On the Set Farewell to Chuck Part 4: The Nerd Legacy
After five seasons of Chuck peppered with Subway sandwich campaigns and eleventh-hour renewals, it's clear that the spy series owes much of its life to its passionate fan base.
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"It's funny being on this show because it's such an -- I don't know if the word is 'honor' — to be a part of a show where the fans were so behind it because it's so mysterious," actor Vik Sahay told reporters at the set visit for Chuck's two-hour series finale (Friday, 8/7c, NBC). "It's so elusive how things connect with fans because you can kind of take all of the pieces of why it should and put them together and it often doesn't. So that kind of alchemy between the show and the fans is stunning. It's what's allowed the producers to create the show that they created. It's something that I've never experienced before, and it's so moving, and I don't know if I'll ever get a chance to experience that kind of back and forth again."
The secret to the series' devoted following? Nerd appeal. Chuck made being a nerd cool. In Chuck Bartowski (Zachary Levi), fans found an everyman who also was a computer whiz, an alpha member of Buy More's Nerd Herd. The show celebrated computer geekdom with a good chunk of the stories taking place in the big-box electronics store. "The Buy More was a really emotional place when we shot our last scenes there," Levi said. "There were about 12 of us there... standing in a very kind of dimly lit Buy More because everyone was wrapping out, the lights were down. But we were just standing around in a circle, reminiscing about the Buy More and the memories we had there."
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The Buy More is also where Chuck first met Sarah (Yvonne Strahovski) and thereafter became a geek god by getting the girl. And what a girl she was! Beyond Sarah's devastating looks and physique, she also had a hidden nerd cred -- intelligent in her own right and able to hang with the boys.
By association, Strahovski became a representative for the nerd culture. "The hot nerd? I'm a nerd, too? I don't know. It's so weird," she said. "I've always been a tomboy, so being thrown into the hot-nerd category and the glam thing has been very interesting for me to swallow. They put me in a pair of high heels in the pilot, and I didn't know how to walk in them."
"One of the most endearing things about Yvonne is that she really is just this rugged tomboy character from Australia who is able to embody that glam, geeky, nerdy thing," added Adam Baldwin, who plays fellow CIA agent John Casey. "But she's got this behind-the-scenes bawdiness that reminds me of Carol Burnett in her heyday, which is just lovely for a bunch of guys."
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For Levi, being a nerd isn't just an on-screen persona, it's a way of life. "'Nerd' is a really operative word in my life," he said. "Being a nerd just means you're passionate about something or it's a defining thing in your life. And therefore we're all nerds, because we're all passionate about something. And I love that people are able to embrace that and bridge the gap between people who might not necessarily consider themself a nerd. I say do it! Embrace that. And it brings people together on a much more level playing field."
Co-star Ryan McPartlin, who spoke to TVGuide.com in a separate interview, agreed. "The best part is that I think that 'nerd' is almost a popular and empowering word now. We took a stigma away from it with our show. If you look at what Comic-Con was when we started and where it is now, it's just a behemoth. The nerds really do rule. I feel we really played a good part in that. When I was growing up, everybody tried to be the cool guy, the hero or the Magnum P.I., The A-Team. And now we see studios and networks catering to a demographic of nerds I think is hysterical and genius. It's about time."
In November 2010, Levi and Chuck prop master David Coleman and Courtney Coleman launched The Nerd Machine, an online community that would spread nerd culture through sales of merchandise, forums to discuss hobbies and other projects. "I fully intend to keep fostering The Nerd Machine and keep trying to do the coolest things that I can do as far as bringing entertainment and technology together, bringing the creative world of Hollywood and fans together," said the actor. "I think that in the next five years, we're going to see really incredible steps as far as social networking and the impact that will have ... offering the public the opportunity to have the power. I believe that you need to give them the power back. I think that if you trust them with it and everyone has an understanding that if you believe in whatever this is and you buy it -- don't steal it, don't rip it, don't burn it -- but buy it and as long as you're not gouging your audience, you can build a healthy relationship with them.
"I want to go create my own independent content and entertainment in new models in new ways," he continued, "and essentially show studios and networks and whatever that people are good, that consumers, fans will treat something preciously if they're given the opportunity to do so."
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At the 2011 Comic-Con, The Nerd Machine partnered with Break Media to create Nerd HQ, an event made up of small panels of actors, original videos, an online film festival and unreleased video game giveaways. Proceeds from ticket sales were donated to Operation Smile. In the coming year, Levi hopes to continue to interact with the fans and increase the scope of Nerd HQ. "I want to get even more technology and more video games in there," he said. I want to kick off the whole Comic-Con week with like a little concert and get like three bands or something and do all that for charity. I'm hoping to have a Doctor Who panel. I just want to get stuff the fans dig and that can be all manner of things -- if it's comic book artists or writers or people who are working in entertainment or just fan-favorite shows"
McPartlin added, "Maybe we'll do some Chuck reunions there and get together with our fellow nerds and have a good party. If Zach does his Nerd Machine party again, I think he can become the Elton John of the Oscar parties. He has his little niche that he fills down there. I'll be serving cosmos from behind the bar."
Chuck's two-hour series finale airs Friday at 8/7c on NBC.
Be sure to come back Friday for the final installment of the countdown to the Chuck finale, in which the cast considers life after Chuck. Also read:
Farewell to Chuck Part 3: Cast tears and favorite memories
Farewell to Chuck Part 2: Sarah vs. the Faulty Intersect
Farewell to Chuck Part 1: A Jeffster! swan song
What influence do you think Chuck had on nerd culture?