Thursday, February 11, 2010

'Chuck' versus the Ridiculous Fan Reaction

FACT: NBC series Chuck has a ridiculously active fanbase.

For anyone who doesn't know, the fans -- which included critics like Alan Sepinwall and Mo Ryan -- of the series helped organize a slew of "Save Chuck" campaigns last spring, including pilgrimages to Subway, a sponsor of the show, and a number of social media-related outputs. For more info on the efforts of Chuck fans see here, here and here.

FACT: The fans feel as if they had a big part in the series coming back for a third season this year on NBC and thus have some "ownership" over it.

FACT: The Chuck fans are using this "ownership" to overreact to the most recent episode, "Chuck versus the Mask."

This week's episode saw Chuck and Sarah, destined lovers, spy partners, hook up with other people. Just like almost every other series with a romantic relationship at the core, the writers are finding new ways to keep the two of them apart.  But unlike many other series, this current way of keeping Chuck and Sarah apart actually works, since their respective new loves are actually good for their development.

But some fans are really, really, REALLY upset about this plot development. So much so that one went as far as to organize a "fan blackout" of the series in the comments of Alan Sepinwall's post about the episode. Here's what the person had to say:

When Chuck returns after the Olympics, no one should watch it on air. Rather we should all watch it online at Hulu or any other online service we can find. Failing that, DVR the show and watch it that way.

That way we can send a message to NBC and the producers of the show that we are still interested in the show but we are not prepared to settle for the caliber of show we saw last night. “We’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore”.

If we can bring the number of on air viewers below 1 million, the advertisers will take note. You can count on that. You can also bet the advertisers will be on the phone to NBC and the producers of Chuck. Money talks after all.

If everyone that loves the show were to watch online at Hulu, you can bet NBC would notice that too. We can send a message and still get our Chuck fix.
We need NBC to know that we love the show. We also need for NBC to know that we are disappointed. 
That's right, this person is hoping to get fans to not watch the series so that the writers will do what THEY, the fans want. It seems that the hard work all the fans put into keeping Chuck around has caused them to feel very controlling about who is actually captaining the ship. And just as they did when they were trying to celebrate the series, Chuck fans were willing to take to the internet in hopes of spreading the word, as instances like the one on Sepinwall's blog occurred on Mo Ryan's as well, leading to NPR even commenting on the issue. Todd VanDerWerff sarcastically chimed in as well. Finally, executive producers Josh Schwartz and Chris Fedak had to comment as well before all this got out of control.

As the NPR article suggests, having this type of fanbase is such a double-edged sword. It was great to have these people -- I hate to refer to Chuck fans like that, as I consider myself a die-hard fan of the series -- back in March and April of 2009. But this week, it's a little tougher to swallow. Criticism is one thing, but an outright boycott of the series simply because the two main characters hooked up with other people? Seriously?

Obviously, this commenter's suggestion is so flawed it is laughable. If the small amount of people who do watch Chuck stop and the viewership dips anywhere near 1 million viewers, it will be canceled. No question. Hell, the series is on the bubble with the die-hards watching and the 6/7 million viewers it's getting right now.

And as a fan, I'm embarrassed by such an idea. I've been frustrated with series before, enough so that I've taken to the internet to express those frustrations. But trying to tear down a series you spent so much time building up just because something doesn't go the way you want is a disrespect to anyone who calls themselves a fan. It just is.

Chuck does not belong to the fans, despite their influence in saving it (which is still smaller than they think). It belongs to the writers, producers, actors, etc.  If you're upset with the direction, don't watch. Write some fan-fiction where what you want to happen actually does. BUT DO NOT ask all the fellow fans to join you.

Looking forward, is this the type of thing that "cult" series have to deal with? Fans of programs feel entitled beyond belief and they eventually tune out? I could see this occurring, especially for a true shark-jumping moment, not just a roadblock in some "shipper" debate. What do these types of fans really want or hope to accomplish? Are they real fans at all? I'm not sure.

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