Chuck creators reflect on the finale, talk potential revival, and more
Chuck's co-creators Josh Schwartz and Chris Fedak are opening up to the idea of revisiting the death defying cult spy show after reuniting with the cast for Entertainment Weekly's EW Reunions: #UnitedAtHome series.
Earlier this week, the producers joined the show's cast — Zachary Levi (Chuck Bartowski), Yvonne Strahovski (Sarah Walker), Adam Baldwin (Colonel John Casey), Joshua Gomez (Morgan Grimes), Sarah Lancaster (Ellie Bartowski), Ryan McPartlin (Captain Awesome), Vik Sahay (Lester Patel), Scott Krinsky (Jeff Barnes), Mark Christopher Lawrence (Big Mike), Brandon Routh (Daniel Shaw), and guest-stars Cedric Yarbrough and Diedrich Bader—on Zoom (no, not that Zoom) for a table read of season 3's "Chuck vs. The Beard," which was chosen by fans. In case you forgot, that was a pivotal episode because Morgan finally finds out his best friend Chuck is a super-spy and it marked Levi's directorial debut.
Virtually reuniting with the stars reminded Schwartz and Fedak of how much they loved the show, which wrapped up its five-season run in 2012. "We've really enjoyed going back," Fedak tells EW. "I left that yesterday going like, 'What a good group! What a fun time it was making that show!' We were at that table read yesterday, just so full of all the feels—all warm and fuzzy."
Below, Schwartz and Fedak open up about the ambiguous series finale (Did Sarah get her memories back?), what it would take to do a movie or revival, and answer a couple of questions submitted by the fans.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Were you surprised that the fans picked "Chuck vs. the Beard" for the live table read?
CHRIS FEDAK: There's so many crazy good fun episodes. At first, Josh and I were like trying to figure it out [which episode to pick] and then I think Zach was just like, "Just leave it to the fans." I think that they picked a great one because it gave everybody an opportunity to shine. And it's a super fun episode and it very much speaks to the heart of the Chuck-Morgan relationship, so I get why it's a big one for fans.
JOSH SCHWARTZ: It's a fun one for us too because it was the episode Zach directed and he did a great, great job with it.
As far as you remember, what made season 3 the right time for Morgan to learn Chuck's secret in "Chuck vs. the Beard"? Did you always know you were building to this moment in season 3?
FEDAK: I think when Josh and I looked at each one of the seasons of the show, we were pretty much certain we would not be [renewed because] this one was always on the bubble. So, when there were big moments like this, and this is like episode 9 of season 3, it was a huge moment for us. But we always knew we had to keep doing these big moments because we never knew when we weren't going to be coming back. If I remember correctly, season 3 was a 13-episode order. We knew at the end of episode 13 it would be Chuck and Sarah together. It's a big and amazing moment, but when we got ordered for more episodes, of course, it's right in the middle of the season, so we knew we had this other big epic thing in regards to the Morgan and Chuck relationship. So, we kind of build to in episode 9. Then, like Josh said, when Zach got that directing spot, we really wanted it to be a big emotional episode.
SCHWARTZ: Everything with the run of Chuck as a series, as Chris was alluding to, was…always unpredictable. Let's put it that way. The first season of the show, we got pulled off the air after episode 13 because of the writers' strike, and then it was a long time wondering if the show was going to come back or not, and if it came back, how would we fare? And we got ordered for season 2, it was only for 13 episodes, but then they were so excited about the show that they ended up ordering more episodes, but we were always on the bubble. So every year all the writers would break these seasons where we thought 13 would be the series finale and then [we'd get] more episodes. So, it was always about: How do we up the ante and take it even further than we'd even planned to do? That was great for viewers of the show because it meant we were constantly moving through a story, and turning over cards, and having these big fun reveals that we weren't holding back because we just never knew about the date of the show.
One of the fan questions we received was: What is your favorite season of the show?
SCHWARTZ: Season 2 and season 3 I feel like. There's stuff in every season.
FEDAK: When you look at season 2, the ending of season 2 is the original ending of season 1. With that kind of North Star, it just built and built and built in such a fantastic way. [In] season 2, we just really knew where we were going and we also still had money. They hadn't taken the money away from us yet. [Laughs]
SCHWARTZ: Season 4, having Linda Hamilton and Timothy Dalton. I mean, some of those stories are so big and fun, and epic.
Eight years later, how do you feel about the series finale? Would you do anything differently if you could?
FEDAK: No. I really wanted to create a finale that you would watch with bated breath up until the very end, and I think that it was something that we were building too. And I think that I'm really excited about that finale because we're still talking about it. You know, it's still something that it's about Chuck and Sarah's relationship. To the question of, "Did Sarah remember Chuck and all that stuff?" I think if you've watched the show, then you know the answer. So, I loved the ending. I'll say this: I have a writer that I've worked with on two shows now and she's brilliant. Her name is Elizabeth Peterson, and she also was a super fan. She's written so many great episodes for me on other shows. Everyone once in a while, she'll stop in the middle of the writers' room and she'll just look at me, and go, "She remembered, right?" I'll be like, "What are you talking about?"
SCHWARTZ: I would say once a week on Twitter, I get, "Tell me Sarah got her memories back!" like demanding an answer. [Laughs]. But you know, that was what was really so fun about how Chris [who wrote the finale] left the ending. It's up to the audience to decide.
During the reunion, Zach said he wanted to do a Chuck movie several times, and Ryan even brought up doing a whole other season. Where do you stand on revisiting Chuck in some sort of movie, revival/limited series?
SCHWARTZ: I would say within the first 10 seconds of the table read, everybody fell so effortlessly back into their parts and the chemistry was still there, and it was just such a joy to watch that we both hung up from the table [and] were like, "Damn, it feels like we could do more of this." I think it would really be about, what's the story and what's the demand? I think we're really proud of the legacy of the show and the series it felt, so anything that you do after the fact you want to make sure it feels like it would live up to the original.
FEDAK: Absolutely, I totally agree with what Josh said.
Do you have any story ideas in your mind already, or is there just a blank slate?
SCHWARTZ: I think we're just coming off of yesterday. We hadn't really entertained it in a while. I think it would be about the fan demand and interest from our partners at Warner Brothers. If those two things gelled, well then it would be incumbent on us to figure out the story, I suppose. But at the very least, it was a blast to have yesterday, if nothing else.
How do you think the show would be different if it was still on the air right now?
FEDAK: We would be so rich [Laughs]. I think the tone that we established in the pilot with [director] McG and Zach, and the show very much fit into that moment. If the show was continuing on from there, I think we'd still very much do the show and be fun and poppy, and exciting. I think if someone was making the show now, it might need an edgier tone. NBC and Warner Brothers [were] on board with making an action comedy. We also knew when it came to the budget of it all—with Chuck, you need a budget because there's helicopters, explosions, and all these things. But they also were okay with the comedy because comedy was affordable. So that allowed us to make this show that was a hybrid action comedy. In today's day and age, there's sometimes a need for things to be serious and people to be professional. Chuck was really able to float by and be very quirky, fun, grounded, and emotional, but it was definitely allowed to do a couple things because it was living in an action comedy space.
SCHWARTZ: If we were doing it today, it would have to be called like Get Smart. It would be a re-imagination. If you're doing an original show that wasn't based on any IP, that was a blend of genres—I mean, it was an uphill battle at the time when we were competing against like Bionic Woman reboots and Knight Rider reboots to do something that felt weird, unclassifiable, and original. In some ways, that's become even more of an uphill battle. I think we're lucky. I think we did the show at the exact right moment of the show.
Chuck had tons of great guest stars during your run. Were there any actors you tried to get on the show but couldn't?
SCHWARTZ: The three I remember spending a lot of time trying to get were Steven Seagal, Jean-Claude Van Damme, and Chuck Norris.
FEDAK: We really wanted to do "Chuck vs. Chuck." We got closest with Van Damme, but we were told we would have to go to Europe.
SCHWARTZ: That was like within 5,000 miles of Van Damme! [Laughs]
FEDAK: If we went to Belgium to do it. It's funny because now people could do that. Like there are shows that travel [now]. But, we were making it back in the aughts. It was like, "We make the show in Burbank, guys. We're lucky if we get over to Downtown Los Angeles."
Were there any stories that kept coming up in the writers' room that you never got to tell?
SCHWARTZ: We told a lot of stories. Part of it was that idea that like we're getting canceled after episode 13, oh we just got an order for nine more episodes or 12 more episodes. I felt like when the show ended, right Chris, it wasn't a lot that wasn't on the table. Probably weirder stories investigating Jeff's background. There were always conversations swirling around [about] how deep do we ever get into Jeff's dark backstory.
FEDAK: In season 2 was when we did "Chuck vs. Tom Sawyer," right?
SCHWARTZ: All I remember is we got a lot of s--t because we made fun of the Zune. [Laughs]
FEDAK: Do not make fun of a Microsoft product, guys.
SCHWARTZ: I think we almost lost all of our Microsoft integrations.
FEDAK: We really thought we were in deep, deep, deep trouble.
SCHWARTZ: We might've been.
FEDAK: But no, that was a big episode for us because it allowed us to explore Jeff. I think maybe if we knew we had more time and if we had known we had these longer seasons, we might've been able to do more standalone, get behind the eyes of Jeff. I mean, Tony Hale was on the show. If I had more time, I would've loved to have done an episode just focused on him.
SCHWARTZ: We shot Tony Hale in the eye to Wilson Phillips' "Hold On" [in the season 3 premiere] [Laughs]. One of the moments that was so funny and dark on the show, which was always when the show was at its best.
The fans also asked about your favorite songs on the show.
SCHWARTZ: Chris, I don't know about you, but I can't hear [The Head and the Heart's] "Rivers and Roads" which played in the finale, without getting nostalgic.
My friend/former colleague and I text each other whenever we hear "Rivers and Roads" because of Chuck.
SCHWARTZ: Yeah, I would say that and "Keep Yourself Warm" by Frightened Rabbit were my two. If I heard those songs, it just takes me back.
FEDAK: I think "Rivers and Roads" was playing one day. I don't remember where exactly I was, but all of a sudden I just got this real heaviness and it took me a few minutes to kind of realize how it connected back. It was like that kind of feeling when you see someone you haven't seen in so long. The music of Chuck was so much a part of the show. One of my favorite things when we were working on the show, you could see right down to where all the editors were [from my office], and you would see Josh leave his office with his laptop and just head down that way and you just knew he was going down there to do the music pass for the episode. It was fun. The show felt not only like we were telling a story, but it was the coolest, most fun mix that we could put together.
Watch the reunion and table-read above.