Category Archives: Television

the pretty white ships that i’ve been dreaming of

I haven’t had a theatrical agent for years, so I don’t have as many auditions or opportunities to work as an actor as I once did. I have a fantastic manager, though, who always gets me into quality auditions, where I have a real shot at booking the job.[1]

My manager and I have an understanding that I’m primarily focused on writing at the moment, so he can put his time and energy into his other clients who are full-time actors, while keeping an eye out for parts like NUMB3RS, where I have a better than average shot to nail the audition.[2] This arrangement has worked out really well for both of us.

Last week, he got me an audition for a wonderful role on [awesome show redacted]. I had less than a day to prepare it but I did my best, and when I got into the room . . . I sucked. Oh, man how I sucked. I think the stink of my reading is still sitting in that building, a week after I left. In fact, if you see hazmat teams in Studio City, now you know why.

Luckily for us, the casting director was willing to give good, honest, useful feedback on my audition. The bottom line? He felt like I was really “acting” when I was in there. My performance wasn’t organic, it wasn’t honest, it wasn’t real. In other words, it wasn’t very good.

When my manager relayed this to me, it was like Billy Zabka swept my leg. Getting caught acting was one of my worst fears realized. Good actors don’t get caught acting, bad actors get caught acting. Ergo . . . well, I’d rather not say it out loud.

For the next couple of days, I spent a lot of time thinking about how that happened, and I had to face an uncomfortable reality: maybe I was so out of practice, and so focused on writing (instead of acting), maybe I just don’t have what it takes to be a successful on-camera actor anymore.

I had a real crisis on my hands, but before I could call my manager and discuss it yesterday, he called me with another audition.

“Okay,” I thought, “I’ll just go on this audition, and after the holiday weekend, I’ll see if we can have lunch, and face this reality together.”

I prepared the audition, keenly aware of all the things I’d done wrong with the [awesome show redacted] audition. I went through all the things I’ve written about acting and auditioning, and listened to a lot of my own advice and experience. I decided that I’d get in, do my thing, and get out.[3] I thought about a number of conversations I’ve recently had with a friend of mine who just booked a similar role on [very very very awesome show redacted], and applied some of his decision making to my own. I kept it simple, and I never thought, “Well, this is it. If this one doesn’t work, I’m hanging up my dance belt.”[4] Instead, I just prepared my take on this character, made some deliberate-but-risky choices, and went to work.

When I was in the room, I didn’t think about the people there, I didn’t think about what was at stake (directly or indirectly) and I just focused on the person I was reading with. I didn’t do anything fancy, just gave them my simple-but-deliberate take on this guy.

I felt better than I felt after I sucked out loud last week. I didn’t know if I nailed it, but I’d made my deliberate-but-risky choices, and I’d committed to them entirely. Whether I got the job or not, at least I had that to take home with me and keep in a box on the shelf for the weekend.

A few hours after I got home, my manager called me.

“Well, I have some feedback,” he said.

“That was fast,” I said.

“Yeah, I guess they wanted you to know right away that you’re hired.”

“Really?!” I said. I always say that, even though I know that my manager is never going to call me up, tell me a got a job, and then say, “Ha! PSYKE!”

“Yes, really.” He said.

So I squeed, and he outlined the deal for me. I get guest-starring billing at the beginning of the show on my own card, I work for eight days, and — best of all — I’ll earn enough to qualify for SAG’s “good” health insurance for at least another year.

I can’t say anything about the role, because I don’t have permission from the producers and the network, but I think I can safely reveal that it’s for Criminal Minds on CBS, and it’s a part that I am going to love bringing to life.

There is a lesson here about not giving up. There’s a lesson here about learning from your mistakes and applying that knowledge, instead of wallowing in self-pity. I’m not pointing that out because I think anyone else needs to hear it; I’m pointing it out because I’m going to forget it sooner or later, and I want to remember it the next time I go searching through my writing for advice from myself.

One more thing: when I had the audition last week, I did my best, even though my best was crap. When I did my audition yesterday, I did my best, and it was much better than what “my best” was just a week ago. Someone once said to me that we should always do our best, and understand and accept that “our best” will vary from time to time. I’m glad I remembered that.

And now, footnotes:

[1] That may not make sense. Let me explain: pretty much every agent I ever had would submit me on as many projects as possible, whether I was really right for the role or not. I guess the logic here is that you get more chances to score when you take more shots, which makes a certain amount of sense, but in practice is pretty frustrating for actors who keep getting sent out for roles that they have no chance of booking. (I realize that, to actors who are struggling for any auditions, this seems like a wonderful problem to have, but it really isn’t.)

[2]Years ago, I took an extensive and comprehensive marketing class, where I learned a whole bunch of stuff about how to market myself as an actor, and how to find breakout roles that are supported by five or six things that define my personality — my essences, in the language of this course. My manager looks for roles that match up with my essences, while a larger team of agents may just look for parts that call for a white male, 30-36.

[3]This is one of the valuable things I learned while writing sketch comedy.

[4]What? You don’t wear a dance belt to every audition?

somehow this ends up being about comedy

After ignoring the hype for as long as I could, I finally checked out Hulu, mostly because I knew they had shows I watched when I was a kid, like Emergency! and S.W.A.T., along with nostalgic classics I’d always wanted to watch but had never seen, like The Time Tunnel .

Turns out there’s a lot of movies there, too, as well as a ton of classic SNL clips. There are short commercials in most of the programming, but they’re not that intrusive or offensive to me; at least they don’t crank the volume up to ear-bleeding levels like they do on broadcast TV. Overall, it seems like a fair trade to me as a television viewer (as an actor whose residual checks are ever-smaller because of online reuse, I’m not crazy about it, but that’s not the point of this post.)

I have this nifty new iMac, with a monitor that’s bigger than the first TV I bought for myself with Star Trek money when I was in my teens. It’s got a better picture than the first TV I bought when I was officially an adult, and I won’t even address how vastly superior it is in memory and performance to pretty much every computer I’ve owned so far, including the MacBook Pro I’m using right now.

Suffice to say that it makes a great replacement television while my big screen HDTV is awaiting a replacement lamp, and I’ve been relaxing a little bit every day with some of those classic shows I mentioned above.

It was the SNL clips, though, that I’ve loved the most, and they’ve sent me down memory lane to my teen years, when I was just discovering stand-up comedy.

Remember when we’d get together to watch HBO comedy specials from people like Steven Wright and George Carlin? Remember the first time you saw Delirious and Raw? I miss those days. I guess it’s cool that Comedy Central provides an outlet for today’s comedians and the comedians who rip them off, but I miss the excitement of watching a new special or going to a theater to watch a comedy movie.

Anyway, I was thinking about some of my favorite comedy films and specials, and came up with this incomplete list:

Delirious

Raw

Everything Bill Hicks ever did

Bob Saget at the 9th Annual Young Comedians Special

Howie Mandel at the Young Comedians All-Star Reunion

A Steven Wright Special (which is inexplicably available anywhere I looked online. Sad)

You are all Diseased

Bill Cosby Himself

That’s just what I get off the top of my head; I’m sure I’m forgetting stuff that I just haven’t thought about in years. Oh! Like comedy albums. Damn, I could go on forever with those. Arizona Bay, Meat Bob, I Have a Pony, Class Clown, Louder than Hell . . . damn. Do they even make comedy albums any more?

I didn’t know it at the time, of course, but all that stuff would become a huge influence on me, as a writer and performer. All the time I spent listening to those albums and watching those specials on crappy VHS copies that I wore out paid off the first time I set foot on the stage at ACME so many years ago.

I was really attracted to comedy as social commentary (surprise), but there was stuff that I enjoyed just for yucks, like Howie Mandel blowing up a glove on his head and Emo Phillips . . . well, being Emo Phillips.

There are some great comedians coming up today. I love Paul F. Tompkins, Dimitri Martin and Patton Oswalt. Again, I’m sure there are others, but those are the guys who come to mind right away.

Feel free to add and share your faves in the comments.

this is awesome. awesome in pants!


Teaser from Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog on Vimeo.
I’ve been hearing about this for weeks, but didn’t have time to watch the trailer until this morning. I was super excited to see that my fellow ACME-alumnus Felicia Day (one of the mad geniuses behind the hilarious-because-it’s-painfully-true series The Guild) got to work with Neil Patrick Harris and Joss Whedon.
I can’t wait to see this, and I thought I’d share it with WWdN readers, because it seems to be the sort of thing a lot of you guys probably already know about — er, I mean, would really dig.

wil’s big news of the day

I was picking tomatoes in my back yard yesterday afternoon when the phone rang. Caller ID said it was my manager. I picked it up and said, “Mister Black! What’s up?”

“Seth Macfarlane wants to work with you tomorrow,” he said.

The next thing I knew, I was looking into the concerned faces of my wife and kids, while a machine behind me went ping!

“What happened?” I said.

“You answered the phone, screamed like a little girl, and fainted,” Anne said.

“So it wasn’t a dream!” I said. I leapt to my feet, doffed a Fedora, twirled my mustache and added, “Quickly! To the auto-gyro!”

Minutes later, I was airborne, soaring over the Los Angeles basin, while striped-shirt-wearing nogoodniks chased after me in pedal-powered flying contraptions. It was perilous, to be sure, but my superior piloting and my trusty manservant Kwame’s peerless skill with curare-tipped darts assured my escape.

My brief and unexpected foray into a 1930s pulp novel concluded, I returned to my home, where I got back on the phone.

“What just happened to you?” He said.

“Um. Nothing,” I said. “What am I doing tomorrow?”

“Seth Macfarlane has a new online project called Cavalcade, and he wants you to work on it.” He said.

“Seth Macfarlane wants to work with me? Are you sure he didn’t mean the other Will Wheaton, the well-known jazz singer?”

“Yes, you.” He said. “I’m e-mailing you the script right now.”

The script arrived, I laughed myself silly, and called my manager back. “This is hilarious! There isn’t a single thing about this that I don’t like.”

“I knew you’d say that,” he said. “I’ll call them now and confirm you.”

. . . and that’s the story of how I got to work on Cavalcade this afternoon, where Seth Macfarlane complimented my beard and told me I was funny.

I am, without a doubt, the luckiest guy in this room right now.

Some parts of this story have been mildly exaggerated for dramatic effect.

windows open and raining in

I came across some really interesting items while Propelling today, which I wanted to share, because I can:

Farmers Put 220 Acres Under Glass to Create Vast Artificial Environment

On the chilly Isle of Thanet in Kent, England, farmers are placing 220 acres of land under glass so they can grow vegetables all year round. The greenhouse, when completed, will house 1.3 million plants and increase the UK’s crop of green vegetables by 15%. Called Thanet Earth, the project will be a series of 7 connected grenhouses with a relatively small carbon footprint. And nothing grown inside Thanet Earth will ever touch soil.

This interests me a great deal because I’m considering some hydroponic gardening in addition to my regular gardening here, as we attempt to reduce our carbon footprint and become more self-sufficient. Climate change played an important part in the worldbuilding of the novella I’m working on, so I’ve spent a lot of time researching the future of agriculture; it’s interesting to me to see people experimenting with different techniques in the present.

A Professional Gambler’s Take on the Tim Donaghy Scandal

Haralabos Voulgaris leads a rare life.

He’s one of very few people — Voulgaris estimates there may be as few as four or five — who have achieved a high level of success betting full-time on the NBA.

And he does very well at it. “In the last eight years,” he explains, “the 2004-2005 season was the only year where I didn’t turn a nice profit, and I lost very small.”

His approach is intensively evidence-based. He has his own massive database that would be the envy of any stat geek. For instance: Given two line-ups of players on the floor, his database does, he says, a good job of predicting which players will guard each other. The database also tracks the tendencies of individual referees, and factors all that and much more into forecasts. Voulgaris also watches close to 1,000 games a year.

He designed the database as a tool to outwit oddsmakers, and it works for that.

But it’s also a fine-tuned machine for researching the claims and career of Tim Donaghy. And having used this database, and his contacts in the sports betting world, Voulgaris says that his confidence in the integrity of the NBA has been shaken, to the point that, despite his big income, he’s looking for ways to stop betting altogether.

“The league has made a big mistake,” he says.

I sort of knew Haralabos back in my poker-playing days, and really liked him because he was one of the first players who was really kind to me, even though he had no reason to be. I knew he bet on sports, but I had no idea he was as serious as he appears to be. His perspective on this whole scandal was fascinating to me, especially how his data and analysis support Donaghy’s claims. He says the NBA has done a great job of sweeping the whole thing under the rug. Unfortunately, I agree with him.

The Watchmen Motion Comic

Warner Bros. plans on releasing about a dozen 22 to 26 minute webisodes to help make the complex story of Watchmen easier for the uninitiated to digest. Recently, WatchmenComicMovie was shown a teaser trailer for these webisodes by an anonymous source. From what we saw these webisodes are going to be really well done.

The series of webisodes, which will be titled Watchmen: A Digital Graphic Novel, will be less like a slide show of original comic panels and more of the comic book “brought to life” with rudimentary animation techniques.

The teaser is simply a conglomeration of different scenes from the comic book given motion and set to dramatic orchestral music. In order to animate the comic, the production team has apparently dissected the elements from each panel that they wanted to move — such as a cloud or a character — and animated it in front of a restored or “filled in” background.

For example — they animated the iconic comic panel that shows The Comedian’s funeral from above to not only have falling rain and lightning, but wind that realistically blows the coats and clothing of the mourners surrounding the open grave. In another, Ozymandias sits in front of his monitor bank — each commercial and T.V. program on the screens in motion — scratching the back of his pet Bubastis’ head. For lack of a better way to describe the trailer, it’s like you’re watching an episode of Watchmen: The Animated Series.

DUDE! Even though living in a post-Phantom Menace world has made my default position on all these thing “apprehensively optimistic” I can’t wait to watch these. It seems like everyone involved in Watchmen truly gets it, so it’s becoming increasingly difficult to keep my hopes nice and low . . . they want to go up and up and up.

This last story isn’t my submission, but that’s just because my fellow scout Keith beat me to it:

The Prisoner remake: details emerge?

The Prisoner Appreciation Society (Six of One) is reporting that this classic, surreal sci-fi/adventure series is set to return for a six-episode miniseries run. The announcement coincides with The Prisoner’s 40th anniversary.

Reports have Jim Caviezel playing the heroic Number Six — actor with a penchant for playing long-suffering characters (Bobby Jones, Jesus). Sir Ian McKellen would play arch-nemesis Number Two, while cementing his status alongside Christopher Lee as the greatest nerd project actors of their generation. Between the two of them, they’d own Star Wars, James Bond, Lord of the Rings, Dracula, Frankenstein and X-Men).

The Prisoner is my all-time favorite TV show, ever. EVER! After watching marathon after marathon of The Prisoner, I grokked what makes people become Trekkies or Browncoats. It did more than entertain me, it inspired me. I know that’s weird to say about something that’s so Orwellian, but it’s true. The Prisoner spoke to me when I was a teenager. I bought the GURPS book, bought all the video tapes, and picked up every fan-made book and map of The Village I could find. I bought rub-on transfer letters in the Albertus font so I could make my own signs for my dressing room, and I painstakingly drew my own Number Six badge to wear on my jackets. I read and re-read the graphic Novel Shattered Visage fruitlessly looking for clues about . . . stuff. My first big external SCSI Mac II hard disk, which I think weighed in at a mighty 30 Megabytes, was named KAR120C. Again, living in a post-Phantom Menace world makes me a little nervous, and we’ve been talking about this remake almost as long as we were talking about a Watchmen movie, so I don’t even know if this is as reliable as it seems. Regardless, I’m hopeful that there’s someone out there who can treat it right. And a six episode mini-series would be freaking brilliant.

Okay, one last bonus link before I go: years ago, I did an episode of The Outer Limits called The Light Brigade. I was watching The Time Tunnel last night on Hulu, and saw that The Light Brigade is there, as well. It’s useless for non-US visitors (can you use a proxy to fool Hulu? I haven’t tried) but if you’re in the US and want to spend 44 minutes watching me . . . um . . . act, I guess is the word I’m looking for . . . now you can.

Code of Honor Review at TV Squad

You may have already heard a little bit of this review on Radio Free Burrito Episode 11, but now you can experience the entire thing for yourself as Wil Wheaton reviews Code of Honor at TV Squad:

When they get to the planet, Lutan introduces his lovely wife Yareena, who is seriously rockin’ the Rick James hairdo and wants to party all the time.

Picard acknowledges that she is quite the Superfreak, but he really wants to see Tasha. Lutan relents, and we learn a little bit more about Ligonian culture, and the importance they place on honor and ritual. If you’ll allow me to stop snarking again for a moment, this is also a decent scene – grading, as always, on a steep curve – where we see Picard’s diplomacy and strength on full display. Oh! Snark back on: It’s too bad he can’t seem to access this particular skill when dealing with Doctor Crusher and Wesley. Maybe he constantly fails his save vs. hot redheads with boobies. Thank you. Snark off. The writing in this scene isn’t horrible, and the acting is quite good, so what could be painful exposition is instead a chance for the characters to develop while we all learn something together. Also, this is great misdirection. As we’ll see in a few minutes, Lutan isn’t interested in counting coup at all, and actually just wants all of Yareena’s money and power (hey, it’s just like John Kerry! Wait. McCain? Tell you what: apply your own politics, and have a good laugh at the other side.)

Tasha shows up, and though she is clearly unhappy with the whole “hey, I was just kidnapped by the 7*UP guy” thing, she’s obviously okay. Which may explain why, even though she has her damn communicator on, she never once tried to contact the Enterprise so she could be safely beamed away.

After a few tense moments of delicate diplomacy, Picard and Lutan agree to chill out for a little bit, until they can have a little party, where he swears to Zombie Jesus he’ll give up Tasha and the vaccine.

The party is a high class function. Food is served, and Picard’s stone cold munchin’. Tasha walks in at the end of the show, and sits next to Lutan , who’s sportin’ a really sweet ’fro. She’s dressed in yellow, she says “Hello, beam me the hell out of here you fine fellow.” Picard does his best to incite the groove, but Lutan won’t let him bust a move.

Er, what I mean is, they have their banquet. When it’s over, with great dignity and grace, Picard follows Ligonian custom, and asks – politely and with great humility – for Lutan to let him take Tasha back to the Enterprise.

The thing is, Lutan isn’t all that interested in letting Tasha go, because he’s got Jungle Fever.

Yareena thinks Mandingo is a little out of line, so she says, “Hey! I have a great idea! Since TNG is only three episodes old, and we’ve only rehashed one original series episode so far, let’s do it again! A show of hands: who here has seen ‘Amok Time’?”

This isn’t my strongest review to date, and I’m not sure of that’s because the humor well is running dry (I certainly hope not) or because it was really hard (like it was with Angel One) to come up with lots of different jokes and different ways of saying "Oh my god this is crap." I think the funny bits are pretty funny, though, and make up for the not-so-funny bits that tie them together.

The most interesting thing to me, though, is that after watching this episode for the first time in 25 years, it’s not nearly as overtly racist as I thought it was when I was younger (certainly not as racist as Angel One is sexist.) However, let’s put the episode into context:

This is only our third episode, and as
I mockingly pointed out in the synopsis, it borrows way too heavily
from "Amok Time," immediately after an episode that was essentially a
rewrite of another TOS classic. We were still proving that we deserved
the right to carry the Star Trek mantle, and when I look back at "Code
of Honor" and see that it came between "The Naked Now" and "The Last Outpost,"
I’m astonished that we weren’t canceled by mid-season. In fact, if we
hadn’t been first-run syndication, and if the core audience of Trekkies
hadn’t been as patient as the Ligonians – not to mention incredibly
forgiving – we almost certainly would have been.

As I said in my podcast, I’d completely forgotten I was even in this episode, which is why I skipped it back when I started writing these reviews for TV Squad. After watching it, I can see why it was such a forgettable experience for me, since I probably worked half a day on the whole thing. But if I can be completely and embarrassingly honest for a moment: even though it’s fucking retarded to put Wesley on the bridge the way they did, when I watched Code of Honor last week, I remembered how cool I thought it was that I got to sit on the bridge, at Ops, no less. As I write about it now, I can feel the butterflies in my stomach that I got every time I got to work there, or the transporter room, or sickbay, or engineering, or . . well, any of the sets that were iconic Star Trek sets. I thought it was so cool back then to be part of it, I didn’t care how horrible the scripts were, as long as I got to be on the spaceship.

Watching the show now as a fan, I can see why everyone hated that shit so much. Hell, I agree with them. But as an adult looking back on his 14 year-old self, I feel a great deal of affection for that kid, who is so obviously excited to hang out with the grown ups on the space ship, he doesn’t care how lame his dialog is.

Gorgeous Tiny Chickens, Batman, and the Happiest Media Kit

I guess it’s appropriate that I’m a computer geek, because I have a very binary lifestyle: my level of work is either 0 or 1, with nothing in between.

I’m currently set to 1, so my time to post is very limited (though I’ve been using Twitter like crazy, because it’s fast, immediate, and portable.)

However, I wanted to take a moment and share three things for your pleasurable enjoying.

1. I did an episode of Gorgeous Tiny Chicken Machine Show last week. I don’t know when it will be released, but I saw an edit of it last night that is hilarious.

2. I got permission from James Tucker, producer of Batman: The Brave and the Bold, to tell the world that I worked on the show Monday. I can’t say anything about the content of the episode or the character I play — apparently, it’s a Darth Vader-is-his-father kind of secret — but it was massively fun, and since I’m one of the world’s biggest Batman Geeks, it was kind of a dream come true.

3. I can’t believe how many orders of Happiest Days were recently placed! I guess I should run out of printings more frequently. Many of you asked for a media kit, like the one I did for Dancing Barefoot. Well, here’s the Happiest Days of Our Lives media kit. Please download it and use it; it’s under a Creative Commons license, so I encourage you to get crazy go nuts with it.

Shit. The robots are crawling all over the lab again. I have to get back to work.

more excellence in journalism

In a review the Sarah Jane Adventures, Tod Emko at UGO writes:

So, children’s show, yes. Has young teens in it, yes. Yet, a show you
may actually want to watch, despite your probable hatred for Wil
Wheaton-type characters through the years. It’s definitely one of the
most intelligent shows for kids you’ll ever see, and if you can’t get
enough of the Doctor’s universe, this will give you a decent fix.

Well. Glad he liked the show, and is encouraging teenagers to watch intelligent programming; we certainly need more of that to act as a counterbalance on Hanna Montana. But I feel compelled to point something out that is apparently lost on Tod Emko-like writers: I didn’t invent that type of character. I just played one of them for a few seasons. Twenty years ago. Using my name as a pejorative in this case isn’t just profoundly offensive to me, it’s profoundly inaccurate.

Despite my probable hatred of Tod Emko-like writers through the years, though, I’m totally going to do Tod Emko-like writers a solid here: Hey guys! Send your resumes to Entertainment Weekly; they love your style.

the daily facepalm

io9:

Season three of Heroes will introduce two new characters,
because the show isn’t overcrowded enough already: Joy, who’s in her
early twenties and good at getting herself into, and out of, trouble.
And Senator Robert Malden, a "political straight shooter" in his
fifties.

Yeah, because introducing new characters worked so very well last season.

Dammit. I loved Heroes in season one. Let’s have more of that, and less of whatever the hell last season was, pretty please?

yet another way to know if you’re a trekkie

Are_you_a_trekkie
Have you been feeling unfulfilled? Like your life is missing something? Have you been feeling . . . not so fresh?

You could be a Trekkie, and not even know it. Savage Chickens has a simple test to help you determine if you are a Trekkie in just three simple steps, so you can embrace your inner geek, and start living again.

(Thanks Jess!)