Last week, in Birmingham, England, Zachary Levi, the endearingly dorky comedian who plays the titular hero of NBC’s tech-heavy spy dramedy Chuck, took a group of about 200 people to Subway for some sandwiches.
“This is the revolution, people,” he said to the crowd, which was assembled for a television convention. “Inundate the Internet,” he implored them, as his followers whipped out their cameras to shoot pictures and videos. “Let it get all over the place, let CNN pick it up in the States.” It was the night before Chuck’s second-season finale, and Mr. Levi was trying to send NBC a message: People care about his show. With lackluster ratings, NBC has been waffling on granting Chuck a third season.
And why Subway? Mr. Levi’s sandwich stunt worked twofold: He was able to urge fans to take to the Internet and blog, Twitter or Facebook their feelings about the show and throw some bucks to one of Chuck’s major sponsors, Subway. In Birmingham, before pulling on a pair of gloves and getting behind the counter to slap together five-dollar footlongs, Mr. Levi shouted into one digital camera: “You see, NBC? This is what happens when you might cancel a show that people care about!” The video, among many others, was later posted on YouTube.
All this fit in to an already strong “Save Chuck” campaign. In early April, Kath Skerry, a TV blogger, changed the name of her site, GiveMeMyRemote.com, to “GiveMeMyChuck,” and urged the “nerd herd,” as she called her readers, named after Chuck and his pals, to spread the word about the show.
Fans changed their Facebook status, and tweeted on Twitter, letting their friends and followers know when and where to watch. They urged people to sign a petition at PetitionSpot.com or write a postcard addressed to Ben Silverman, NBC’s co-chairman, and ask the network to save Chuck. It was all a very “Yes We Can” campaign—Obama style.
BUT DOES NBC care about all this viral noise? This Monday, May 4, the network was set to announce their fall slate at their upfront presentation, a jazzy song and dance for advertisers. But even while the Peacock announced plans to roll out six new shows, it has stayed mum on Chuck, and the show’s PR reps had “no comment” for The Observer. An update on TVGuide.com’s Twitter feed noted that Mr. Silverman said the Save Chuck campaign was “amazing,” but Marc Graboff, co-chairman of NBC Entertainment and Universal Television Studio, told the Los Angeles Times that over the next two weeks the network will sit down with producers and advertisers to discuss next steps.
So did the Save Chuck campaign fail? “NBC doesn’t care how many subs you buy,” explained Josh Bernoff, a television analyst at Forrester Research and co-author of Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies. “They don’t care whether their advertisers are happy, they only care if they pay. They don’t care if people love Chuck, they only care if there are enough people to watch it.”