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Chuck Interviewby Pattye Grippo    

Chuck

This is a transcript of an interview with Executive Producer Chris Fedak on November 2, 2011 about the television show Chuck.

Question:
Obviously there's a lot of big changes this season. Chuck's now the handler and doesn't have the intersect. Can you talk about how those changes came about and what it means for the future of the series?

Chris Fedak:
When we built the season finale last year we really wanted to go out with a bang, and in doing that and going up against the CIA, we thought it'd be cool to kind of like take us into kind of more an A-Team you know, direction with our crew. And so it's like yes, we essentially kind of set ourselves up for a really big change for Season 5. So it's certainly a different show. We have a different dynamic in regard to how the team gets missions and who we're meeting in the world of espionage. We're going to be meeting Gertrude Verbansky who has her own you know, private spy company.

So it's certainly a shift for the show, but it's also still the Chuck show. It's still you know, action comedy with this team of characters. So it was funny. It was like when we didn't know this would be the final season of the show. We didn't know that was the dynamic, but it was still fun for us to come into this season and know that we were going to be building something a little bit different.

Question:
Is Chuck going to be without the Intersect for the entire season?

Chris Fedak:
I don't want to give anything away so I'm a little bit hesitant to actually tell you if he's going to get it back or not. However, I think that one of the things that we kind of looked at and that we were thinking about in last season was you know, Chuck with the Intersect was a little bit too easy you know.

I think that you know we wanted to have more fun this season going back to the Season 1 and Season 2 Chuck where things were difficult and complicated and he had to come up with his own Chuck solutions to problems. So I'm not going to tell you if he gets it back or not, and if we're going to go into the Chuck Fu world, but it is something that I think one of the unique changes for this season is that Chuck doesn't have it. And that you know, the spy world is going to be getting a lot more difficult.

Question:
When you started to conceive this show, did you really forecast how it was going to evolve like this? Or, were you going seat of your pants, hope we're picked up next season, which is sort of how it happened right?

Chris Fedak:
Yes.

Question:
Did you have a greater arch where he becomes the leader of his own organization?

Chris Fedak:
First I want to tell you two things. One, I totally agree with you in regard to the Chuck computer skills because as we had Chuck doing more and more Chuck Fu and fun Intersect stuff, was we got away from the computer side of Chuck. And here in the first couple of episodes of the season we're going to have a lot of fun with going back to Chuck as being the amazing computer guy. Zachary Levi directed Episode 5 of this season which is called Chuck vs. the Hack Off and it's probably one of the nerdier episodes we've ever done but it's got some amazing you know, hacking sequences. We really took our lead from Swordfish.

And it's a sort of really, really fun episode and we kind of get back into who Chuck was. We actually learn that Chuck was known as the Piranha and that the movie Swordfish was based on him. So there's some really fun computer stuff coming up.

Two, in regard to planning it all out because I think Josh and I, we always had an idea. We had a world that we wanted to go into and we had shapes for the show that we were excited about. And the idea of the private spy team was something that we kind of imagined as far back as Season 3 and how much fun that would be to kind of go out into that world and have Chuck kind of put together a sneakers-like operation. But for the most part you know, it's one combination of kind of like the dreams we have and the second part is seat of your pants.

Because I think that when it comes to network television it's like you know, you're dealing with your situation week-by-week and season-by-season, and when you get an order for 11 or 6 more, you have to kind of figure it out as you go. So it's really a combination.

Question:Chris Fedak:
Right now we have Episode 13 up on the board and it's kind of like my panic attack that's just waiting for me every day. It's like we go in there and the second half of the season really drives us into the Chuck finale, and it's some big, emotional epic things and we still have mysteries we're going to learn about you know Sarah, and Casey, and Chuck.

And in that last episode we're really looking to you know blow it out in a way that we've never done before. So there's a number of stories that are currently in play. But if I had my druthers I'd would try to do everything, and that's what I think I'm going to try to do. So it's exciting, but yes. So the answer to your question is a number of story lines and characters that we've set up in the past that I'd love to see one more time.

Question:
Given how many times Chuck has had to work around you know, whether they're going to get renewed or not every year, knowing this is the last season, how is your approach different this year?

Chris Fedak:
I think our approach has been in the past we've always painted ourselves into a corner and then prided ourselves on the ability to kind of extricate ourselves so that we could do a second half to the season. And usually what that meant was that we kind of did two seasons. We did you know the first season which was the tightly wound 13 episodes. And then we built a second season based around either 11 or 4 episodes, or whatever we were handed.

This year the painting that we're doing as we head toward corner. It's a really complicated job where - you know, it's a really kind of big epic you know corner that we're paining ourselves into. And, I think that's been you know kind of an amazing opportunity being given a final season. Being given a chance to kind of you know take the story to a big epic conclusion. And to design it that way. So even more than in the last couple of years, these 13 episodes this season of Chuck is heading toward that final chapter and we knew that from the get-go so it's helped to define the story.

Question:
In a lot of ways, is this an ideal situation?

Chris Fedak:
I love it. I mean I got to say that I love the ability to actually finish out a network television show, and that's something that you usually don't get to do. You're absolutely right. I mean there's so many television shows out there that have left with cliffhanger like finales and you don't know what happened in the end. You don't know what was the next part of the story? And I use the example of Alf you know. Alf was captured by the authorities. That's it. That's the end of the story.

You know we've built this season to be a final chapter. You know to take our characters to you know, a really exciting end point you know. Comic. Tragic. Exciting. And, that's the great thing and so yes, it's the best of both worlds to be able to take a fifth season of the show and to tell that final story on it. I couldn't be more excited.

Question:
Is Scott Bakula going to be making any appearances?

Chris Fedak:
Unfortunately Stephen J. Bartowski is dead, which I think is amazing because Scott Bakula is the most fantastic person to work with. So the fact that we killed him was for storytelling wise was such a kind of moment for the show. Kind of an epic. I couldn't imagine trying to undo that by bringing him back to life. But you know, you should take that with a grain of salt because I have been proved to be untrustworthy when it comes to spoilers, so you never know what I might do.

Question:
Are you were going to talk about what we can expect with Cheryl Ladd coming on as Sarah's mom and Tim Takai as Sarah's old handler and kind of peeling back the layers of what is a pretty mysterious character?

Chris Fedak:
We first started working on the season of the show I didn't think we would have the ability to tell that story. It was something that we had built out over the course of the years you know kind of just touching upon it in very kind of small ways. And I thought that would be one of the story lines that we wanted to be able to address. However as we kind of got into the season, especially the second half of the season, we decided to focus on Sarah for that episode. And I have to say for those fans who love Sarah Walker, it will be your favorite episode ever.

Considering phase 3 and all those episodes that have come before it, it is an amazing epic, reveals a lot of amazing secrets about Sarah that you know, you could never have imagined that you know, are actually back there. So we have Tim Takai as Sarah's original handler, and Tim is fantastic in the show. He bring incredible gravitas to this back story. And it's not our funniest Chuck story. We're going into epic land in regard to you know, Sarah's past. And Cheryl is wonderful and warm and caring and fantastic as her mother. And this is an episode we're cutting at the moment. And yes, for the Sarah Walker fanatics out there, it will be your favorite episode ever.

Question:
Tell me about some of the other guest stars that you've got coming up this season?

Chris Fedak:
This week on Friday we have Carrie Ann Moss for the first time playing Gertrude the improper, and probably named Gertrude Verbansky and she runs Verbansky Corp. And Verbansky is the competition to Carmichael Industries, Chuck's new private spy company. And we have a lot of fun with that intermingling of the competition between these two companies.

And Carrie Ann is wonderful. She's funny and she's scary, and she has the most amazing relationship with John Casey and Adam Baldwin. It's like the chemistry in between Adam and Carrie Ann is amazing. In our third episode we have a fight between the two of them which is the most erotically charged thing we've ever done on the show. And you know going forward we have some really exciting people coming onto the show. We have Bo Derek, we have Angus Macfadyen.

We have a ton of people coming to the show and it's been the kind of thing that we've realized over the year is that you know, we made the joke back in the day that we were the Love Bug of spy shows, but you know it's been neat to still be building out that spy world and kind of bring people into it. So we have Stan Lee doing a cameo in one of our episodes. And from our first episode we had Mark Hamill on the show for our first villain, so it's exciting. It's exciting to bring those people to the show.

Question:
What kind of a journey would you say that Chuck was on this season?

Chris Fedak:
When we first started thinking about Season 5, we've always used the show from the Chuck emotional journey in the sense that if you look at the first season of the show, it's about a guy who doesn't know what to do with his life. It's the quarter life crisis. And over the intervening you know four seasons, we've taken him from the guy who doesn't know what he wants to do to he knows what he wants to do but it's really hard. He wants to be a spy. And then he falls in love and then the love story with Sarah Walker.

And I think that the show has very much become you know, Sarah and Chuck's now emotion journey because when you married you start sharing your dreams with your wife and your husband. So this season of the show is about those intermingling of dreams. About Sarah and Chuck wanting that house. You know, thinking about their future. Wanting this company to work. And over the course of this season, realizing just how crazy it is to want to think about the future and think about the house, think about maybe a family, and also being a private spy company. So that's been unlike the A-Team or unlike the Equalizer.

Unlike you know, other shows about people in private industry doing detective or spy work, our team is also considering their future from a family perspective. And I think that's the neat thing about this season is how that family perspective effects you know, the spy team and the missions that they're going to go on and what they want to do and who they want to be. So it's very much about you know, Chuck and Sarah and their dreams.

Question:
A lot of fans have been really, really not happy about Morgan. What can you say to kind of assure them to stick with the ride? Like either that there will be an expiration date or that they will understand and be on board with the decisions you guys have made for Season 4 Morgan?

Chris Fedak:
I think that you know you have to imagine that we're telling these are the first two chapters of the final season of the show. So with the Morgan story and I love you know, Josh Gomez and the Intersect, and I think that you know what he's done with it has been really, really funny, and we have some incredibly funny stuff coming up, but it's testing the bounds of the show.

You know especially here in the first half of the season, the Chuck/Morgan bromance is very much at the heart and the center of the show and how Morgan getting the Intersect affects that is a real change for the show. So of course you know if your fans, you know we're looking at a show that's changing and also at a relationship which has been the same for the most part you know, the same since Morgan learned about Chuck's being a part of the spy world and joining the team.

And so things are changing and that relationship is going to be and having seen Episode 3, you can see that there's a really big difference in what's happening to Morgan and you know, how that effects the Morgan/Chuck relationship. So you know, the first half of the season is certainly about that. That's the first part. That's the first chapter. The first kind of section of this season.

I don't want to give anything away, but it's like we wanted to address all of our big stories here in the final season of the show. And I think that kind of considering where we left last season, focusing on Chuck and Morgan and how this affects them is something that is certainly important. It's not the entire season. You know, we have Casey. We have the Chuck/Sarah relationship. But it's certainly you know, where we began.

where we start now, each episode will change. From the episode that comes on Friday night, we will end in a far different place than where we began at the beginning at 5:01, and by the end of 5:03, things will have changed again. So it's like this season of this show, every episode will be different, and by the end of each episode, the dynamic and the core dynamic of the show will be changing.

It's not as if we're settling in. There's 13 episodes. We will be trying to blow it out each episode this season. If this feels like we're pushing the story and we're being dramatic and we're messing with the foundations of the show, the answer to the question is yes, we're doing that because it's the final season of the show and we want to. You know, we want to tell the most exciting story possible.

Nobody's safe. It's like there's no part of the show that isn't game right now, and that's been a fun part of breaking the show and writing the show and watching what our actors do with it. So it's certainly there's a lot of things that are going to be changing even here in the beginning of the season.

Question:
When Chuck is done, has there been talk of continuing it in another medium like comic books or something like that?

Chris Fedak:
We did comic books in our first season of the show, and that was great. I would love if Chuck survives Episode 13. I love the character and I love the show, and if there was another way to do it, you know that would be awesome. But right now we're just focused on delivering you know, an epic finale to the show but you never know. You never know what would happen out in the future, but then again that's of course if Chuck and Sarah and Casey and Morgan and the rest of the team survive Episode 13. You never know how cruel a writer I could be.

Question:
Do you prefer to have a show that ends with a definitive ending so it kind of feels like a book end, or do you prefer to have an open-ended show where the mythology could go on depending on how you choose to finish it for movies or even just for fans to kind of you know muddle and decide where there characters go next?

Chris Fedak:
In the past I've always been a person who enjoys a ending that feels more like a prologue than an epilogue. I love those endings and I think that that's what we've done in each season of the show. The real question right now is will we do that for the finale, and I have to be honest with you; that's what we're working on at the moment up on the board in the writer's room. It's like that I know I have to go in there and I know I have to work on that episode and I know we need to do it, but it's quite an emotional thing to try to find that perfect ending and we have a number of them right now.

I have a natural inclination to love those moments of you know, thinking what's the exciting story that's going to happen next that we can imagine? But we also have a unique opportunity to actually do a proper you know, epilogue ending here at the end of Season 5. So you've found a man in debate with himself at this moment.

Question:
Going back to what you said about sort of you know, changing the dynamics of the show almost episode to episode this season, how has that been just as a writer and a show runner?

Chris Fedak:
I would say that it's a challenge, but it's a challenge that we've always embraced. The weird thing about the Chuck show is that if you've noticed that with each one of our you know, opening couple of episodes we're always kind of rebuilding from where we started at the end of the previous season. You know, from Chuck learning Kung Fu at the end of Season 2 to the mom story at the end of Season 3, and to the spy company at the end of Season 4.

So this has always been kind of something that we prided ourselves on. It was like coming up with you know, a slightly new show each season. And I know that that's not usual, but because we've always been an unusual show that has you know kind of skirted cancellation and come back each year it's been one of the challenges, but also that's an exciting for writers.

It's like so many shows there's the show and it's the show and it's always the show. For us, we love the opportunity to be able to come back and do Carmichael Industries. Even though we have 13 episodes, coming up with how Carmichael Industries works and who their competition was, that for us was a great opportunity to kind of do something new. And I think that you know here in network TV you're not always allowed to do something new, so it's the fun of it is what I'm saying.

Question:
Are we going to see any more from Lester or Jeff in maybe like a spin-off or a Web series, or maybe even like mini-comic book?

Chris Fedak:
I love all those ideas. I love them all. I love them all. I love watching Vic and Scott together. They're an incredible duo. And their story is going to change in a very big way in the next couple of episodes. And like everything else I kind of described in regard to the changing dynamic of the show, everything will change inside the Buy More, especially in regards to Jeff and Lester.

There's a lot of really kind of interesting things that are happening there. It's one of the things I'm really exciting to see what you guys think of when we actually when those changes start to happen. So in regard to the band, we will not see for quite some time because of those changes, I don't want to give away too much, but there's a lot of really crazy things happening there.

By Episode 5, and you know, we're going to see Lester in prison. There you go. An actual spoiler. I said something.

Question:
As we're heading into the final episodes here, who's story do you think has the greatest payoff?

Chris Fedak:
I have to say it'll be the Chuck/Sarah story will be the story that you're talking about. That doesn't mean that there aren't crazy things happening in the world of every other character in the show. But I still think in the end it was a show about a guy who gets a computer in his brain and it's the adventures that he goes on. And very soon after that, we realized there was a love story between Sarah and Chuck. And so kind of keeping that in mind and knowing the show that you know, that the Sarah/Chuck relationship will be the huge epic emotional payoff in a good way or bad way at the end of the season.

Question:
Which episode are you most excited for fans to see this season?

Chris Fedak:
They're all crazy. Each one of our episodes this year is kind of pushing the kind of bounds of what we do on the show and they all have just outrageous components. So I'm really excited for each and every one of them. I love Episode 4, which is a very different type of show. It's about Chuck and Sarah going undercover at a Buy More convention and I love it. It's a very sweet, very different type of show.

Zach directed an epic episode in Chuck vs. the Hack Off. In Episode 3 this year, we've got the Chuck/Morgan relationship it comes to an amazing head and I'm excited about each episode really just kind of takes the show in a new and exciting different direction. Episode 7 which is our Christmas episode, which currently is airing after Christmas, is also an incredible, you know high intensity episode. And I'll say it again. Episode 8 this season, of Sarah Walker's back story is for those fans of the show who love Sarah, and I certainly count myself as one of them. It'll be a jaw dropping episode.

Question:
I noticed you had Mark Hamill and Craig Kilborn on the Season 5 premier, and since this is the final season, did you guys put in extra effort to get the guest stars you've always wanted on the show?

Chris Fedak:
Since Season I think 3, we have started casting the show in such a way that when we're in the writer's room we like to think of like who's the person that we would love to see in this part? And then we have an amazing casting director in Patrick Rush. And, he tries to make our dreams come true. And amazingly enough, we've done it from episode to episode. This season like you know Season 3 and Season 4 and Season 2, because you would usually 3, 4, then 2, is certainly going to be exciting you know guest stars. And so the answer to your question is yes, but we've been doing it for awhile that way.

Question:
After it was announced that this would be the final season of Chuck, what was the vibe like in the writer's room? To make sure that you guys had everything sewn up by the end?

Chris Fedak:
We had already wrapped production in the writer's room on Season 4 when we were picked up for Season 5, so when we got back into the writer's room it was great. I mean after five years it's been fantastic amongst the writers as well as the production and the crew. We love these characters, from myself and Josh, to the writers and the cast. These are characters that are very near and dear to our heart. The vibe has been fantastic and we just want to you know, tell this last chapter in an amazing way. And I think you can see it in all aspects of the show.

I don't think it really dawned on us until Comic Con that we were ending the show. You know, I think that it was that moment it was kind of like, ???Oh, this is coming to an end.??? And you know, it's a big emotional thing. This has been the last you know, five to six years of our lives. So I couldn't be more proud of our team.

Question:
Why do you think the fans have such a loyal connection to the show?

Chris Fedak:
I know that each and every person that watches the show watches the show for different reasons. It's like we have so many amazing characters that when we built the show we kind of knew that Chuck was the star of our show, but we also had Sarah Walker who could be the star of her own show, and John Casey who could be the star of his own show as well.

And, I think that this show gives everyone a different opportunity to come into it. That it's a different show for different people. And I think that's really exciting and that's what I kind of like about doing a hybrid show which is part comedy, part spy show, part action/comedy. And I think that you know, everyone has a different thing that they kind of love and that's a really neat thing.

And I think that in talking to our fans, you'll see that we went to Chicago with Vic and Scott and it was amazing in Chicago at the convention there. The passion for Jeffster. The passion for Jeff and Lester and for Ryan's character, and that's amazing for me, which is like the idea that these characters who that when we did the pilot you probably could count you know, their number of lines on my left and right hand. There's an audience for them as well and the people that are passionate about their characters, much like you know we are on the writing staff and the actors.

And so, I think that that's you know, a neat part of the show, and the other thing - part about the show is that it's a show about spies and it's about spies stuff, but it's also about their home lives and it's about their families, and the fact that Adam Baldwin who plays John Casey is not only amazing in the spy role but also in his relationship with Alex and his back story. And we've found that our back story episodes are so much a part of the show that we've really kind of used the show as a way to explore these characters. And so I love it because it just shows a lot of things.

And I think that Chuck fans are people also that you know, are fans are people that watch TV, and they know TV, and they know movies, and they know music. And so I think that in some ways the show is also kind of a conversation about things that we love. So sometimes it's in jokes and references, and sometimes it's just like the structure of the show and also what are we doing? Like are we telling a Superman story? I think Chuck and the Chuck family is sort of passionate about.

Question:
Can we expect anything special for the DVD's with it being the final season?

Chris Fedak:
Right now the DVD people at Warner Bros. DVD are working on some really kind of cool stuff, and most of it will kind of tied to the idea that this is our final season of the show. we'll have some really emotional stuff there. I think I was talking to Yvonne and it's that every night when we wrap our episodes and we go home from work it's an emotional experience because we know that there's an expiration date on the fact that we won't be doing this you know after the new year. And so yes, I think that the DVD extras will certainly kind of reflect that.

Question:
It's very fitting that on the premier episode Chuck, always the underdog, went up against the World Series and was that sort of planned? That little rant by Morgan?

Chris Fedak:
Absolutely no. We did not plan to go up against the most exciting Game 7 of the World Series ever. If there's any lesson we learned on Friday is do not mess with baseball. We didn't know when we did that joke, which before Morgan prematurely zooms. I think that's my joke and I think that I was tempting the fates. I should've known. I blame myself.

Question:
We haven't really heard much about what's going to be going on with Ellie and Awesome in these final episodes. What can you tease about their journey?

Chris Fedak:
Their journey is kind of like Chuck's in a way in that you know, they started off the show being more mature than Chuck. You know, being they had jobs and careers and now they have a baby. And here at the beginning of the season, we're certainly kind of you know clocking back in and checking in and seeing what's going on in their kind of their family life.

But I think going into the second half of the season as well as the - kind of their big overarching story is that you know, they've got big success in their future. And you know, and it's time for them to kind of start making decisions about where they want to go and what they want to do. And for Ellie to kind of think about is it time to cut the strings and not feel like she has to take care of her brother at every turn? They've got a big future in front of them, so that's something that we're going to be kind of getting into.

And the other part of the show too is that you know, one of the things that you know, over the course of the first few seasons Ellie didn't know about Chuck's spy life. This season she does and she's probably the brighter of the two siblings, and it can be helpful to Chuck and the things that are going to be happening in the spy world as well as the kind of mythology of the Intersect.

Question:
All this talk about the final season, you seem really ready to kind of close it out. But in the off chance that NBC orders more, would you accept it or would you kind of tell them that this is kind of the way you wanted to finish it?

Chris Fedak:
I think that you know if someone were to offer me the chance to write more Chuck stories, I would always say yes to it because I love these characters. What we would have to do is we would have to shut down the show and kind of you know reconvene in the writer's room and start over again. We'd probably have to do that in a much bigger way.

It's something we've done in the past and we've been able to figure out how to do. But, we would just need to kind of you know, reconsider some things and kind of start over. Essentially build out a Season 5.2 like we've done in the past. It's exciting the idea that you could you know, keep going and tell more story, but it's a daunting task that we've done in the past. We could do it again, but I don't think about that bridge until I'm half way across it and both sides are burning down. So you know, that's the usual here at the Chuck show.

Question:
Then there's a little hope, a small flicker.

Chris Fedak:
A small flicker, or is it the fire burning on both sides of the bridge? But yes. We adore the shore. We adore you know, we adore these characters and if there was a way be it comics or more episodes, or you know whatever it may be, that would be neat. But right now, we're focusing on these 13.

Question:
Since you guys got on the air and you sort of had this hero/geek Chuck, have you guys over the years kind of marveled the fact that nerds and geeks have sort of become cool since Chuck's on the air?

Chris Fedak:
I think that Chuck came on at a very specific time where you know, everyone was really getting to know their IT officer at work. And it's an amazing age we live in right now where everything is changing to such an extent that you know, the people that make computers, the kind of the nerdier side of the world are famous as well. You know, that they're people that we look up to.

It's just how the Internet and the media and communications as a whole are changing the world, so it's a really exciting time. And I think that Chuck Bartowski was you know, there in 2007 kind of like you know a hero for this group. So I think that it's neat and it's neat to see the things that Chuck are obsessed about and that you know, we were obsessed about here at the show are things are changing the world right now. So it's certainly an exciting time.

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