Lost amidst the 23549 new television shows that are getting set to premiere mere hours from now are an entire slew of returning ones. And while we probably don’t have to alert the intensely-loyal CHUCK Army that their favorite nerd-herders are back at 8PM tonight on NBC, they might be interested to know what this fourth season has in store for them. We certainly were, which is why we recently caught up with co-creator Chris Fedak on a conference call to discover just what the revelation of Mama Bartowski mean for our titular hero, the deal with all these great guest stars, and what the writer’s think of all those other spy shows hitting a small screen near you.
After last May’s finale, it appears this fourth season will have Chuck facing the mother of all problems! How big a deal will the search for Mama Bartowski play into the overall arc of the season?
Chris Fedak: You know mother issues, like all mother issues, there’s always a lot of story and a lot of mythology to kind of get into as we’ve kind of broken out this season in the writer’s room. In the past we’ve had organizations like Fulcrum and The Ring which were SPECTER/SMERSH-esque organizations. This year it’s the search for Mom, which is going to be a very interesting and kind of very emotional one. That said, like with most mother issues, there’s also great comic material for us to have fun with.
What have you guys been able to do with the fourth season that you never had the opportunity to before?
Well, I think two big things. For one, now that Morgan has been brought into the spy world, it’s been exciting to take that to the next level. So you’ll see early — episode one in fact — Chuck and Morgan on their own kind of rogue mission which is great because it’s not only a spy mission but it’s these two guys, these two good friends kind of doing something together and that’s exciting for us. The other big thing is that the new Buy More [being owned by the CIA] has allowed us to kind of bring the spy world back into the Buy More so that everything’s a little bit closer, with more of a chance of trouble popping up more organically into the show. Plus, we’ve also been able to bring back guest stars from previous seasons. In our third episode we’re bringing back Stone Cold and Nicole Richie and in our fourth, the Generalissimo Armand Assante returns.
A lot of the focus over the summer seemed to be the parade of guest stars coming to the show. Linda Hamilton, Olivia Munn, Timothy Dalton, among others. Was that a conscious decision to take advantage of the show’s new lease on life?
Absolutely. I mean, I think that when we got Season 4, not only do we get to tell a big exciting new story this season but we get to use this show as a great way to kind of meet and bring people into the world of Chuck and there’s nothing cooler than meeting and bringing people into the show like Linda Hamilton and Timothy Dalton. And it’s great because they fit so perfectly into our world. We’re super jazzed to kind of cast in a way that kind of people are going to get excited about and it makes our set a really exciting place to visit.
With the CIA owned Buy More playing an even larger role in the show, is it a challenge to juggle all the regular characters with this season’s seemingly endless parade of guest stars?
As fans of the show know, this wouldn’t be CHUCK unless you had Ellie and Awesome and the gang at the Buy More because those things keep the show about a regular guy who also is maybe not the most regular spy in the world. Something that we kind of figured out at the end of last season is that there’s always a tendency in a spy show to lose the home life and the friends back home. So the Buy More being a part of the spy world has actually made it a little bit easier for us to kind of organically keep Lester and Jeff and Big Mike and the Buy More as a part of the show and just like the Chuck living in the same apartment complex with Ellie, keeps Ellie and Captain Awesome part of the show and that’s important to us. It’s critical that it be the spy show that doesn’t lose the home life.
When CHUCK first started out, a lot of the story-lines revolved around Chuck having to protect his CIA status from everybody else now here we are at the beginning of Season 4 and pretty much everybody in the main cast knows that he’s a spy. Do you every worry about letting too many characters in on the secret?
We’re always concerned about the core dynamics of the show which is kind of based on a kind of classic TV structure of like Chuck does a job that nobody can know about. That said, despite the fact that the dynamic of Chuck not keeping that secret from his family has changed, there still is a deception happening inside the show. Heading into the fourth season we now have a giant Buy More filled with spies that nobody can know about and we also have Chuck — who told his sister at the end of last season that he had quit the spy life — being given this mission from his father to find his mom. So Chuck has this conflict, which will something he’ll be dealing with this season.
After three seasons of Chuck successfully learning the CIA ropes, does Morgan now allow you to still have the novice not really equipped to be a spy stories that used to go to Chuck?
That was kind of the great thing we discovered last season, that we could still do the fish out of water stories with Morgan. Now Morgan can be that wide-eyed new visitor in this spy world while Chuck kind of slowly but surely gets to become a better spy and struggle with what that means. It’s really exciting to have both Josh [Gomez] and Zach [Levi] in the spy world and it’s funny because when we were working on Season 2, Josh and I sat down for dinner and he kind of had this great pitch that Chuck would need an Alfred, and that’s why he needed to come into the spy world. And at that point a light kind of went off, it was a great idea and we just started to design Season 3 to head to that point so that by “Chuck Versus the Beard” where Morgan finds out, instead of being pissed off that his friend was lying to him all this time, it’s the most exciting thing in the world. My buddy, my best buddy is a spy!
Unlike previous seasons CHUCK won’t be the only spy series on NBC. What do you think of J.J. Abrams’ UNDERCOVERS, the news that ABC is working on a TRUE LIES TV series and this new influx of spy shows that are coming to the small screen?
I think it’s awesome. I mean, we’re all huge fans of J.J. Abrams and huge fans of James Cameron so it’s always exciting to see what other people are going to do inside the world. I think people really enjoy the spy stories of the spy-if if you will and it’s neat to see what other people are going to do. It’s an exciting time to be in this — the TV — spy game.
While CHUCK fans are certainly excited for a new season, there are millions of fans that have yet to tune into the show? What’s your pitch for potential who may be tuning in this week for the very first time?
They’re going to get a big, exciting action comedy television show. Even though we have a mythology and we have a big story going on, I think we still design the show so that you can sit down and watch the show on Monday night and really kind of get what’s going on. While I would also recommend going back and buying our DVDs, it’s not necessary. I think new viewers, if they decide to just start watching on Monday night, are going to get a really fun, big story that anybody can kind of jump right into.
And finally, despite CHUCK’s incredibly loyal fanbase, anything can happen in the world of television. How do you map out the first 13 episodes not knowing if you’ll get picked up for a back 9?
Right now we’re in the midst of working on the final – not the final – but the 13th episode, and the way we’ve always broken the show in the past is that we try to tell the most dynamic story we possibly can. Even if there is a back nine or more are episodes ordered, 13 will be an epic episode no matter what. I think that my favorite version of an ending is the one that implies the great adventure ahead, so I do think that 13 will be a very exciting, very satisfactory and usually and hopefully with the back nine will be a strangely-placed epic episode right in the middle of the season.
The new season of CHUCK premieres Monday September 20th at 8PM on NBC