Category Archives: Television

here i dreamt

A couple days ago, I turned on asks at my Tumblr thing, because it felt like a way to participate in the Tumblr community. It’s been silly and fun, and — in the case of this one — a little cathartic.

tumblr_ask

If you can’t read the image, here’s what it says:

I’m afraid to ask this ? But.. Do you plan on making any other movies? Are any in the works? Truly you are a great actor, both funny and serious. I admire you Greatly!

I honestly don’t know. My career is pretty great at the moment, in terms of steady employment and creatively satisfying work, but it feels like Hollywood isn’t interested in seeing me work as an actor in movies.

It’s a strange and frustrating and ultimately depressing reality for me that most casting people would rather discover someone new (so they can say “I discovered that guy!” when he wins an award or has a breakout role) than give someone like me a chance. This is something I’ve struggled with a lot lately, and I think it’s one of the reasons I feel so depressed.

When I was a teenager, I desperately wanted a studio to make a Sandman movie, but I hoped that they’d wait until I was older, so I could work in it. Thanks to the arrogance of youth, it never occurred to me that there would come a day where I just wouldn’t be cast in films (or the really great cable series that seem to have replaced films) anymore. It didn’t occur to me that, if that Sandman movie got made when I was an adult, I wouldn’t have a chance to be in it, or even a chance to audition.

What I may have to do, if I really want to showcase myself as a dramatic actor who is worth casting, is make a short film entirely on my own and release it online. At worst, I’ll have created something I’m proud of and enjoyed the process of creating. At best, I’ll create a sort of long-form audition reel that (hopefully) casting people can’t ignore.

Thanks for your question. This is something that’s been on my mind, but I haven’t been able to talk about.

Also, thank you for your kindness yesterday. You know who you are.

the friendship web

I loved the recent Big Bang Theory where everyone imagined what their lives would be like without Sheldon.

I was completely surprised to see that I was on the friendship web that Amy made, though, and when this came up on the screen, there was much rejoicing and squeeing in Castle Wheaton.

Wil Wheaton Big Bang Theory Friendship Web Big Bang Theory Friendship Webclose Wil Wheaton Big Bang Theory Friendship Web

I’m such a lucky human, I can’t even

one small part of a pretty great life

“My point is, there was a time when I thought I would never get out of Wesley Crusher’s shadow, but now that’s just a small part of a pretty great life, and it’s a part that I’m glad is there.”

The interstate highways in Texas go on forever, it seems, between major cities.  For hundreds of miles, there’s not much to see but other cars, the occasional water tower, a few cows, and a ribbon of concrete that cuts across the vast, flat landscape.

A few months ago, I was in a van with Paul and Storm and Anne as we drove between Houston and Dallas down one of those endless highways. Anne was asleep in the chair next to me, as Paul drove and Storm navigated. I played Carcassonne on my iPad as we left Houston behind us and never seemed to get any closer to Dallas.

As I was losing yet another game (it turns out that it’s much easier to win in a three player game than it is in a four player game, regardless of your opponents’ skill level, due to the additional randomness inherent in the draw) my cellphone played the original Star Trek communicator sound in my pocket. I pulled it out and read a text message from my friend Steve Molaro, who is the show runner on The Big Bang Theory. “Do you have a few minutes to talk?” He asked.

“I have all the time in the world,” I replied, “because I’m in a van on a highway in Texas and I think I’m going to be on this road for another decade before we get to Dallas.”

“I’ll call you in a little while,” he replied. I went back to losing my game.

A little while later, the Doctor Who theme came out of my pocket.

“Hello?”

“Hey, it’s Steve.”

“Hey! How are you?”

“Really good. Listen, we’re writing a scene for you and I wanted your input on it.”

I was taken aback. It’s such an honor and a privilege to work on The Big Bang Theory at all, but to be asked to provide some input into how my scenes are written, especially when the writers there are so goddamned good at what they do, was pretty amazing.

“Sure,” I said. “I am at your service.”

Steve told me about the story arc they were doing with Sheldon accidentally discovering a new element, and how Sheldon was unhappy about it. “We thought it would be nice for Amy to bring you in, to try and cheer him up,” he said, “so I wondered if there was ever anything in your life that you regretted or felt bad about at the time, but you came to accept as a good part of your life.”

Oh, you mean my entire teenage years and my early twenties? I thought.

“Yeah,” I said. “When I was younger, people gave me such a hard time about Wesley Crusher, there was a time in my late teens and early twenties when I resented Star Trek. It felt so unfair that people who had never met me were so cruel and hateful toward me as a person because they didn’t like a character I played on a TV show, I wanted to put Star Trek behind me and forget that it was ever part of my life.

“But as I got older and started to meet more people who were also kids when Next Generation was in its first run, I started to hear these stories from people, about how they had nothing in common with their parents except for Star Trek, and they wouldn’t have watched Star Trek together if Wesley hadn’t been on the show. I’ve lost count of the number of people I’ve met who are now doctors and engineers and scientists because they were inspired by Wesley and Geordi the way our parents’ generation was inspired by Scotty.”

“That’s wonderful,” Steve said.

“Yeah, it’s really great. You know, my favorite episode of Next Generation is Tapestry, because I fully believe that our lives are a complex tapestry, woven from all our experiences — positive and negative — we have in our lives. There was a time when I really resented Wesley Crusher, but I just love my life now, and instead of feeling like I had to get out of his shadow, I feel like I’m standing proudly on his shoulders.”

“This is exactly what I was hoping for,” he said. “This is going to be such a great scene.”

“If there’s anything I can do, just pick up the phone,” I said.

“I’ll get in touch when we have the scene finished, and I’ll see you in a couple weeks!”

“Awesome. Thanks, man.” I hung up my phone, and looked out at the endless Texas landscape, unchanged in any meaningful way during the phone call.

“Who was that?” Anne asked, waking up from her nap.

“Molaro. He had questions for me for the Big Bang I’m doing when we get home.”

“Can you tell me about it?”

“No, not yet,” I said.

“You’re no fun,” she said.

“I know. I’m the worst.”

I went back to losing my game, Anne looked at her phone, and the van pushed ever onward toward Dallas.

‡‡‡

A few weeks later, I got the script for the episode. As always, it arrived late in the evening, the day before the table read. I signed for it, thanked the courier, and ran into my office.

I sat on my couch, tore open the manilla envelope, and began to read. When I got to the scene with Sheldon, Amy, and Wil Wheaton, I read it as an actor: I kept my emotions neutral, and let the characters talk to me. Then, I read it as a fan of the show: I heard the individual voices, and I laughed at the jokes. Then, I read it one final time, as The Guy Who Played Wesley Crusher: I realized that I was going to be on one of the most popular shows in the English-speaking world, saying to anyone who cared to listen, “I’m an author now. I do public speaking, and I have my own web series about boardgames … there was a time when I thought I would never get out of Wesley Crusher’s shadow, but now that’s just a small part of a pretty great life, and it’s a part that I’m glad is there.”

That’s when the tears sprung into my eyes, and the weird mix of joy and something else that wasn’t quite sadness, but had its roots there bloomed in my chest.

I read the rest of the script, and, like I always do, felt like a kid the night before Christmas or his birthday, impatiently waiting for the morning to come.

When I went to the table read the next morning, I was greeted warmly and welcomed by everyone there. When we got to the scene with Sheldon, Amy, and Wil Wheaton, Mayim said Amy’s line, “We’re, uh, trying to cheer him up, so …” and the room exploded into laughter, myself included. Mayim was sitting across from me, and she looked up from her script and said to me, “I’m so sorry. I want you to know that I do not share Amy’s opinion here.” The entire room laughed, again. “I know, it’s okay,” I said. We read the rest of the script, and took a break before we began rehearsal. I found Steve and Bill Prady and some of the other producers, and walked over to them.

“Great job,” Steve said to me.

“I’m not gonna lie,” I said, “I got a little weepy when I read it.” I paused for a second. “Thank you for this.”

“No, thank you for being here.” He said.

“Can I pitch you a joke?” I said.

“Sure.”

“Would it be too meta if Wil Wheaton says something about how he gets to guest star on a popular series, but Sheldon doesn’t know what that show is?”

“We thought about something like that,” he said, “but we worried that it may confuse the audience and take them out of the moment. That’s why there’s no reference to you being on Eureka or Leverage or anything like that. We thought it would be simpler and cleaner if our Wil Wheaton doesn’t have the same television acting career that you have.”

“That makes sense,” I said. “And, once again, can I just observe how weird and hilarious it is that there’s your Wil Wheaton, and Wil Wheaton Prime, and they look the same but are very different and I’m both of them?”

We all laughed, and they went back to the writer’s building to do their thing, while I went to the set to do mine.

Over the week of rehearsals, the words never changed in that scene, but my performance did. It was Chuck Lorre who pointed out to me that the sentiment may be very emotional to me, it’s more matter-of-fact to Wil Wheaton the character. When he gave me that perspective, the performance settled into what you saw in the episode.

Like Wil Wheaton said to Sheldon, there was a time when I felt like I’d never get out of Wesley’s shadow, but now I truly am grateful that Wesley Crusher and Star Trek are a part of my life.

Their Wil Wheaton couldn’t say it, but my Wil Wheaton can: Big Bang Theory is a very important part of my personal and professional life, and is one of the reasons I can stand on the shoulders of Star Trek in a way that I thought — well, feared is more accurate — I never would, and I’m incredibly grateful that it’s there. I’m grateful for the friendships I’ve made among the cast, crew, and writers, and I’m grateful for the opportunities it’s given me to work in comedy. Every time I’m there, I learn a little bit more about comedic acting, acting in front of an audience, and acting in a sitcom.

I don’t know what the future of my career holds, but I know that whatever is over the horizon, the road I’ve traveled to get here is like those Interstates in Texas: everything can look the same, and it can feel like you’re not going anywhere, until you suddenly get where you’re going and realize that you’ve been traveling for a long time.

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.

“OH MY SWEET BABY JESUS!” I may have shouted, “I NEED TO TAKE A PICTURE RIGHT NOW.”

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.