Category Archives: Television

I’m on The Big Bang Theory tonight

Two nights ago, I had this dream that I was super sick, with a sore throat and sinuses filled with concrete-like gunk. Yesterday morning, I woke up with a sore throat, and sinuses filled with concrete-like gunk.

Last night, I had a dream that I was some sort of combination of Superman and The Doctor. I could fly, I was saving the world from some bad guy who was a fallen god and wanted to choke the Earth with soot and pollution. When I woke up, I had no super powers, but I still had the sinus infection, plus I’m starting to get body aches as a bonus.

I call bullshit on this, because if one of those dreams was going to manifest itself in my real life, I got screwed.

Anyway, it’s Thursday, and that means I’m on tonight’s episode of The Big Bang Theory! I’m super proud of this one, and so happy with how my stuff turned out. Also, John Ross Bowie is back as Kripke, and he has what is, in my opinion, the funniest scene he’s ever done on the show.

I loved working with the cast and crew when we shot this show about a month ago, and I left, as I always do, grateful for the time I spent there, and so intensely envious that they get to work with each other every week.

I hope you’ll tune in tonight for the show, and I hope you enjoy it.

Now, I’m going to go take enough cold medicine to make myself believe that I have super powers, because I’m worth it.

Better to be out in front of the revolution than scrambling to keep up.

Yesterday, my friend Amy Berg wrote on Facebook:

People are turning off the TV and turning to the internet for entertainment. We may not like it, but it’s fact. Which is why I’m making digital series. Better to be out in front of the revolution than scrambling to keep up.

She linked to an article that says: TV is dying, and here are the stats to prove it.

The TV business is having its worst year ever.

Audience ratings have collapsed: Aside from a brief respite during the Olympics, there has been only negative ratings growth on broadcast and cable TV since September 2011, according to Citi Research.

Media stock analysts Craig Moffett and Michael Nathanson recently noted, “The pay-TV industry has reported its worst 12-month stretch ever.” All the major TV providers lost a collective 113,000 subscribers in Q3 2013. That doesn’t sound like a huge deal — but it includes internet subscribers, too.

Broadband internet was supposed to benefit from the end of cable TV, but it hasn’t.

In all, about 5 million people ended their cable and broadband subs between the beginning of 2010 and the end of this year.

It’s a fascinating article, and worth reading if you care about this sort of thing like I do. Setting aside the reality that you never hear someone declare: “Oh man, I fucking LOVE my cable company! They are the BEST! Their customer service is, like, UNBELIEVABLE, and I REALLY get my money’s worth for my subscription fees. I love my cable company so much, and they’ve totally earned my business and loyalty!” and so it’s likely that younger customers are fleeing cable because the experience — not necessarily just the content — sucks, I want to talk briefly about creating original content for online distribution.

I remember a time, in the not too distant past, when we’d feel like we had to justify ourselves for making a webseries, like it wasn’t real TV or film. It was like we were creating for online because we couldn’t make it in the big leagues, and had to seek out an alternative. In some ways, that was true, because in the traditional way of doing things, we had to appeal to gatekeepers at networks and mid-level development executives who were more afraid of losing their jobs than they were excited to make something new. That makes sense: there’s a shitload of money at stake for most productions, and it’s only logical that the people in charge of spending that money would be risk-averse — But what’s the point of being in a creative industry if you’re not willing to take some creative risks? That’s where the Internet came in, and fundamentally changed everything for creators. We could take risks, we could make content that maybe wouldn’t appeal to tens of millions of people, but would appeal to hundreds of thousands. We didn’t need to compete with other creators for ratings during a narrow broadcast window, because we understood that our audiences would watch our stuff on their terms, when and where and how they wanted to. We understood that the world was changing, and people would be watching programming on smartphones and tablets, frequently time shifted for their convenience. We knew that because we were those people.

Being those people, and creating for those people, has let us who are the tip of the spear in online distribution continue to just destroy the legacy media companies: we don’t want to control how our audiences get to watch and enjoy and share the things we make. We understand that attempting to control the experience people have when they watch our stuff just makes them find ways around that control, usually in a way that hurts our bottom line and our ability to support ourselves.

Around the second season I did of The Guild, I stopped feeling like I had to apologize for or justify creating original content for Internet instead of television. I stopped feeling like we were playing in the minor leagues, or engaging in a long and expensive audition for “real” work. I recognized that were were ahead of the curve, and the rest of the entertainment industry was going to have to catch up with us. It was so liberating, and it’s been so exciting for me as a producer and consumer to watch new talent emerge online that would never get a chance if TV was the only option.

The successes and failures in Google’s You Tube thing that made Geek and Sundry possible provide a great example of those who get it and don’t: the channels that the major networks and studios used to dump existing content failed, and the channels that made original content thrived. I think it’s safe to say that the legacy content producers and networks just don’t understand the online audience in the way they think they do. I think they’re afraid of online in a lot of ways, because a lot of the older executives who make decisions about digital are still fighting Napster in their heads. I understand their fear, but they’re going to have to come and join us here in the future, or they’re going to wither and die.

We who make webserieses (is that a word? It is now) have been in the future for a few years now, and I’m very interested to see what happens as people who are used to being the king of the mountain without really trying are forced to compete — or at least share space — with those of us who have worked very hard to earn whatever we have online.

Broadcast, cable, satellite, and movies will always be there, and they’ll always have fantastic and lousy content (just like the internet), and I hope that I’ll continue to work across all mediums as an actor and producer. But looking to the real future (the one that is ahead of us, as opposed to the one we live in now): I’ve believed for years that the next generation of creators will go online and play by their own rules. The next Joss Whedon will never have to deal with an evil FOX executive who ruins the next Firefly because of reasons, andI hope that I get to work with him or her someday, because that person is going to make something wonderful.

in which i remember to keep it simple

When I was a kid young actor, I got by on my instincts and ability to take direction. As I got older, I began to realize that instincts only go so far, and I felt a need — a very strong need — to formally study the craft of acting, and to gain a deeper understanding of the art. I spent years studying in various programs, most of them based on the Meisner technique. I learned how to break down scenes into beats, how to understand what my characters wanted and needed, and how to make emotional and intellectual connections to my characters, as well as the other characters in the scene.

One of the fundamentals of Meisner is “keep it simple.” It’s something a lot of inexperienced actors don’t do, because they (understandably and incorrectly) believe that unless they are doing something with every line, every beat, every reaction, every moment, then they are not acting. The trick is that almost all of acting is reacting to things going on around you, and letting those reactions happen naturally, through the lens of your character’s needs, wants, fears, expectations, and circumstances. The very worst thing for an actor is to get caught acting, so the other trick is to know all of that intellectually, and then let it all go so it happens emotionally, naturally.

I have nearly three decades of experience performing as an actor in all sorts of productions, from dramas to comedies, from stage to television, from period pieces to contemporary ones. I feel very confident in my ability to do the work an actor needs to do to be prepared and to create a believable character. I haven’t always been in fantastic works of art, but I’ve always done my best to bring something meaningful to the piece, and do justice to the writing (the number of actors who don’t understand or respect that the thing we’re doing existed as a thing long before we ever held the pages in our hands, and should be respected as a result, is staggering).

I’ve been working on The Big Bang Theory this week, and I’ll be on Stage 25 Monday and Tuesday next week, before I return to my corruptible, mortal state on Wednesday. This is the first episode I’ve done (and I’ve done a bunch) where I finally feel comfortable as an actor, like I know what I’m doing, like I deserve to be there, like I’m not going to get cut for screwing up the jokes. You see, all that stuff I said about being an actor? It’s true, but working on a show that’s shot in front of an audience is fundamentally different from everything else we do as actors. I was talking with John Ross Bowie today about it, and he said, “single camera and theater can not prepare anyone for what it’s like to be on this stage when the audience is in the seats,” and he was right. I often tell people that it’s like playing baseball: it’s very different being in the outfield than the infield, even though you’re playing the same game.

Today, during our run through, I pushed a line too hard for some reason, and after the scene was done, Chuck Lorre reminded me that I didn’t need to do that. “This is one of those times when you can just let the words do the work,” he said. He was right. Letting the words do the work is the difference between a scene being funny and obnoxious, sentimental and sappy, clever or obvious. It made so much sense to me, and even though it was something I knew, it was something I had forgotten. It was like putting a quarter into an old videogame (let’s say TRON) that you haven’t played in years, and after dying on the light cycle level, realizing that you remember the pattern, but had forgotten it because you didn’t need it until just that moment.

I’ve been an actor for as long as I can remember, but in recent years, the majority of my creative life has been spent writing and producing. I’ve been using different tools in my creative toolbox, and I was grateful to Chuck for reminding me where I left the tools for this particular job.

Wesley’s Sweater: Then and Now

Earlier this year, at a convention in New York City, a guy brought me this picture to sign for him.

Wesley Crusher's Sweater 1987

That’s me in 1987, wearing one of Wesley Crusher’s first sweaters.

As I reached for my pen, he reached into a bag he was carrying, and took out … that sweater, which he’d bought at an auction.


So this happened:

Wil Wheaton holds Wesley Crusher's 1987 Sweater

As I held that sweater for the first time in 25 years, a flood of memories washed over me: the first day I worked on Next Generation, on Stage 16, walking through Farpoint Station with Gates … the first time I walked through the Enterprise, on stage 9, pretending that it was a real spaceship … the first time I walked into the bridge, while it was still being built on stage 6 … the first few months of working on Star Trek, being part of something I’d loved my entire life, and wearing truly awful sweaters in the middle of summer.

All my peers got to wear awesome spacesuits,  and I was in these ridiculous things that were never cool, in any century, including the 24th.  I remembered how happy I was when Wesley was promoted to Acting Ensign, and I knew that I wouldn’t have to put on one of those hideous sweaters ever again.

That’s when I got an idea.

There’s this thing on the Internet where people will post a picture that was taken in, say, 1987, and then recreate the picture in our modern times. I looked down at the sweater in my hands, and I knew what I had to do.

Wil Wheaton wears Wesley Crusher's 1987 sweater in 2013

I’m not gonna lie, Marge: putting that sweater on again felt strange, but also good.

Here they are, side by side:

Wesley's Sweater Then and Now

I love that I can still do that goofy smile — which was 100% genuine, because I was as excited to be on the Enterprise as Wesley Crusher was — all these years later. And though it felt pretty good to be temporarily reunited with an old friend, it felt even better to take that sweater off for the last time.

Discovery Channel Owes Its Viewers An Apology

I love Shark Week, and every year since it started airing on Discovery Channel, I’ve planted myself in front of the television to watch every minute of it.

So last night, I tuned in to watch the first entry in this year’s sharkstravaganza: a documentary about one of the coolest megasharks ever, the prehistoric Megalodon. This thing was freaking huge, with teeth the size of an adult human’s hand, and it is very, very extinct. Discovery’s special started out with what appeared to be “found footage” of some people on a fishing boat that gets hit and sunk by something huge … and I immediately knew something was amiss. The “found footage” was shot the way a professional photographer shoots things, not the way a vacationer holds their video camera. There was no logical way the camera could survive the salt water for the footage to be found. The footage was alleged to have been found in April … but then it got so much worse: Discovery Channel started Shark Week with a completely fake, completely made-up, completely bullshit “documentary” and they lied to their audience about it. They presented it as real.

I turned the show off after about 15 minutes, and watched Breaking Bad on Netflix to get ready for that show’s final season. But I was having a hard time staying focused, because I was angry, and I couldn’t figure out why. Why bother getting upset about yet another stupid “found footage” fake documentary passed off as real? Isn’t that pretty much par for the course on cable these days?

And then I realized why I was (and am) so angry: I care about education. I care about science. I care about inspiring people to learn about the world and universe around us. Sharks are fascinating, and megalodon was an absolutely incredible creature! Discovery had a chance to get its audience thinking about what the oceans were like when megalodon roamed and hunted in them. It had a chance to even show what could possibly happen if there were something that large and predatory in the ocean today … but Discovery Channel did not do that. In a cynical ploy for ratings, the network deliberately lied to its audience and presented fiction as fact. Discovery Channel betrayed its audience.

An entire generation has grown up watching Discovery Channel, learning about science and biology and physics, and that generation trusts Discovery Channel. We tune into Discovery Channel programming with the reasonable expectation that whatever we’re going to watch will be informative and truthful. We can trust Discovery Channel to educate us and our children about the world around us! That’s why we watch it in the first place!

Last night, Discovery Channel betrayed that trust during its biggest viewing week of the year. Discovery Channel isn’t run by stupid people, and this was not some kind of mistake. Someone made a deliberate choice to present a work of fiction that is more suited for the SyFy channel as a truthful and factual documentary. That is disgusting, and whoever made that decision should be ashamed.

If this had happened on just about any other network, it wouldn’t be that big of a deal. But Discovery Channel is more than just disposable entertainment on cable television. Discovery Channel inspired an entire generation to “explore your world”, and it is trusted to be truthful. Discovery Channel says its mission is to satisfy curiosity and make a difference in people’s lives by providing the highest quality content, services and products that entertain, engage and enlighten. There is nothing high quality or enlightening about deliberately misleading your audience during what is historically an informative and awesome week of programming. At the very least, Discovery should have made it very clear at the beginning that this was a “What if?” work of complete fiction, presented in a documentary format. Throwing up a 5 second disclaimer at the end of the program just isn’t good enough.

Discovery Channel has a rare chance to apologize to its audience: this year, the network is running a live aftershow with guests from the night’s programming. Someone from the network should use this platform and opportunity to address the audience, apologize for deliberately misleading them, and recommit to providing the highest quality content this week, and every other week out of the year.

in which 16 year-old me plays Teen Win Lose Or Draw

This is … uh … a thing that happened.

This last weekend at MegaCon in Orlando, I met contestant Keri again, and she reminded me that we did this in 1989 when I was at the Disney Studios in Orlando. I asked her if she had a copy of it, and her husband told me they had it on VHS, but she was embarrassed by it and didn’t want anyone else to see it. He and I communicated in the secret language of husbands, and he risked sleeping on the couch to share it with us. I’m really glad he did, because unlike pretty much everything I’ve seen from this part of my life, I’m not mortified by it*. I think it’s pretty cute, and it’s obvious that we’re all having a whole lot of unselfconscious fun.

BUT! There is a cautionary tale, here: Kids, this is what we looked like when we were teenagers in the late 80s. I keep seeing that some fools are trying to make these fashion trends come back for you damn kids today. LEARN FROM OUR MISTAKES. DO NOT REPEAT THEM. WE WORE NEON SO YOU DON’T HAVE TO.

*except when I’m hollering at 16 year-old me to give the fucking obvious answer you moron!

living in a hallway that keeps growing

An all-too familiar coda:

My friend, who I saw yesterday, called me this afternoon. I missed the call, so I heard her message on my voicemail. She was so happy and positive. “I just tested for that show! I wanted to find out if you tested too, because it would be so much fun to work together again!”

Of course, I did not test and I will not test. The only feedback I got from the audition was: “Wil isn’t the guy.”

Thanks. That’s very helpful, and lets me know if I sucked and didn’t realize it, or if I was fine, but not pretty/tall/thin/what-the-fuck-ever enough for the role.

Oh, wait. I mean it’s the platonic ideal of not that. The not knowing is awful and maddening. In the absence of any meaningful and useful feedback, all I can do is tread water in an ocean of self-doubt and try really fucking hard not to drown in pretty heavy seas.

I work so hard to not have a single fuck to give about auditions once they’re done, but the truth is: I wanted this one. I wanted it even more when there was the prospect of working on a series with my friend who will likely book this job because she is amazing.

I’ve tried to remain positive, tried to accept that this is just how it goes … but I have to face a terrible and undeniable reality: I never book jobs when I audition. When I’m offered a job, I do great work on the set, and I haven’t done a single project in the last ten years that I’m not proud of, but something clearly is not working when I audition. Something isn’t clicking between my perception of my work and the actual work, and I can’t see it. I have no idea what I’m doing wrong, no idea how I’m not getting it done, and I genuinely don’t know what to do. I know I’m a decent actor, but I think maybe I’m just horrible at auditions.

I haven’t felt this awful after not getting a job since  … Jesus, I don’t know how long. But I know that I feel like it’s just a giant fucking waste of everyone’s time for me to audition for anything, because my batting average is so far below the Mendoza Line, I would be cut from a T-ball team.

After 33 years this should be easy. I shouldn’t feel this way, ever, because math just says I’m going to go on 20 auditions for every job I book, if I’m beating the average.

It should be easy, or at least easier … but it isn’t. It never is.

exploration b

It was cold and dark and the wind was whipping up, pushing the cold through my body like I was naked in the snow.

But I was neither naked, nor in the snow. I was dressed normally and in the Valley, walking from my car to the front gate of CBS Radford for an audition at the end of the day, long after the sun had begun its journey to char the other side of the world and come back to us, and I was listening to Los Angeles so intently, I walked right through the gate and past security.

Wow, that’s a loud and obnoxious alarm, I thought, not realizing until I was stopped by a guy with a gun that I was the one who had triggered it.

“Can I help you?” He said.

“Oh, yes,” I said, “I’m, uh, here for an audition.”

“Okay, just give me your ID, please.”

I fished my ID out of my pocket and handed it to him. A gust of wind tried to tear my audition scenes out of my hands but only succeeded in blowing a bunch of dust into my eyes. While I wiped it out, he handed my ID back to me. “Okay, Mister Wheaton. Do you know where you’re going?”

“No, I haven’t been here in almost ten years,” I said. Because, you know, he really needed to know and cared about that extra information.

“No problem,” he said, and then gave me directions to the building where the auditions were being held.

I thanked him and walked into the lot. It was empty, the windows of the offices mostly dark, and the stages all closed up and locked for the night. I walked about fifty feet down one street before I remembered working on a movie here when I was around 20, called December. It was a tough shoot — I had nothing in common with the other actors, who were all incredibly difficult for me to work with for reasons best left to history — and I’m not thrilled with my performance as a result. I suppose that’s why I haven’t thought about it in twenty-ish years.

I pushed those unpleasant memories away and instead looked around at all the buildings as I passed them. This studio was built in 1928, and it still retains some of the adobe charm of that era around the glass buildings and modern production trailers everywhere. It’s one of the very few studio lots in this town where it’s easy to not just see but feel what it was like to make movies at the beginning.

Being an actor isn’t the easiest thing in the world. For one thing, lots of people think it isn’t a real job, and it’s very difficult to get enough work to support yourself and your family without doing what lots of people would think of as a real job. I’m incredibly lucky to make my living the way I do, and as I looked around at buildings that were almost one hundred years old, I marveled at the tradition I’m part of, and was grateful for it.

I walked down a street called “Gilligan’s Island Ave.”, named for the classic series Charlie’s Angels.

Just kidding. Gilligan’s Island was filmed on this lot, and I remembered that during a particularly frustrating day during production so many years ago, I took a walk down this street (which was then called something different) to see what was left of the exterior sets. It wasn’t much; all I recall is some sand and a murky swamp, but if you squinted and used your imagination, you could see Skipper whacking Gilligan with his hat before Gilligan ran into that water as the credits rolled.

It looked like Gilligan’s Island Ave. was all that remained from the show, though. A huge, modern, television production facility was where I remembered it being. The local CBS evening news was being broadcast inside it. I hope nobody recognizes me and puts together that I make a lot of jokes about CBS and KCAL on Twitter, I thought, because I know what happens when local news anchors have a vicious cock fight, and I don’t think I can keep my head on a swivel like that. I saw the building I was looking for, thought wow, that escalated quickly, then giggled a little bit.

It was a three story glass building, completely dark except for the bright white light spilling out of the ground floor. Inside, I could see a half dozen actors in chairs, pacing the room with sides in their hands, or talking to the glass, which I imagined must look like a mirror from their side.

I walked in, found the sign-in sheet, and wrote my name on the first empty line beneath a mostly-full page of other actors’ names, each one of us hoping that this is The Time and this is The Role and this is The Show. I noticed that a name of a very good friend of mine was written just above me, and when I looked up, I saw her smiling at me from across the room.

We both stood up, crossed the room, and embraced. I adore this woman, and she’s such an incredibly talented actor, I couldn’t believe she was auditioning instead of just saying “yes” or “no” to offers.

“Who are you reading for?” She asked me. I told her and she said, quietly, “Oh my God! You’re totally him! You’re perfect for that role!”

I looked around self consciously and quietly agreed with her. “Yeah, I feel like I really know this guy, and feel like I’m kind of perfect for this part … which is why I also feel like I’m not going to get cast.” I laughed a little bit. “Who are you reading for?” She told me, and we repeated the previous exchange, pretty much only changing the pronouns.

“Okay, I have to focus,” she said. I took her advice and also focused.

After a few minutes, the casting associate came out into the lobby and walked over to me. “Wil,” she said, “I have to tell you something.”

There’s been a mistake and you’re just giving me the job? Wait, no. There’s been a mistake and I need to leave? Is the Frogurt cursed? It’s cursed, isn’t it. GodDAMN cursed Frogurt is always cursed!

I looked at her expectantly. “Okay?”

“We worked together,” she began.

Fuck. I have no recollection and now I’m the asshole.

“…when you were nine years-old, on A Long Way Home.”

Yes! I’m not the asshole!

“Holy shit!” I said, “that was one of my first real dramatic acting jobs!”

We reminisced about it a little bit, and then she took the next actor into the room to read. I looked back down at my audition scenes and went over them again. I reminded myself who this guy was, why he wanted what he wanted, and how he felt about it. Then I did my best to let go of all of that so he wasn’t an idea in my head but a person in my body.

I understood why so many actors are nuts.

My friend was called in. The woman who went in before her sat down next to me to change her shoes (this happens all the time: you wear heels in the room, but change into normal shoes after) and she said to me, “it’s a great room. They’re super friendly in there.”

It’s unfortunate, but that isn’t as common as you’d expect, and I was grateful to know that I was about to walk into a room where I could expect to feel like I was playing for the home team.

“That’s good to know,” I said, “thank you!”

“Break a leg,” she said, as she slipped her flats onto her feet, and put her heels in a soft red bag. What a weird life we live, where this is completely normal.

I stood up when she left, and, alone in the lobby, ran the scenes with my reflection in the window, not caring that I probably looked crazy to anyone who was on the other side.

My friend came out, we planned to get together for dinner soon, and then it was my turn to go in and do my thing.

That other actor was right: it was a warm, friendly, and welcoming room. It was the kind of room where the people inside it want actors to be able to do their best work, so that’s what I did. I let go of all the preparation, and just let this guy take over me. I did something similar when I auditioned for Criminal Minds, and that worked out pretty well, if I recall correctly.

I was reading with an actual human actor who gave me a lot to work with, and I did my best to work with it. I had fun, and I felt relaxed and fulfilled when I was done.

“Thanks for seeing me, guys,” I said on my way out of the room. Then, to the casting associate, “Oh, and I hope it isn’t 31 years before we see each other again.”

One of the producers (who will remain nameless, but you’d be all “WOW” if you knew) then said to me, “You made a great choice in that last scene. I could tell that you were struggling to keep your affection for her in check, but letting it bleed through just a little bit.”

I was floored. That was exactly what happened, and it was exactly the choice I’d made (or, rather, what the character told me he needed to do in the scene), and I couldn’t believe that he’d actually seen me do it. It’s so rare for someone in the room to praise an actor like that, and it’s even more rare when it’s holy crap this guy. I was so proud, and I thanked him for telling me that.

I walked out of the room, tossed my sides in the recycling bin (it’s how I physically and emotionally let go of an audition) and began the long walk back to my car. The wind was gusting like crazy, and I had to lean into and away from it as it swirled around the buildings and sound stages. I pulled my cellphone out and told Twitter, “Statistics say I probably won’t book the audition I just left, but godDAMN do I feel good about the choices I made and the reading I gave.”

And that’s all I can hope for. There is so much out of my hands and beyond my control when I have an audition for something, all I can do is my best and then forget about it.

…but I’d be the biggest liar in the ‘verse if I said that I wasn’t thinking about this role, and how much I’d love to be this guy for as long as they’d let me.