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Is ‘Chuck’ Really In Trouble?

Ratings haven’t been spectacular, but within average … yet there are some who think it’s a goner

There is absolutely no science to the fate of television shows (especially if they’re on Fox), yet even though the 2010-11 season is barely a few weeks old, speculation on what will survive and what won’t has already begun.

Some of that attention has turned to “Chuck” on NBC, the cult hit that has maintained a stable audience over the years … just not a big one. Bill Gorman of TV by the Numbers has declared the Zachary Levi show dead in the water after two airings this season, calling it NBC’s lowest non-Friday scripted program.

“‘Chuck’ fans grasping for shows that the cancellation bear might catch first should look no further,” Gorman said. “Unless it can move up in the coming weeks, it’s finally headed for cancellation.”

Gorman declared “Chuck” will “likely” be cancelled by the end of the season, meaning there won’t be another season pickup, while another NBC show — “Outlaw” — is definitely a goner, according to his numbers.

But how bad of shape is “Chuck” in? Our people at NBC aren’t talking quite yet — only two episodes have aired and a lot can change between now and then — but it might be worth taking a look at how “Chuck” has worked for NBC historically.

So far this season, “Chuck” is averaging a 3.4 rating/5 share in Fast National overnight ratings from The Nielsen Co. It premiered Sept. 20 with a 3.5/5 but fell 9 percent in its second week to a 3.2/4. Overall, however, “Chuck” has an Audience Loyalty Index rating of 95.7, which means of all the people who have tuned in to see “Chuck” this year, nearly 96 percent of them have returned for every episode (well, all two, so far).

“Chuck” is NBC’s lowest-rated Monday program so far this year, but probably not for long. “The Chase” fell from a 5.0/8 series premiere to a 3.9/6 in its second week, a 22 percent drop, while losing 26 percent of its lead-in audience from “The Event.” And “The Event” shouldn’t be left out. Its ratings fell more than 22 percent week over week — both much larger than the 9 percent drop from “Chuck.”

“Chuck” also was not the network’s lowest-rated program last week when it premiered. NBC saw smaller audiences for “Outlaw” (3.4/7), “Community” (3.1/5) and “The Apprentice” (2.6/4). Of course, to be fair to Gorman, his numbers remove the Friday lineup (taking out “Outlaw”), unscripted shows (removing “The Apprentice”), and looking solely at a specific advertising demographic, which “Community” finished higher in last week than “Chuck.”

If NBC was so keen to get rid of “Chuck,” the question is, why didn’t it do it before? Last season, “Chuck” averaged a 3.6/6 for NBC on Mondays in the same timeslot, premiering to a 4.3/7, but barely crossing the 3.0 household rating mark all through the month of May. In fact, the current ratings for “Chuck” — even its 3.2/4 this past week — is its best since the start of May sweeps last year, when the show picked up a 3.2/5.

“Chuck” had some ratings-poor companions last year, however, so it likely didn’t stick on NBC’s radar like it may this year if “The Event” and “The Chase” improve. Yet, even “Law & Order” — which averaged a 4.2/7 in the 10 p.m. slot Mondays — was axed, while “Chuck” was saved.

“Chuck” maintained an ALI of 82.8 last season, despite starting with a huge season premiere high and watching it erode through the course of the spring. “Law & Order”? An 82.7.

Gorman isn’t saying NBC will cut the show short prematurely, only that it’s likely not going to be renewed without a boost in the ratings. However, there are just a few more points to consider:

* NBC’s schedule has not performed the way the network had hoped. The Peacock barely finished in third place for non-event, non-news, first-run programming, picking up a 4.5/7 compared to a 4.2/7 from Fox. Through Tuesday of this week, NBC is in a pretty solid fourth place with a 4.1/7, while Fox has improved a bit to a 4.6/7 for third place. All that means that NBC’s schedule is still in flux, and it’s likely more stable shows like “Chuck” will get positive responses from network executives compared to those with huge audience dropoffs, like pretty much all of NBC’s new fall schedule so far.

* “Chuck” has buzz, something that really can’t be said for much of NBC’s other programs. And yes, buzz factor is important, especially for any network trying to rebuild itself, which NBC may have to go back to the drawing board to do.

* Gorman’s system is based on how a show’s numbers stack up compared to the rest of the network’s programming. However, that’s not what networks typically consider. The biggest numbers they look at are year-over-year in the same timeslot. “Chuck” is averaging a 3.4/5 in the first two weeks of the season. “Heroes,” during the same time, is averaging a 3.6/5 — better, but only by 6 percent. That might be enough to help Gorman’s prediction come true, or it might be an acceptable loss for NBC depending on what it has to offer alternatively.

No one is discounting Gorman’s opinion. The fact is, the timeslot is down, and “Chuck” is NBC’s lowest-rated Monday show. Those aren’t two factors that play in “Chuck’s” favor. However, at the same time, even Gorman admits that it’s still a little too early to be making such predictions quite yet.

“It’s important to note that the index (and prediction) for each show can change, particularly during the first several weeks of the season, both positively and negatively,” he said.

For now, keep watching “Chuck.” It airs Mondays at 8 p.m. ET on NBC.

Fast Nationals usually provide a snapshot of what Americans are watching by pulling numbers from the top urban markets that includes both live viewing and same-day timeshifted viewing. A rating point generally represents more than 1.1 million households while the share indicates the percentage of televisions turned on that was tuned to the specific program. These numbers typically shift when final ratings are issued.

Data collected from The Nielsen Co., as distributed by Zap2it. BlipNetwork tracks non-news, non-event programming, and figures for this story reflect airing of new episodes only. For more information on the Audience Loyalty Index, click here.

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