was quite cute. However, later on, in season 3, a great storyline was invented, which involved his original identity being changed. This would clearly imply his mom would know him by his original name, not “Johnny.”

    The idea is that 99% of viewers either won’t notice those things, or will let them pass. The most important priority is “what works best within the context of this episode, and within this season.” On major points of mythology, absolutely you need to adhere to the “bible.” However, for minor details, even with a story editor you may decide to change things to suit the evolving story.

    In a perfect world, everything would match up. However, I for one would not want to prevent the great storyline of John Casey’s former identity, former fiancée, and daughter, just because of a throwaway line in one episode of a previous season.

    Cheers,
    Gray.

  11. Couldn’t he be Jonathan Alexander Colburn, thereby ensuring that he is indeed “Johnny boy” and Alex?

  12. Thanks for your response, Gray. I totally agree with you. The show’s overall story is what really matters, so I’m trying not to get caught up in the little details, cause that can drive you nuts. I kind of like to let each episode wash over me and usually that works great. Afterall, there is much suspension of disbelief required in a show such as this..that’s what makes it so much fun. BTW, after listening to the interview with Rafe and Lauren the other day on the podcast, I’m more excited than ever to have them on the writing team, thanks for all the great interviews this year. Regards, phillymom2

  13. All I can say when reading over the comments is that I was cautious to point out any specific problems… But I like the way you (Gray) just put it all out there, talking about a specific episode/arc/actor. Good for you.

  14. one thing I have learned over the years is that if you like a show, one of two things are VERY likely to happen: #1 the show gets the boot and disappears forever, or #2 the show makes a turn for the worst. I’m glad you mentioned heroes, ’cause that is a perfect example. Season 1 was great, afterwards it was a night time soap. Anyway, Chuck is one of the few shows I’ve seen that is able to give good action, plot, and humour all wrapped in one. Although I do fear what the change will do for season 4, I am a huge fan, and will continue to watch until the show ends, preferably on it’s own terms and not getting cancelled. Let’s keep Chuck alive.

  15. Not to be too pedantic, but in the christmas episode it’s Casey who refers to himself as “Johnny Boy”. He calls the person he is talking to “Mother” but we are given no indication who it is he’s speaking with.

    Under the circumstances it’s a pretty easy jump to assume he’s using pre-established code phrases to update other agents as to the situation in the Buy More and that it isn’t a continuity error.

  16. Hi Wayne,

    Cool, I like that take on it! I think a lot of us have been discussing that Christmas episode without going back to re-watch it.

    I think I’m going to actually rewatch all three seasons over the hiatus — I’m sure I’m going to catch a lot of stuff.

    Thanks,
    G.

  17. Hi Gray,

    I’m going to have to disagree with you about Shaw. Having seen Routh in interviews and other roles, I don’t believe he is the problem — if Shaw the character had a tenth of the charm of the Routh the actor, we wouldn’t still be asking ourselves what Sarah saw in him. I can take what I know about Sarah and guess what appeal Shaw might have had for her … but I shouldn’t have to. That isn’t the kind of ambiguity that serves the story.

    The problem with Shaw is unmistakably in the writing. He is a flat construct, and while an actor’s charm can sometimes add enough dimension to rescue a flat character, Shaw has the audience against him from the moment he arrives, because we know his sole function is to serve as an arbitrary obstacle to what we want to see. We never looked at Shaw and Sarah together and said, “You know that might not be such a bad thing after all,” or even “Sarah’s making a mistake, but knowing her, I know why she is making this particular mistake.”

    Contrast that with Hannah (or Lou or Jill). We may not have wanted Chuck and Hannah together any more than we wanted Sarah and Shaw together, be we understood what Chuck saw in Hannah. We understood what Sarah saw in Bryce and Cole Barker because we SAW what she saw in them (and we saw that she rejected both of these far more appealing and interesting men). But we never understood what was so compelling and unique about Shaw in Sarah’s eyes that she was willing to go against her decision not to get involved with men she works with, that she was willing to overcome his initial dislike of him, that she was willing to dust off her broken heart and start a relationship at all … If just a rebound, why Shaw rather than some other random handsome guy who she met in the part of her private life that we know nothing about?

    The hints and clues we’re given simply don’t convince us. Sure, he saved her life. But while Hannah is rightfully swept off her feet by Chuck saving her, for Sarah, having someone save her life is just another day at the office. If that’s all it took, she would have fallen for Casey years ago.

    We never believed in the relationship, so we were never really worried that Sarah would end up with Shaw, so there were no emotional stakes in the arc for us. And with no emotional stakes, as the audience, we just felt like we were being randomly jerked around.

    But Shaw could have worked. I recently heard him described as a “Two-Face” character, that the writers were showing us the journey of a good guy to a villain. The problem is that “Two-Face” lives in the wrong genre. Two-Face is native to a genre where characters change allegiance as easily as they change costumes, where life is drawn in bold strokes.

    Chuck lives in the spy genre, where characters seethe with hidden agendas and deception cloaked in charm. I never believed in Shaw’s journey from good to evil, because I never believed that Shaw was good. From the moment he arrived, I searched his actions and words for hints to his real agenda. Because of the genre, I never trusted him. If the writers wanted to show that journey to the dark side (and it could have worked, especially in ironic counterpoint to Chuck’s journey to manhood/will he lose his soul in the process arc) they needed to overcome the expectations that are just part of this genre. They needed to make the audience trust Shaw and then empathize with him and care bout him enough to follow him into darkness (shouting, “No, no, don’t do that!” all the way). If that had been what we saw, we might have hated Shaw, but we would have LOVED hating Shaw.

    I started watching Chuck this season, so I’m in the unique position of watching Season 3 while simultaneously going back to watch Seasons 1 and 2. I love the show, and it pains me to say it, but Season 3 is not nearly as strong as seasons 1 and 2. It’s not the cast (they are brilliant). It’s not the dialog or the stunt work or the jokes. It’s not the arcs. It’s not Shaw. It’s not that we’re not seeing the happy endings we think we want. It’s not that the it’s a downer. It’s that it is disappointing. Time and time again, we see set-ups that should pay off, and then they are robbed of their impact.

    Chuck can not possibly be an easy show to write, it walks on three legs and lives in two genres and, oh yeah, it’s funny, but that’s why we love it. And that’s why we care so much. That’s why we pay attention to details … and honestly, it’s not that we’re more attentive to these things than other audiences, we’re just more conscious of it and perhaps more vocal.

    I hope they get the writing mojo back for Season 4, because I want Season 5.

    Love the podcast

    Thanks,
    K

    (The above was accidently posted in the podcast window that linked to your blog. This is where it was supposed to post.)

  18. Hi K,

    Thanks for writing! I totally respect your well thought out opinion about Shaw, but I unfortunately don’t share it. I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree. My comments were from my opinion, which hasn’t changed since I wrote them.

    Many people loved Brandon Routh in Superman Returns — I thought he did a very good imitation of the way Christopher Reeve looked, spoke, and moved, but I found his performance didn’t engage me.

    I also believe that another actor who had greater chemistry with Yvonne Strahovski could have taken the role as written and made it more believable.

    Again, my opinion only — your mileage may vary.

    I definitely agree your position is “unique” — starting with season 3 and simultaneously going back to 1 & 2 won’t give you the same perspective as someone who watched chronologically, and had a different investment in the characters at the beginning of season 3. If you have the time, you may want to go back and re-watch from the beginning in order — I’m a strong proponent of watching shows the way the writers wrote them. Not that it would change everything, but it might affect your perception a little.

    Glad you’re looking forward to season 4 and hopefully 5… me too!

    Thanks,
    Gray.

  19. Hi Gray, been reading your posts for quite some time and while I think your thoughts are well thought out I tend to agree with K. The last episode with Shaw is the only ipisode that I could really buy into from a character perpective. I found myself asking the question … “what does Sarah see in Shaw?”. His character was only a 2 dimentional character when it should have been a 3 dimentional character. To be honist I think it would have been better to bring back Cole as a ring expert and give him another shot at Sarah rather than have Shaw (which always seemed to leave me with the thought … “Man I which they would just get on with it and kill Shaw off so Chuck and Sarah can get together as well know would eventually happen”.

    As always, I look forward to your well thought out comments.

    Rod

  20. Hi Rod,

    Thanks for your post. Definitely getting Cole back might have been a better decision both from the standpoint of casting and the story. Who knows, maybe that was even the initial plan and Jonathan Cake wasn’t available…?

    As for Shaw, I really don’t want to beat a dead horse here — we’ve discussed the Shaw character at great length on the podcast (particularly in our interviews with Mo Ryan and Jace Lacob). My impression has shifted slightly over the course of the season, and I do think that the Shaw character was much stronger in both “Chuck vs. the Other Guy” and the season finale. Could the character have been written differently? Absolutely. However, I’m pretty resolute in my opinion that a different actor could have made the role as written more believable and engaging.

    That is only an opinion — and at this point, talking about whether it was the writing, the casting, the directing, the acting, etc. is kind of a “chicken or the egg” situation. Now that Chuck and Sarah are a couple and Shaw is fully realized as a strong nemesis (if they choose to bring him back), I’m choosing to look expectantly at the future rather than dwell on the past.

    My two bits…

    Thanks,
    G.

  21. Hi Gray,

    Thank you for your thought-provoking response.

    Reluctantly, I have to agree with you about Superman Returns. But I wasn’t thrilled by any of the performances in that film, including those of Spacey and Posey, so I am inclined to suspect problems on the page. Moreover, in Routh’s case, I have to additionally allow that a relatively unknown actor in a big budget feature who was cast specifically on the strength of his Reeve impression might not be in a position to make bold acting choices.

    And yes, I agree with you that the ideal way to see a show is to start at the beginning and follow it through as intended. However, to get off the bubble in Season 4 and get to Season 5, the show will need to not only retain the fanbase that started with episode 1 on day 1, but also attract people like myself who came late to the party.

    Pulling off that trick is a challenge with odds already stacked against it. Playing it safe, avoiding the rich possibilities of conflict, avoiding upsetting fans, avoiding going as dark the story needs to go, avoiding risk won’t work.

    My contention, as a fan, is that the problems of season 3 (and more specifically, the first 13 episodes of season 3) aren’t in the events as much as in the execution; if anything, it’s not that they took risks, it’s that having committed to take those specific risks, they didn’t go far enough … and they didn’t bring us along for the ride.

    I accept your challenge. I will set my critical mind aside and watch all three seasons in order. It’s a sure-win for me, because even in Season 3 I have wonderful moments to look forward to: the sheer joy of Chuck vs. the Honeymooners, Lloyd’s pitch-perfect performance in Chuck vs. the Tooth, the roller-coaster ride of the finale, and witnessing the most significant day of John Casey’s life in Chuck vs. the Tic-Tac to name just a few.

    In return, let me offer this challenge: when you watch Season 3, ask yourself what it would be like if the stakes were higher. What if, like Sarah, we were even a little bit worried about the possibility that Chuck might lose his humanity as he becomes a spy? What if Manoosh wasn’t such a weasel? What if, in addition to seeing Chuck’s struggle over the decision to burn an asset, we weren’t quite as certain which decision was the right one?

    What if, instead of working against the audience to try to tell the story of Shaw, the focus stayed on the story of Chuck? Whatever my opinion of Routh’s abilities as an actor, I have every confidence in Levi’s. He has the advantage of not merely his extraordinarily skills, he has the audience on his side.

    I would contend (and I suppose I actually am contending) Shaw vs. the Audience is a no-win situation. The risks the actor took and the risks the writers took simply did not pay off. And yet both the acting challenge of Shaw and the writing challenge of Shaw had odds uniquely stacked against pulling off that trick. On the other hand, I think he makes a satisfying villain in the season finale. At last, I saw chemistry in his scenes with Sarah; venom is a kind of chemistry. But is there another path to a villain with inside knowledge of the team without a transformation arc that has to overcome the genre and a romantic triangle that has to overcome the audience?

    But as you say, that’s the past. I’m looking forward to Season 4 and I’m hoping that the writers make bold choices, take risks, and then do everything it takes to make them work.

    Thank you again for the podcast, thank you again for your response.

    -K

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