Tonight marks the end of a tumultuous five-season run for the NBC action-comedy/spy-drama series Chuck, from creators Josh Schwartz and Chris Fedak.
The story of “Chuck” revolves around computer service technician Chuck Bartowski, played by Zachary Levi, who inadvertently becomes a CIA/NSA asset when his former Stanford roommate turned CIA operative downloads the only copy of a secret government database, the Intersect, directly into Chuck’s brain. The government assigns two agents to protect and work with Chuck, CIA Agent Sarah Walker (Yvonne Strahovski) and NSA Major John Casey (Big Hollywood’s own Adam Baldwin).
The supporting cast includes Chuck’s best friend Morgan (Joshua Gomez), sister Ellie (Sarah Lancaster), brother-in-law Devon (Ryan McPartlin) and fellow computer technicians and lackeys Jeff and Lester (played to comedic brilliance by Scott Krinsky and Vik Sahay). Guest stars over the years have included Chevy Chase, Scott Bakula, Linda Hamilton, Timothy Dalton and Carrie-Anne Moss.
The cast worked incredibly well together which, when combined with good writing and interesting storylines, produced a series that was extremely entertaining and kept me watching from the first episode. For whatever reason, the show was never able to draw in a large audience and slipped in the ratings in each subsequent season.
Chuck was able to stave off cancellation numerous times thanks to a very vocal and loyal, but unfortunately small, fan base who mounted multiple “Save Chuck” campaigns. If not for a unique sponsorship deal with the Subway restaurant chain, the series would have never even seen a third season. A deal between production company Warner Brothers and NBC for a 13-episode fifth season was only struck to get to the minimum syndication threshold of 88 episodes, which brought the series to a total of 91 episodes.
I recently spoke with Big Hollywood contributor Adam Baldwin about the series, its finale airing at 8 p.m. EST tonight and being a conservative in Hollywood.
How did you get involved with “Chuck?”
It was an audition, typical pilot season, and I went in for the producers for the first and then they called me back for the studio, which was Warner Brothers, and that went well. So they called me back for the network audition and that went well and they gave me the job.
When I was auditioning for the network I saw Zach Levi there and another guy they had. It was really between the two of them, and the other guy was not tall. Zach is six-four and I thought “Good. I hope the tall guy gets it” ’cause then I got a shot.
This might have been one of the tallest casts ever with you, Zach and Ryan, and even Yvonne and Sara. Did you ever feel bad for Joshua Gomez?
No, because we needed a troll. Once you’re over six-foot, you’re in the tall man’s club, and it’s a little easier when you’re working with tall people. “Firefly” was like that too. Nathan Fillion is like six-one, or six-two, six-three, whatever, and most everyone else was tall on that show, so it made it a lot easier.
It’s kind of unique, I think, to have a show that’s been on the brink of being axed so many times come back. You were so close to syndication after season 4. Why wouldn’t the network at least get to that point where you can start getting some guaranteed money back off of it? John Nolte has posted recently about “30 Rock.” They pump it as this great show, this high rated show, and last season “Chuck” beat it. You guys were ranked 101 and it was 106.
Hold on, follow the money. Is “30 Rock” an in-house, all the way along, NBC production? I think it is, and ours, I know, is a Warner Brother’s licensing fee to NBC. Anytime you’ve got a show that’s an outside producer licensing it back to the network, there’s extra costs involved, so as people working on the show, you have to consider, well “what’s the licensing fee?” Is it a million per episode? Is it a dollar per episode? The business stuff is beyond my pay grade. Business is business. Robert Greenblatt, the head of NBC now, said that for the 13 episode half-season, Warner Brothers, the production company that was licensing it to NBC said “hey, they made us a deal we couldn’t refuse” because Warner Brothers wanted to get to beyond the magic number of 88, which is 22 episodes times four seasons. I think that’s the magic number these days. It used to be 100, but now it’s 88, and Warner Brothers wanted to get to that number so they were able to make a deal to get there. And, I think the bottom line is: follow the money.
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It’s a show that wasn’t highly rated in the demographic, or as highly rated as certainly they wanted it to be. But they were close enough to a syndication number that they could get that. I don’t know what any syndication deals are. It’s certainly not a number that I could retire on. I’m not looking for that. Bottom line is, I’m happy that we got five seasons, 91 episodes was the total, I believe. Ninety-one episodes out of a show that was a bubble show from the get go. So, we’re very happy with that. It was a good run. Five years these days, in this market, is a good run. And that’s the bottom line of the message I want to express is that these days, to get that far along is an exception to the rule. And we had a fan base that was a huge part of that. They were very loyal.
There were a lot of factors for “Chuck” behind the scenes that kept it going, whereas other shows would not have kept going. “Heroes” cost a lot more than we did, we were able to keep our budgets pretty low, and it’s a big benefit that the powers that be, the heads of Warner Brothers, they liked the show. And NBC, they really liked the show. They liked the characters and the producers and the story lines, so they wanted to keep it going but, five years, hey, let’s wrap it up. And that’s fine. I’ve got no problem with that. I’m not as heartbroken by this as I was by “Firefly” with only thirteen episodes, like, dude, there’s so much more to give.
You seem to do a lot of military-type roles. How much of John Casey is really Adam Baldwin?
I have been blessed, through those military roles, to meet military men and women. My father was in the United Stated Naval Air Corps in World War II. My grandfather was in the army in World War I. So, I have a legacy. I did not serve, but I respect and admire those that do. I always will. And anyone that is a technical advisor, who’s had military training, on our show I try to glean as much authenticity as I can and add that to the character that I’m playing. And I recognize the fact that I’m just an actor trying to play a role. It’s an action comedy, so I try to balance the funny with the action and the seriousness in that.
I do take the responsibility of portraying a guy who’s serious about protecting the nation and I am a serious patriot, an American Patriot. I believe that without our military, fighting men and women, that our country would have fallen long ago. But they didn’t allow that to happen so I support and defend that in my civilian capacity as much as I can. And I try to portray that as well as I can. So, I love the military. I love weapons as tools of defending liberty, individual liberty, and freedom. I believe in the Constitution. I believe in the American founding documents, or as Madison or Adams called them, America’s political scriptures, which are the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
You’ve been working pretty much constantly since 1980 with “My Bodyguard.” Did you ever fear that having political views like yours would hurt your career?
No. I’m fearless for several reasons. One is because, I think, the truth is not something that people can hold against you. And I have a Twitter stream where I consistently ask folks to tell me where I’ve been factually incorrect. And if someone can point that out I’m happy to say “hey, you’re right. I missed that point, I missed that fact” and I’ll correct it. But that’s a rare exception.
Casey defends, protects, serves America, which is what America’s scriptures say, which is protect, secure life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And, that’s what Casey, he is. You know, the folks (on “Chuck”) were accommodating to the fact that I brought a perspective that they necessarily didn’t have in their life, or their creative writing, that could make John Casey more authentic. So I tried to do that as much as I can. I was a supporting character, I’m not Chuck. The show is called “Chuck,” I’m John Casey, but I tried to be a supporting role, a pivotal role but a supporting role and be a team player. You want to be a team player. So the key is, for conservatives on a show, is don’t be an asshole. Like, Wil Wheaton has “don’t be a dick.” It’s Wil Wheaton’s rule or law or whatever the hell it’s called. Yeah, don’t be a dick.
But here’s the dirty little secret about Hollywood that I’ve talked about and people don’t talk about enough is that, most people in Hollywood are on the right side of the political spectrum. They just are. Because they live their lives like normal American people do. And the majority of normal Americans are center-right, because they want the government out of their lives, as John Casey does. He wants to protect people’s lives, keep government out of it. But, there’s political correctness that infects Hollywood. Our main enemy, while in the background may be Russia and China, our virulent enemy right now is radical Islam and those people that would support radical Islam to blow up our buildings and kill our people and all that stuff. It’s unfortunate that we aren’t able to address that on a TV show that bows to political correctness. What’s the Jack Bauer show, “24?” I mean, they did it. I wish we’d done more of it.
Since there are so many to the right of center in Hollywood, why do you think it’s so rare to have someone who actually admits it?
Well, there are few people who can.
But why is that?
It’s a combination of reasons. I’ll just speak for myself. I grew up with parents who were teachers. And in my youth and twenties, thirties, before I had kids, when I was still focusing on myself, I bought into what my friends, who I thought were my smart friends, taught me or told me to believe. And that’s very common in Hollywood. The leftist ideology is extremely common in the intellectual circles. And it’s very attractive, it’s seductive, it’s sexy to be smarter than you really are. Now, I didn’t go to college, I didn’t graduate college. So I admired those who did. And I admired those who had information that either seemed collegiate, seemed intellectual, high intellectual purpose, whatever, and I aspired to that. So I succumbed to “this is true. The leftist argument is true” because it was really the only argument I’m hearing. It was the echo chamber effect. The Pauline Kael “I never met anyone who voted for Nixon” in ’72, when he won in a landslide. The Pauline Kael effect. I ran in circles of people who, it didn’t even come up. Hell, I didn’t vote for a Republican president until the second term of Clinton.
Well, Clinton. And, I’ve written about this on Big Hollywood, the information that became available in the new media. I’ve written about Rush Limbaugh’s effect, but that’s just one piece of the puzzle. You know, Limbaugh had a broad outreach. Most people in America, most people in Hollywood who are working are center-right. It’s just they’re not vocal about it. The problem is, if you become vocal in a workplace there are people who will defend you and there are people who will not defend you.
So the conservatives, center-right, libertarians, whatever you want tocall it, they’ve just decided to remain silent and work, get their money go home and raise their families, which I admire and I respect. And I’ve talked to lots of guys over the years who just live their lives that way. It’s not arguable.There are people who will bring the argument to work. And I think that’s wrong, left or right. Although, you’re going to get a pass, for the most part, because the bosses, the creative people who are sitting in the chairs hiring you, are going to say “I disagree with you so I don’t want to have to deal with this tension.” But, I don’t argue with these people on the set in any way.
I certainly never would instigate an argument about politics on a TV or movie set. It’s stupid. Unless you can take it off to the side and talk to people and say “yeah, does this make sense or does this not make sense?” Because, why would you want to piss off your boss? But there are people in the business who want to piss off their boss because they’re pissed off. And that’s stupid, in any business. Why would you want to piss off the boss? I’ve met guys in Hollywood, actors and actresses, who have a legitimate point of view, but who push it too hard in the workplace. And that’s a mistake.
That’s my take with these leftists who speak out. Sixty percent of the country is right leaning. Why would you want to risk alienating sixty percent of your potential audience?
Well, that’s a whole other argument. That’s your product, what you’re delivering to the market. John Nolte wrote that great article the Top 10 Ways Hollywood Can Win Its Audience Back. It’s spot on why movies and TV are alienating the audience. John’s article is one of the most profound and true articles about Hollywood that I’ve ever read. I don’t know how much of a student of Hollywood you are, but when I first got here in the early ’80s they told me to read Goldman’s book “Adventures in the Screen Trade.” That’s the deal.
Who was your favorite “Chuck” guest star?
Scott Bakula. He and Chevy Chase were my favorite male guest stars. My favorite female guest stars would be Carrie-Anne Moss and Rebecca Romijn because she is just stunningly beautiful. She is just amazingly, stunningly beautiful.
Were you satisfied with the ending they came up with?
Yeah, it was nice. It turned out OK. I can’t complain. It’s hard to comment because I haven’t seen it. Having shot it, I would say that I think the characters were served. And their relationships were served.
What were your feelings when filming came to an end? Was it bittersweet that you actually got to have a definite ending and you weren’t cut off during the summer when it had just been another cliff-hanger ending?
Yeah, that was a big advantage for us. We were given the blessing of that. It was hard, but at least we had a chance to close it out, to shoot on film “goodbye.” It was a good run. Five years is a good run in anybody’s book, in any TV show. You get five years, for cryin’ out loud, that’s two more years than “Star Trek” got. That’s good.
Did you keep the picture of Ronald Reagan that was in Casey’s apartment?
Well, that was mine. That was a copy I have, so I have the original. Yes.
What’s next for you?
It’s just coming out of holiday season. There’s nothing on the table. I’ll never work again. The perennial actor’s lament, “I will never work again.” I don’t know. I don’t have anything on paper yet.
Would you prefer to stay in TV or go back to movies?
TV’s great. It’s consistent work. We’ll see. The answer is, I don’t know. But, I’m happy to have been a part of a show where young actors, who really are nice people, got a chance to show themselves for who they are, and what they are talent wise. And they will continue. That’s my goal as an elder statesman of the show. These guys, they’re going to be around for a while. So, I’m blessed in that regard.
The final episode of “Chuck” airs at 8 p.m. EST tonight on NBC.