'Chuck' Returns, Starring the Mayor of Warner Bros.

Chuck_Zachary_Levi_Yvonne_Strahovski.JPGFor my loyal Cuppers, the full text of the "Chuck" syndicated feature article covering the third-season premiere...

'Chuck' reboots for version 3.0 (and 3.2)


By Kate O'Hare



Chuck Bartowski is no Mr. Spock, and this year, that's a problem.

At the end of season two of the NBC spy dramedy "Chuck," the title character (Zachary Levi), a full-time tech geek for the Nerd Herd at a Buy More big-box electronics store and part-time spy for the U.S. government, got a new version of the supersecret Intersect computer downloaded into his brain.

Intersect 1.0, which he received in the show's pilot, gave Chuck spy knowledge, but Intersect 2.0 also gives him Bond/Bourne-type fighting skills and agility, to the delight and concern of his handlers, CIA agent Sarah Walker (Yvonne Strahovski) and NSA agent Col. John Casey (Adam Baldwin).

But when "Chuck" returns for a third season with a two-hour episode on Sunday, Jan. 10 (before moving into its regular Monday slot on Jan. 11), it's apparent all isn't going perfectly smoothly.

Unlike Mr. Spock of "Star Trek," a half-human/half-Vulcan who keeps a lid on his emotions and lets logic rule, Chuck is still just a regular guy with a big heart.

On a mid-November day, Levi is chilling outside the "Chuck" stages at Warner Bros. in the seat of his specially designed Nerd Herd golf cart (complete with custom paint job, custom wheels and a sweet sound system). He's all in black from just shooting a spy-mission scene, which included him splatting face first into a Plexiglas wall.

So, Intersect or not, Chuck is still not always as cool as his spy alter ego, Charles Carmichael.

"The Intersect 2.0," Levi says, "and the powers that it grants him, these physical powers, they're fleeting, because the Intersect is not a perfect system. ... It was meant for someone who's in control of their emotions. In me, it's unstable.

"I'm too emotional of a guy, so when my emotions start flaring up, mainly because of my feelings for Sarah, it starts making the Intersect act a bit wonky."

Of course, if Chuck did find his inner Spock, that wouldn't allow Levi to use the most appealing parts of his personality.

Sitting deep inside Walker and Casey's hidden spy HQ, Baldwin says, "The guy went out there and he really produced a following, just based on being so lovable and so talented. He smells good; he can sing; he can dance; he's got a really good golf cart."

Levi also motors around the lot on the golf cart, which apparently has earned him a nickname.

Says Baldwin , "John Stamos was here on 'ER' for the last couple of seasons. Their trailers were where our trailers are now. We used to pass through there. I've known John for many years.

"We were talking about Zach, and Stamos dubs him 'The Mayor of Warner Bros.,' because wherever Zach goes on the lot in his little golf cart, he's, 'Hey buddy, how you doing?' and they're, like, 'Hey, Zach, how you doing?' Everybody loves Zach."

The people passing by the Nerd Herd cart on the studio tour tram certainly seem happy to see Levi, and he reciprocates.

"Hi, welcome to Warner Bros.!" he calls out. "Enjoy your tour!"

When they yell back thanks, he says, "You're welcome! We don't have any 'King Kong' or 'Jaws,' but we have schmucks like me."

As to whether there would be a toy, perhaps even a Hot Wheels version, based on the Nerd Herd cart, executive producer Chris Fedak says, "There's probably some money to be made in it, but right now, I don't know. That's a great idea. I'd love to have a Transformer version of the Nerd Herd cart."

Just the fact that such things can be discussed is a testament to "Chuck" fans, who labored tirelessly to assure that their favorite show would get a third season - which was by no means a lock.

"To know it's a show that is really loved by your core fan base," Levi says, "and they fight for it, as they did, is a blessing. Their fire and passion and fight was such an integral part of getting this show back up again - it's a blessing."

Initially, "Chuck" only got an order for 13 episodes - the show does have to break for the Winter Olympics in February - but then NBC ordered six more. A story planned to play out over 13 hours suddenly had 19, only a few episodes short of a regular network TV season.

"We've decided to expand the story out," Fedak says, "and create a 'Chuck 3.2.' The way it works is, now instead of a tight 13, we'll have a tight 19."

And while it's a rough time in the real world for the intelligence community, don't expect to see that bleeding into "Chuck."

"In our show," Fedak says, "much like shows in the '60s, 'Man From U.N.C.L.E' and ' Mission : Impossible,' the spy life is very much a glamorous life."