Fans of NBC's "Chuck" anxious to know when the show will be returning to the network's lineup ought to pay close attention to the ratings for Monday night's episode of "Trauma."
On Friday, Entertainment Weekly's Michael Ausiello reported that "Chuck" could be back on the air as early as the latter part of this month. NBC insiders confirm there's a "very small chance" that could happen -- but it's a worst case scenario Peacock programmers are anxious to avoid.
The key to "Chuck's" fate, it turns out, could be NBC newcomer "Trauma."
Despite heavy promotion, viewers have been slow to embrace the high-octane medical drama. Its week two ratings dropped from already weak premiere numbers.
As a result, "Trauma" has been on cancellation watch since last Tuesday, leaving open the very real possibility that NBC will soon need replacement programming on Mondays.
And that's where "Chuck" comes in.
Under a scenario under consideration at the Peacock, "Chuck" would return to its old 8 p.m. Monday timeslot. And "Heroes," now at 8, would slide into the 9 p.m. "Trauma" slot.
But all this happens only if "Trauma" needs to be replaced.
NBC executives are hoping viewership for tonight's episode stabilizes, or maybe even goes up. If that happens, NBC can afford to be a bit more patient on Mondays.
If "Trauma" goes down, however, it's very likely "Chuck" will be back before year's end. And if "Trauma" really tanks, Ausiello's October surprise scenario could well transpire.
But NBC insiders know rushing "Chuck" on too quickly doesn't make sense, either. The network needs time to mount a marketing and PR campaign to let viewers know the show is back on the air, and a late October premiere would make that all but impossible.
More likely is an early to mid-November premiere. And a post-Olympics bow, as originally planned, is still under discussion as well.
In the meantime, new NBC Entertainment guru Jeff Zucker's comments to TV Guide Magazine and the New York Times indicating the network needs to be patient with promising shows should be a sign of hope for new comedy "Community." NBC also has been upping the promotion for Wednesday's "Mercy," a show that's also seen as having some upside for the network.
UPDATE: "Trauma" was up 6 percent in adults 18-49 last night to a 1.8 demo rating. This should give NBC enough wiggle room to avoid an October return for "Chuck." A November re-launch is still a possibility. Expect a decision one way or another this week.