Chuck versus the ratings: Savvy fans and "save our show" campaigns

Christina Savage

University of Texas, Austin, Texas, United States

[0.1] Abstract—Fans rarely have the opportunity to affect the production of their favorite television shows, but sometimes they can save them. "Save our show" campaigns provide an example of fan labor that can influence the decision to renew or cancel a show. These campaigns have previously appeared as fans wrote to the networks en masse and sent in paraphernalia related to the show. The "Finale and a Footlong" "save our show" campaign for NBC's Chuck (2007–12) demonstrates a change in the way that fans understand their role in television consumption and production. By examining this campaign and situating it within a history of these types of campaigns, we can see how the "save our show" campaign for Chuck emphasizes the role of fan as both television viewer and advertisement consumer in a way that privileges the power of the fan as never before.

[0.2] Keywords—Fan community; Fan labor; Television

Savage, Christina. 2014 "Chuck versus the Ratings: Savvy Fans and 'Save Our Show' Campaigns." In "Fandom and/as Labor," edited by Mel Stanfill and Megan Condis, special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 15.

1. Introduction

[1.1] The relationship between fans and the television they love is often complicated—even more so when dealing with a potential cancellation of their favorite show. The literature on fan culture is rich with examples of fans claiming ownership over their favorite media texts. The production of fan-made paratexts surrounding these media products further suggests the idea of fans' perceived ownership, which becomes particularly complicated when the fans' favorite television shows are rumored to be canceled. Often in this situation, fans attempt to persuade network executives to keep airing the show in a "save our show" campaign.

[1.2] In examining fan-run "save our show" campaigns, we can arrive at a better understanding of the power relationships existing between fans and network executives as television audiences continue to become more fragmented. "Save our show" campaigns have had a long evolution as fans adapt their practices when what may have worked previously fails. These campaigns, which have moved from writing letters to sending in items connected to the show, emphasize fan fervor as a way of indicating the size of the audience. At the heart of these campaigns lies fan labor, which continues to change along with the differing types of campaigns. The "save our show" campaign for NBC's Chuck (2007–12) established a new style of campaign that focused its attention outside the network. By placing this "save our show" attempt within the history of these types of campaigns, we can better understand the changing power relationship between fans and executives.

2. Chuck versus the Nielsen ratings: Questions of labor in fan viewership and support

[2.1] There have been many fan campaigns to save a failing show throughout television history. Some failed as a result of their inability to organize cohesively; some did not show a network that there was enough support for a show; some that succeeded only managed to bring a show back for a few episodes. These campaigns typically stem from a place of fans wanting their favorite show to continue, and as more information about the industry and the way it operates becomes available to these groups, fans can improve their strategies for "save our show" campaigns. In the US broadcasting industry, networks develop programming that will serve as a way to attract a certain type of audience so that advertisers can market their products to that audience. A better understanding of "save our show" campaigns comes from not only an understanding of the mutually beneficial structures in place between networks and advertisers in support of television programming but also from an understanding of television as having three legs of support: the networks, the advertisers, and the audience.

[2.2] Marxist political economic thought is useful to understand this approach to studying television structures. Sut Jhally (1987) looks at watching television as a form of labor not unlike the labor performed in a factory. The ability to perform labor is highly valued within this model. With regard to television, television audiences sell their watching powers to advertisers in the same way that laborers sell their ability to work to capitalist organizations. In Jhally's model, television programming exists as a mediator between advertisers and audiences. Television shows provide space for advertisers to reach a particular audience, but the programming itself needs to be attractive to the specific audience desired. This model helps to explain why "save our show" campaigns work at all. If audiences are not attracted to the programming provided, networks are unable to obtain advertisers to finance the shows and thus fail as a mediator between production and consumption. The evolution of "save our show" campaigns has led to negotiations between audiences and advertisers for television content as a result of the fans' increased understanding of their power as television viewer and consumers. If fans recognize their power and desirability as an audience, their ability to negotiate as active consumers can often provide them with a stronger voice and a more reliable method of persuasion in obtaining the renewal of their favorite show.

[2.3] Fan campaigns to "save the show" position fan labor within this Marxist construct as the ability to consume the products advertised. Their labor then is twofold: the labor of television viewing itself and the labor of selling the size and desirability of the audience in exchange for desirable programming content. Fans are selling their viewing and consuming powers to the networks through their efforts to convince them that there is an audience for the show and that the audience is demographically desirable. This is necessary when the size of the audience is less than ideal. As campaigns evolved, the fans moved beyond demographics to sell their labor to advertisers as a more effective way to negotiate for desired content. In their campaigning, fans are working to sell their viewing and buying power to the television networks as a way to leverage their desired programming.

3. Chuck versus the past: Previous "save our show" campaigns

[3.1] "Save our show" campaigns are a fairly common practice for much-beloved shows with small audiences. These campaigns have taken different forms as fans have learned various methods to successfully persuade the networks to save their shows. One of the earliest "save our show" campaigns was for the cult television show Star Trek in 1968. In its second season, the ratings began to decline, and fans began to hear rumors that the show would be canceled. They wrote letters to the producers and NBC to assure them that there was a desirable audience watching the show. The network ultimately received over 115,000 letters from fans to save the show, and the show was successfully renewed for a third season (Broadcasting 1968; Beck 1968a, 1968b).

[3.2] Although fans wrote in multitudes to save Star Trek, the "save our show" campaign may have been entirely unnecessary. The show had reasonable ratings in its time slot, and TV critics at the time wrote that NBC had other shows that were more at risk of cancellation (Broadcasting 1967; Lowry 1968). Moreover, NBC needed no persuasion to believe that the audience was desirable; they already knew that the show attracted an appropriate demographic: young, well educated, and passionate (Pearson 2011). Show creator Gene Roddenberry also continued to promote the desirability of the viewers by positioning them as a quality audience, suggesting that despite its small size, the demographics were more appealing than those of other, larger shows (Kmet 2012). For the third season, the show was moved to a more difficult time slot and ratings fell, leading to the cancellation of the show (Gowran 1969). Despite the desirable audience, the show did not have the audience size to justify renewal.

[3.3] In working to save Cagney & Lacey (1981–88), fan labor was able to make the show more visible and attract a larger audience. The "save our show" campaign in 1983 resulted in the construction of the Viewers for Quality Television (VQT), a group that worked to save various television productions that they deemed were of high quality (Swanson 2000). Cagney & Lacey, which was based on a popular 1981 TV movie, was initially canceled after its first season until the producers convinced the executives to attempt a second season that replaced star Meg Foster (TV Guide News 2002). The second season, even with the replacement, Sharon Gless, did not fare better in ratings or critical reception, and the show was canceled again in May 1983 (Swanson 2000). It was after the second cancellation that the campaign to save Cagney & Lacey began. Fans like Dorothy Collins Swanson wrote letters to various members of the production team to find out what they could do to encourage renewal and were told to write letters to the president of CBS, Bud Grant (Swanson 2000). Swanson, the founder of the VQT, wrote over 500 letters that summer, under various names, to persuade the executives that many people were watching the show (Swanson 2000). She also recruited friends and family to help write letters, and they in turn recruited others. The campaign was published by the Los Angeles chapter of the National Organization of Women, who urged their members to write (D'Acci 1994). The letter-writing campaign, as well as the response from television critics, helped increase public awareness of the show, and ratings for the summer episodes of Cagney & Lacey started to improve (Swanson 2000; O'Connor 1984). When the show was eventually renewed in late September, Bud Grant and other CBS executives credited the letters they received as part of the reason they were renewing the show (Swanson 2000). By persuading the network that the show had an audience and increasing the show's visibility, the fans of Cagney & Lacey, through their letter-writing efforts, saved the show for another season. The show continued to perform well in the ratings and ran for five more seasons. Swanson went on to work to replicate the success of the campaign for other quality shows with the VQT.

[3.4] Julie D'Acci (1994), in her discussion of the Cagney & Lacey "save our show" campaign, emphasizes the role that producers of the show played in orchestrating the show's renewal. While not ignoring the impact that the letter campaign had, D'Acci suggests that the producers ultimately organized the fan labor force while also working to increase advertising for the show. The campaign occurred along with increased marketing to build the audience. Although fan labor was influential in showing the network that there was support for the show, the higher ratings may have been as a result of increased advertising between March and April 1983.

[3.5] In examining the letters written by Cagney & Lacey fans working to get their show renewed, D'Acci (1994, 94) uncovered that the women writing these letters understood "how they fit into the economic operations of the TV industry and how they functioned as an 'audience' in the network's definition of the term" even though these writers often "mocked the network's notion of audience and bemoaned the fact that, coupled with a devoted adherence to ratings, it resulted in such series as The Dukes of Hazzard" (1979–85), a show that was seen as typical TV fare and not quality television. Despite their frustration with the network's perceptions about audiences, the women who were trying to save Cagney & Lacey worked to make themselves seen as a desirable audience as a way to capitalize on their viewing power. Writing letters ultimately worked for the Cagney & Lacey campaign because they could leverage the letter writers' power as an audience to be both viewers and recruiters for the show. They effectively sold their viewing power to the network and were rewarded with the programming they desired. The fan labor, coupled with the publicity surrounding their campaign and the increased advertising, helped enlarge the audience for the show and ensure that the show would be saved.

[3.6] The campaigns for Twin Peaks (1990–91) and Jericho (2006–8) are examples of what fans moved to after letters proved ineffective. After the initial cancellation of Twin Peaks in the middle of the second season (Entertainment Weekly 1991), fans sent in 10,000 letters, a log, a plastic hand, several boxes of doughnuts, and chess pieces, items that signified to the network the fans' attention to detail and devotion to the show (Boone, n.d.). ABC chose to air the remaining six episodes of the second season as a result of the fan campaign, but they canceled the show after continued low ratings. After Twin Peaks' early example of fans sending objects to the network to convince the executives to save the show, the fans of Jericho made that strategy the centerpiece of their own campaign. The show, which premiered in 2006, had lackluster ratings and was canceled in May 2007 (Adalian 2007). Utilizing online message boards, fans of the show grouped together and decided to send peanuts to the network to protest the cancellation. Ultimately, over 20 tons of peanuts were shipped to CBS executives (Elber 2007; Filgate 2007; Hyman 2010). In June, in response to fan efforts, Carol Barbee, executive producer of Jericho, announced that the show would return for eight episodes in midseason with the hope that ratings would rise and the network could pick up additional episodes of the show (Fernandez 2007). However, when the show returned to the air, the ratings did not improve, and despite fan effort, the show was canceled (CBS News 2009). Fans fought for a third season and sought responses from other channels, hoping they would pick up the show, but their continued efforts were unsuccessful, and the second season was also the final season. For both shows, fans labored to save their show through not only writing letters to assure the network that an audience existed but also showing their devotion to the show by sending in objects referencing the show. The acts demonstrated the fans' close attention to detail, positioning them as an engaged audience.

[3.7] The campaign for Farscape taught fans that they did not have to rely only on the network to save the show. Observing that writing letters and sending items to networks to demonstrate audience size and intensity was no longer working as effectively, fans began to focus on appealing to different needs of the industry. Farscape (1999–2003), an international joint production by the Jim Henson Company in the United States and Nine Films and Television in Australia, was a science fiction show that was canceled by cable channel SciFi (now SyFy) in 2003 as a result of a declining audience and high licensing fees (Hughes 1999; Wright 2004). Fans, with some guidance from the show's producers, started to work to bring the show back, focusing on what they could do to sell their viewing power as an audience (Ross 2008). In her analysis of the campaign, Maureen Ryan (2004) comments that fans "essentially acted as an advertising street team for the show, in an effort to make it a more attractive property to anyone who wanted to invest in it." Fans collected demographic information on the income and education of the audience and worked to persuade other channels to pick up the show for the desirable audience. They also targeted sponsors and advertisers with this information, and purchased products and mailed copies of the receipts to these sponsors and advertisers, convincing UPS, Kia, and KFC to express interest in advertising on the show if it returned (Ryan 2003). The campaign attracted the attention of some European financiers, who provided the backing for a miniseries to wrap up the show (Ryan 2004). By focusing their efforts outside of the sci-fi genre, fans worked as advertisers for their power as an audience, selling their consumer power by eating at KFC and touting their collective income and education levels. However, their efforts were only capable of attracting support for a miniseries and not an additional season, thanks to the high production costs of the show (Hughes 1999).

[3.8] Star Trek, Cagney & Lacey, Twin Peaks, Jericho, and Farscape all had campaigns that were successful to some degree, thus demonstrating important trends in fan-inspired show renewal. Star Trek had a campaign that showed what the network already knew: the audience was young and educated, and therefore desirable. The show was renewed for a third season, but factors such as the difficult time slot led to lower ratings and ultimately cancellation. Cagney & Lacey had fan labor that was organized by the producers and that was accompanied by increased advertising in the supposed final months of the show. It was most likely the result of the increased awareness of the show, likely achieved through a combination of these two efforts, that the ratings began to grow during the summer months, leading to the show's renewal. Although writing letters and sending in objects such as logs and peanuts informed the networks of the size and devotion of the audiences for Twin Peaks and Jericho, the inadequate size of the audience was the reason for cancellation. Fan labor was enough to garner attention and hope that maybe the audience size would grow; however, when ratings did not improve for these shows, they were quickly canceled again. With Farscape, fans started a new focus outside the channel in order to emphasize the potential for profit if a new channel picked up the show or for advertisers who supported the show's return. For all five of these shows, fan-run "save our show" campaigns were able to persuade the network to air more episodes, but only Cagney & Lacey had increased viewership and was renewed for more seasons. Fan labor can bring a show back from cancellation, but letters and show-related items that suggest there is an engaged audience for the show are simply not enough to keep the show from being canceled. These campaigns provided the networks with knowledge of the engaged audience that existed for these shows, but on the basis of the evidence from these campaigns, the campaign needed to result in a far more extensive audience to justify keeping the show on air.

4. Chuck versus the 2000s: Television in the age of DVRs

[4.1] Changes in technology allowed for fragmented audiences, forcing "save our show" campaigns to rethink their strategies in selling audience size. The 2000s were a time of transition for television as new home video technologies allowed viewers to consume television in nontraditional ways. By 2007, over 85 percent of US households subscribed to distribution services such as cable or satellite, and over 55 percent had access to over 100 channels (Lotz 2007). By 2005, broadcast channels were only drawing about 46 percent of the total television audience (Lotz 2007). Digital video recorders (DVRs), popularized by TiVo Inc., provided a way to record television digitally and were first introduced in 1999. By 2007, up to 17 percent of American households were using this technology (Bourgeault 2007). DVRs allowed television viewers to record shows as they aired and watch them at their leisure. DVR owners tended to be within the ideal television audience for advertisers because they were mostly people with high levels of education and household income; however, in using their DVRs, these viewers were less likely to watch the show during its scheduled airing, and they were less likely to watch the advertising (Digital TV Weblog 2006).

[4.2] Recording television for later, time-shifted viewing was not the only new technology to arise during this time that would change how audiences watched television. Various channels started to offer their episodes online the day after airing. Hulu, an online streaming service created by the networks, was introduced in 2007. Online streaming of video was on the rise during Chuck's run on NBC (Jones 2009). NBC also offered the pilot episode of Chuck for free online from Amazon and iTunes before airing it on television—a new approach to attracting viewers in this transitional time period (Schiller 2007). During the regular season, episodes would start streaming on Hulu and the day after their initial airing on television. Throughout this period of television history, the networks were in a time of transition as viewership patterns began changing as a result of new technologies.

[4.3] With multiple means of viewing episodes after they aired, audiences moved toward nontraditional television viewing patterns. Although the Nielsen ratings started accounting for DVR numbers for later viewing in 2006, advertisers would not accept these numbers because it was less likely that audiences watched the ads. Networks thus did not initially include later viewings in their ad rates (Levin 2006). This would slowly change throughout the latter half of the 2000s; however, advertisers remained less interested in DVR viewers, who were more likely to fast-forward through commercials (Herrman 2011). Additionally, viewers watching episodes online using Hulu or NBC's Web site were left unrepresented in Nielsen ratings because they were not watching the same advertisements as the live viewers (Herrman 2011). As television viewing fragmented as a result of the new technologies, audiences not watching episodes live were less likely to be counted in the ratings numbers used to determine whether a show would be canceled.

5. Chuck versus the network pickup: Cancellation and the campaign

[5.1] In 2009, NBC's Chuck was in need of a "save our show" campaign. Chuck was a show about geeks and nerds, specifically the Buy More Nerd Herd, Chuck's equivalent of the Best Buy Geek Squad, members of which worked out of a big-box electronics store to fix various devices. As a nerd turned superspy, title character Chuck would use his geek-specific skills to save the world, with each episode featuring a "Chuck Versus" title. The show was full of jokes and references to action movies, sci-fi movies, and geek culture in general, and it featured cameos by various actors and actresses from cult film and television. The first season of Chuck ran during fall 2007; during the first 13 episodes, it was picked up for a full season of 22 episodes. Because of the 2007–8 Writers Guild of America strike, the first season was shortened, and the last nine episodes of the commissioned 22 were never constructed (Sepinwall 2007). Ratings for the first season were unsatisfactory, but the show was given a second season thanks to the strike. The last episode of season 1 aired in January 2008, after which fans received no new episodes until the end of September 2008. NBC clearly supported the show, as it committed to a full 22-episode second season after seeing only six episodes and before any of the season aired in the United States, despite the weak ratings of the first season (Adelian 2008). Ratings overall for this season were not very strong and did not improve upon the ratings from the first season, save for an episode that aired after a huge advertising push during the Super Bowl (Sepinwall 2008). It appeared that the show was headed for cancellation.

[5.2] During its second season, Chuck had to battle a very difficult time slot. That time slot in fall 2008 was home to ABC's Dancing with the Stars (2005–present), one of the most popular shows on air that season; Fox's Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (2008–9), which did not do as well but still performed better than Chuck; and the CBS comedy block of The Big Bang Theory (2007–present) and How I Met Your Mother (2005–14), which were both in the top 50 shows of the year (Wikipedia 2013). In the winter, that slot became even more perilous for attracting new viewers as Dancing with the Stars was traded out for the very successful The Bachelor (2002–present) in midseason and then returned for the spring, and Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles was replaced by the more popular House M.D. (2004–12). The show also aired during the football season and had to compete with Monday Night Football. NBC was regularly fourth for this hour, and Chuck simply could not compete with the other networks' programming.

[5.3] Further complicating Chuck's renewal was NBC's plan to give the 10 PM time slot to Jay Leno. Conan O'Brien was slotted to take over for Jay Leno on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno (1992–2014) starting in 2009, and Leno was looking to move on to a new show. In attempt to not lose Leno to a competitor, NBC worked to make a new space for him on the network. This resulted in a new show created specifically for Leno that would air five nights a week at 10 PM (Carter 2008). This cut the hours available for both scripted and reality programming from 22 to only 17. This limited the space NBC had for shows that were not successful and put Chuck closer to cancellation.

[5.4] In April 2009, with only a few episodes of season 2 of Chuck left to air, critics started to write to their viewers to persuade them not only to watch Chuck, but to watch it live to try to help improve the ratings. For the networks, the time for making renewal decisions was fast approaching, and viewers had few opportunities to prove they were watching certain shows that were on the bubble. Dan Fienberg, of, wrote on April 6, 2009, "It's always a good night to watch Chuck, but this Monday's episode is a particularly opportune time," before suggesting that the rest of the spring might turn into a "save our show" campaign. Kath Skerry of Give Me My Remote declared that week "Give Me My Chuck" week, with daily posts of show reviews, Chuck news, and videos (Skerry 2009). Alan Sepinwall, a TV critic for the New Jersey Star-Ledger and blogging at What's Alan Watching, joined in the fervor to attempt to persuade readers to watch the show (Sepinwall 2009a). It was through posts like these that online fans began to realize that they might need to work to save their favorite show, not simply watch.

[5.5] Hints of what the campaign would be are found in these particular blog posts. Skerry (2009) suggested that the only real way to get the network's attention would be to get people watching the show on Monday nights at 8 PM, even as she recognized the difficulty of the time slot with the various other popular programs competing for viewer attention. Fienberg offered a little more optimism, believing that the show would probably be renewed as a result of its younger audience and its performance on nontraditional viewing platforms. He also suggested that continued product placement might be the way to go regarding ways to help fund the show and that NBC executive Ben Silverman "likes shows that allow him to spread costs around and bring in money through alternative streams, so why would he jettison a series where the characters all love their iPhones, where they're eager to play any new video game on the market and where a Subway $5 Footlong is considered acceptable bachelor party grub" (Fienberg 2009). The creative team behind Chuck had already worked to embrace these types of product placement; viewers would most likely be comfortable with more.

[5.6] Fearing cancellation, these critics used their platforms to appeal to the executives to renew the show. Sepinwall (2009b) wrote an open letter to NBC executives Ben Silverman, Marc Graboff, and Angela Bromstad with the reasons why, despite the low ratings, the network should keep airing the show. In an interview with the New York Times, Josh Schwartz, cocreator of the show, emphasized to the fans that "save our show" campaigns, by showing that their particular show had a strong, committed audience, could be influential in saving a show (Itzkoff 2009). He proposed that the fans send in Nerds candy to the network. Nestlé Confections and Snacks, owners of Wonka, the makers of Nerds, also believed the show should be saved; they sent NBC 1,000 Nerds and a novelty box, and advised fans to do the same (Pitch Engine 2009).

[5.7] The fan campaign took off through various fan-run Web sites like ( and We Give a Chuck (, which provided places where fans could come together to talk about the show. These sites featured discussion boards where fans could analyze and critique the show, as well as blog posts assembled by the site's moderators. Fans on these sites advocated for the watch/buy/share method of getting the show renewed: watching the show when it was on, buying the first season DVD and preordering the second season, and sharing their love of the show with their friends (, n.d.). This aligned with previous methods of showing fan support through monetary means and attempting to encourage more viewers to watch to increase ratings. The forums were full of ideas and recommendations for how to write letters to the executives and what to include in them. Fans suggested that these letters should be personal; that they should write about their own connection to the show; that they should provide some demographic information about themselves; and that they should tell the network how they watch the show especially if they watched in a nontraditional way. Above all, they should be respectful ( 2009). They understood that the networks would be looking for data on who made up the audience, rather than simply knowing that people liked the show.

[5.8] It was in these forums that fans began to discuss the idea of not just trying to appeal to the network but also attempting to persuade the sponsors to work to get the show renewed. Initially, fans simply worked to encourage more people to write letters to both the NBC executives and some of Chuck's sponsors, but it evolved into something that would affect the understanding of what "save our show" campaigns were. In the season 2 episode "Chuck versus the First Kill," Morgan Grimes attempts to persuade his boss to share some information on another employee by bribing him with a Subway sandwich (YouTube 2009a). However, this was not just any Subway sandwich; it was a Chicken Teriyaki $5 Footlong, and it was treated on the show as if it were the greatest sandwich ever created, complete with slow-motion shots and swelling classical music. After what was essentially an ad within the show, more overt than mere product placement, audiences proceeded to purchase Subway sandwiches (Steinberg 2009). This in-show ad, airing during one of the last episodes of Chuck's second season, and others like it gave fans an idea.

[5.9] A campaign that became known as "Finale and a Footlong" was conceived by fan Wendy Farrington. On April 8, 2009, she posted in the Television Without Pity forums that she wanted to "give NBC/Universal a legitimate business justification for keeping their quality programming on the air. It's more likely that the network and sponsors will hear our pleas for a Chuck renewal if we speak their language … $$$," suggesting that utilizing the fans' power as consumers might be the best way to get the network's attention ( The plan would be for Chuck fans to go to Subway on the night of the finale, order a $5 footlong, and drop off a comment card to Subway, letting them know that the footlong was purchased in support of Chuck. Then fans would watch the season finale live to try to boost the ratings. This was to be accompanied by the fans writing letters to the executives of NBC and the chief marketing executive of Subway in support of the show and telling them about the campaign. Farrington got her message out by posting on numerous fan forums for the show and sending the message to various critics who had supported the renewal attempts. The idea was simple: demonstrate to both the network and the sponsor that there was not only an audience for the show but also an audience that was paying attention to the advertising for the show and supporting those sponsors. This would leverage the power of the audience: in addition to fan viewers, the sponsors would also work to persuade the network to renew the show on the fans' behalf. By focusing on Chuck as a business transaction, fans used their knowledge of the television industry to garner support for their goals.

[5.10] Fans spread the word of the campaign across various Web sites in an effort to both inform other fans of the campaign and to encourage nonfans to watch the show. Subway supported the campaign, with Tony Pace, the chief marketing executive for the Subway Franchisee Advertising Fund Trust, saying that Subway could not start this campaign, "but if the behavior is already out there, you can encourage it without being too heavy-handed. And that's what we've tried to do" (York 2009). As a brand supporting the show, Subway wanted to emphasize their support for the show without seeming to be running the campaign; they wanted to avoid being seen as manipulating fans into buying their product. Zachary Levi, the star of the show, took over 600 Chuck fans in the United Kingdom to Subway to support the show, even helping make some sandwiches for fans (YouTube 2009b). James Poniewozik (2009) wrote in Time that this particular style of campaign might actually work because "plead as lyrically as you want; you ultimately keep a show on the air by assuring the network it will make money. And it does that by assuring its advertisers that they will make money." Between the support from the fans, support from the critics, and pressure from the advertisers, NBC and Warner Bros., the production company for the show, made a deal to bring back Chuck for a 13-episode third season (albeit one with a reduced budget) (Sepinwall 2009c). In an interview with Sepinwall, cochairman of NBC Ben Silverman said that this campaign was one of the most creative he had seen, and as a result, Subway would increase its presence within the show (Sepinwall 2009d). At the cost of increased product integration, fans would get more of their favorite show.

6. Chuck versus the tempting fates: Five seasons and a bunch of finales

[6.1] Chuck ran for five seasons and a total of 91 episodes, 56 of them airing after the "save our show" campaign. Yet the ratings for the show never improved, and viewership tapered off throughout the remaining run of the show. Ratings were low enough for the creators to be concerned about not providing their audience with an ending with some degree of closure. Many of the midseason finales and season finales were written to provide a coherent ending for the show if the show were to be canceled (Sepinwall 2012). So why did the show last beyond a third season? Previous "save our show" campaigns demonstrated that if a show's fans managed to get the network to renew the show for a season, the only way to ensure more seasons for the show was to improve ratings through increased viewership. Both Twin Peaks and Jericho were canceled shortly after renewal because the audience for these shows did not grow, although Twin Peaks was only brought back to air the remaining six episodes of season 2 and not renewed for a third season. However, the majority of Chuck aired after the campaign to save it and aired with a smaller audience, so something else must have been occurring to convince the network to keep renewing the show.

[6.2] Part of the need to renew the show came from the failure of NBC to produce many successful new shows while Chuck was on air. There was speculation in fall 2009 that NBC might bring the show back earlier than planned because many of the shows for their 2009–10 season were not performing well (Ausiello 2009). Shortly after, NBC announced that Chuck would indeed get an additional six episodes (Adalian 2008, 2009) and would be coming back earlier than planned (Sepinwall 2009e). In the spring, after new episodes started airing, The Jay Leno Show (2009–10) was canceled, opening up five more hours a week for programming (Levin 2010). Although NBC needed reliable programming, season 3 of Chuck did not rapidly improve its ratings, and many feared that the show might again need saving (Hyman 2010). Despite its low ratings, Chuck was renewed for a 13-episode fourth season ( 2010). Throughout the 2010–11 television season, NBC would continue to have many low-rated scripted television shows; this would result in Chuck getting an order for 11 additional episodes, bringing the season 4 episode count to 24 (Ausiello 2010). In May 2011, Chuck received its final renewal, when it was determined that a 13-episode final season would air in the 2011–12 television season (Hibberd 2011). In this final season, the show was moved from its Monday night 8 PM time slot to Friday at 8 PM in what is commonly referred to as the Friday-night death slot.

[6.3] Throughout most of Chuck's run, it battled the same series of shows in that Monday night time slot, making it difficult for the ratings to improve. NBC, during this time period, besides not producing television shows that would become hits, was in turmoil as the network was being sold to Comcast. The Comcast deal was agreed to in December 2009, with 51 percent of the company sold to Comcast and the remaining 49 percent still controlled by General Electric (Arango 2009). The merger was approved by the Federal Communications Commission in January 2011, at which point the executives were replaced with new Comcast-approved executives (Hamill 2011). All of this suggests that it was a wise idea for the network to hold on to certain shows despite low ratings, but it does not quite explain why Chuck was one of those shows.

[6.4] The "Finale and a Footlong" campaign to save Chuck after season 2 did more than just prove to the network that the show had fans. Although the campaign may have been only one part of the ultimate decision to renew Chuck for a third season, by showing support for the sponsors as well as petitioning the network, it increased the audiences' negotiating power. This told the network that while the audience for the show may be small, it was loyal to both the show and the advertisers. Advertiser loyalty was key, as product placement became a more effective way to advertise in television to avoid viewers who were fast-forwarding through commercials or viewers watching in nontraditional methods. Sponsorship accompanied by fan loyalty could create a mutually beneficial relationship, providing desirable content to viewers, business for advertisers, and more outside funding and support for network programming.

[6.5] The show became known for its stable audience; Fienberg (2010) referred to it as "one of the network's most consistent and dedicated audiences, producing nearly identical weekly ratings regardless of its competition." Sepinwall (2011) argued that even when Chuck's ratings were slipping, it was "still a known quantity," noting, "It's never going to be a hit, but its audience is its audience (even if it's been smaller this spring than it was in the fall), and NBC can put it on the schedule and not worry about having to promote it at all." Sepinwall uses the phrase "a known quantity" to suggest that while the show may have had a small audience, it was loyal, and renewing the show may have been less of a risk than having a new show be a flop. Because Chuck was a known quantity that delivered stable ratings, NBC had an understanding of how well it would perform and could focus its marketing efforts elsewhere. The campaign helped establish Chuck's audience and its value to the network, and it proved the fans' loyalty to the show and its sponsors. When it came time for NBC to pick up shows for a full season or to renew shows for the new season, the low-rated Chuck was a safe bet thanks to that viewer loyalty. NBC could air it and guarantee that it would have a small but dedicated audience—something it could not necessarily guarantee for their other shows. NBC could then better market the loyal audience to advertisers as desirable viewers because more attentive viewers (such as fans) were more likely to watch the advertisements (Ryan 2003). In a time where broadcast channels were collectively losing audiences to cable channels, altered viewing patterns, and nontraditional consumption methods, an engaged audience was valued, often over the potential for an unknown extensive potential audience.

7. Chuck versus the future: Savvy fans and future "save our show" campaigns

[7.1] Unlike previous "save our show" campaigns, Chuck managed to be continually renewed despite a lack of increase in the size of the audience thanks to the change in labor featured in the "Finale and a Footlong" campaign. Chuck fans had a difficult battle when attempting to leverage their viewing power and market desirability. They were fortunate because their numbers were made up of desirable viewers in the demographic of 18- to 49-year-olds, but fans understood the difficulties of the time slot and the importance of watching the show live on television. Chuck was a show that performed well on "all of the various off-network viewing platforms"; however, those viewing platforms did not affect the Nielsen ratings, the only measurement that the networks and advertisers were interested in (Fienberg 2009). The Chuck "save our show" campaign leveraged not only its viewing power as an audience but its buying power as a consumer audience by speaking directly to the sponsors of the show. With support from the sponsors, the network ultimately faced less risk in show renewal, and the fans received more of their desired programming. This campaign utilized fan labor as buying and viewing power in a way that had never been done before and would change how future "save our show" campaigns would be run.

[7.2] The "Finale and a Footlong" campaign had its roots in part of the campaign to save Farscape, as both fan bases used industry logics within their campaigns. As part of their work advertising the show and its valuable audience, Farscape fans appealed to advertisers who sponsored the show. Many fans would eat KFC while watching new episodes and mail the receipts to the company, thanking them for their support of the show. They also made cards that said, "I supported your business today because you are one of Farscape's sponsors" and left them behind for sponsors (Freek 2013). Although this was only part of the campaign strategy, it was international financing that ultimately brought back the show for a final miniseries. This showed fans that they could appeal to sponsors to gain financial support and therefore stronger negotiating power for their show. The success of both campaigns relied on the cost of the show. The financial deal between NBC, Warner Bros., and Subway to renew Chuck for a third season included a reduced budget for the show. Because Farscape was the most expensive show airing on a cable network at the time, fans could only attract enough money to support a four-episode miniseries (Hughes 1999). Fans spoke using industry logic to argue for their value as an audience, focusing on the desirability of their ability to act as consumers.

[7.3] The evolution of fan campaigns taught fans that audience attention would often not be enough. Fan labor only mattered if it also was accompanied by financial support for the network. "Save our show" campaigns that appealed to advertisers were a valuable method for fan labor to bring about financial support. Even the "save our show" campaign for Chuck continued after the show's renewal with a Twitter campaign called #NotANielsenFamily. Each week, while watching the episode live, fans would tweet to sponsors based on advertisements that aired during the episode (We Give a Chuck, n.d.). These tweets involved thanking the sponsor for their support of the show and included the hashtag #NotANielsenFamily. There was also a photo campaign that involved fans tweeting pictures of themselves with the sponsored product and the hashtag. This campaign was developed as fans realized how many of these products they were either willing to purchase or already purchased on a regular basis. The effort recognized the sponsors as supporters of the show, thanked them for their continued support, and showed both the sponsors and the network that there was an audience that may not be accurately represented by the Nielsen rating system.

[7.4] This style of campaign was picked up by the fans of Fox's Fringe (2008–13), who modified their Twitter usage to attempt to save their show. Each week on the Web site More Than One of Everything, a new hashtag would be given out that would be used to discuss the show ( One hour before the episode, the fans would tweet a thank-you to one of the sponsors of the show. Then during the episode, the fans would tweet Fringe-related items and episode-related tweets to attempt to get the new hashtag trending worldwide for the duration of the episode. The fans who run this particular site have worked out the best way to get their hashtag trending on Twitter and have worked with other fans to ensure that many people were talking about the show on Twitter. This effort continued to recognize the sponsors for their advertisements and product placements and thanked them for their support of the show. It also worked to show the network and the advertisers that there were people talking about the show while it aired who may not be counted in the ratings. Fringe was another show that was perennially on the cancellation bubble and had an active fan base that showed support for the show, and the sponsors certainly helped encourage renewal.

8. Chuck versus the end: Fan power, fan audiences, and where we go from here

[8.1] Television requires an audience in order to be produced; it is funded through advertising and corporate sponsors. With the assumption that there will always be an audience for television, the power of the audience is deemphasized in the minds of networks and sponsors. It is in "save our show" campaigns where the power of the viewers and the effects of fan labor for their favorite shows are at last recognized. Campaigns like the one for Cagney & Lacey recognized that there was an audience that was desirable to the network, and they worked to increase the size of that audience, thus allowing the show to have seven complete seasons. The "save our show" campaign for Jericho showed that fans were not only passionate about their favorite shows but that they would also spend money to support them. Farscape fans worked to advertise their value as an audience to sponsors and networks who might help pick up the show. Chuck's campaign continued the idea of what a "save our show" campaign could look like by appealing directly to the sponsors to persuade the networks on their behalf. Through their power as consumers, fans' labor influenced the decisions of the networks regarding their favorite shows.

[8.2] This particular type of power—the power of audience as consumer—is problematic because it requires the viewers to actively participate in the desired capitalistic system already in place. This becomes even more complicated as "save our show" campaigns move toward fans using their power to consume to appeal to the advertisers. The audience has limited control over what network their show is shown on or which companies are advertisers for the show, which can lead to problems if the viewer does not agree with the sponsor's policy but wants to support the show. However, this current strategy offers the most agency and voice to the viewers; having an active role in the renewal process is something that was previously considered to be inaccessible to fans.

[8.3] Despite the problems inherent in this new attempt at wielding fan power, it is still a step forward for fan culture. Fans had previously been considered fringe TV viewers. Fans are improving ways to navigate the existing systems of power in order to negotiate more control and opportunity to influence network programming. Engaged audiences of fans, although often small, through their dedication and labor ultimately have the opportunity to have more power in the television-advertiser-consumer relationship. As television increasingly relies on niche audiences, television shows are going to lend themselves more to fan culture and will be recognized as fan commodities. Recognizing that fans can have a voice regarding renewal of their shows, even if it is a problematic voice, is important, and the "save our show" campaign for Chuck helped make that voice heard by those in power.

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