Announcing The Wil Wheaton Project

About a year ago, I had a meeting with a production company, who wanted me to host a show for them. The concept was simple, I thought it had the potential to be incredibly funny, and I really liked the people I met with.

“I can’t just be a host, though,” I explained. “I’ve been producing Tabletop for two seasons, and if I’m going to be the public face of a show, I need to have a hand in its creative direction. I want to write for it, and I need to be a producer.” Over the last couple of years, I’ve done more and more work off camera, and I’ve learned a lot about how shows come together and develop in the writer’s room and the editing bay. I love being an actor on camera, but it feels very much like I’m doing a small part of the overall production. If I was going to host a show, and if I was going to be the face of that show, I needed to do more than just stand in front of the camera and read lines. I wanted to help make the show.

“Of course,” the head of the company said to me, like I’d just told him that I’d need to breathe air during production. “We want to do this together.”

That was all I needed to hear. We agreed on the general idea, and spent the next several months working out the specific details of the show. About six months later, we went to the network to pitch it.

Pitching a show to a network is weird. You take your creative team to their offices, and then you sit across from a bunch of executives and tell them why they should buy your show. It’s sort of like an audition, but instead of just giving a performance, there’s an intense Q&A after (and sometimes during), and you have to be able to think quickly, and be prepared for anything. It could be very stressful, but this particular meeting wasn’t stressful for me, at all. I believed in the concept of the show, and I knew that it could be really cool if the network would trust our ideas and let us make it.

The pitch meeting went very well, and it turns out that the network trusted our ideas, and pay for us to make a pilot.

“Did you want to make a pilot that we could air, or would you prefer to do a non-airable pilot?” The head guy asked us.

“We’d much prefer to make something that doesn’t have to go on the air,” I said, “so we can show you all the different concepts and pieces.”

“Okay,” he said, “go and make your best pilot, and we won’t worry about putting it on the air.”

I couldn’t believe how … well, easy the whole thing was. Unlike auditions, where I often feel like the other people in the room are sitting back and just waiting for me to leave, the network executives I met with that day last year were engaged, enthusiastic, interested, and seemed genuinely excited about the show. As the creative team — now my creative team — and I walked out of the building, one of them said to me,  “that’s the best pitch meeting I’ve ever been part of.”

“Really?” I said. This guy’s done hundreds of pitch meetings.

“Yeah. You did great.”

“I guess it’s easy when you really believe in something and are excited about it, huh?”

“I guess it is!”

Another few months went by, and we continued to work on the show, refining it and pitching ideas to each other. We hired some great writers and segment producers, and spent lots of time making each other laugh, finding out what bits worked and didn’t, and trying to come up with a name for the show (that turned out to be the hardest part of the whole process).

Then, about three weeks before we were going to shoot our pilot, disaster struck: the network executive who green lit the project was out, and our show was probably gone with him.

In the entertainment industry, it’s not uncommon for executives to move around, but when that happens, any projects they had approved are always killed. The reasoning goes that the new person who takes over won’t want to keep any of the old person’s projects, because they don’t want the old person to get any credit for anything. Lots of really great projects have died this way over the years, and I was pretty sure that my show would join them.

I called the production company, and asked if we were finished before we had even really started.

“No! The network loves you and loves this idea,” he said, “and the new guy is apparently a fan of your work, so we’re still on target to make the pilot.”

I couldn’t believe it. It spoke volumes about the new guy’s character and confidence, and it said something pretty good about our idea, too.

Do you remember the day photoshopwilwheaton.tumblr.com was born, the day I took a stupid picture of myself and said that I was working in front of a green screen all day? That was the day we filmed our pilot.

It felt so weird to feel a mixture of excitement and nervousness as I walked into the stage and met the crew. I feel so comfortable with my Tabletop crew, and I know the crew at The Big Bang Theory so well, to meet and work with a crew I would probably only see for one day was a new experience for me. Would they like the show as much as we did? Would they laugh at our jokes? What would I do if they didn’t? In the fifty or so steps it took me to get from the stage door to my mark, the magnitude of what we were doing — the culmination of months of hard work — and what was at stake for us threatened to paralyze me. When I got to my mark, I took a deep breath and reminded myself that a lot of smart and funny people had helped get me to that very moment. I told the familiar voices of Self Doubt and You Really Suck, Wheaton, to shut up and let me do my work. I looked up at the camera and said, “Hi, I’m Wil Wheaton, and this is The Wil Wheaton Project.”

Just like that, all the nerves and doubts went away. I didn’t think about all the risks and all the ways I could screw up. I just had fun doing the work we’d written. I made the crew laugh over and over again, I amused myself, and I made the writers and producers laugh. We shot hours of stuff, knowing that it would get cut down to just 21 minutes, and by the end of the day I was creatively, emotionally, and physically exhausted. It felt great.

On my way to my dressing room, one of the network executives who had come to the set to watch stopped me. She told me how much she loved it, how funny she thought it was, how much she liked me as the host, and that she wanted to get it on the air right away.

“Thank you,” I said, unsure how much salt I should be using to season the effusive praise, “I had a lot of fun, and I’m really glad you liked it.”

“Well I loved it, and I hope that we get to do this together for years.” She said it with so much kindness and sincerity, I put my mental salt shaker away without using a single grain.

Imagine a montage here, of editing and more editing and even more editing. Imagine that the camera dollies across a room filled with network people, their faces illuminated by the flicker of a television that we can’t see. Some of them are laughing, others are stoic, most of them are smiling. We get the impression that they like what they see. Now we cut to me doing various things, like walking my dogs, homebrewing beer, doing some Rocky-like training for some reason.  Days and then weeks go by on a superimposed page-a-day calendar. the pages fly off while I call and email my production company to find out if we’ve been picked up. The camera cuts to a time lapse shot, high over Hollywood, as the sun tracks across the sky, the traffic ebbs and flows, and city comes alive at night. That shot has nothing at all to do with the narrative, really, I just think it looks cool. The montage ends as I pick up my phone to make one more call.

“So, it’s been a long time and we haven’t heard anything,” I say to my executive producer, “should I just assume that it didn’t work out?”

“What do you mean?” He says. “They picked us up for 12 episodes. We’re in pre-production!”

“Wait. What?”

“Nobody told you?”

I recalled the last conversation I’d had with the head of the company, a week before. I replayed it, and realized that I’d misunderstood him.

“The last I heard was that they liked it, but I thought that they hadn’t given us the official pick up.”

“Oh no. They love us. They love you!”

I felt this strange mixture of excitement and embarrassment, wrapped up in a blanket of silly.

“I have to say, this is the strangest way I’ve ever found out that something I did got picked up by the network.” I laughed, and we made plans to meet so we could discuss the writers and producers we’d bring on for the full three month production process (and hopefully years more, if the network likes us enough to keep us going.)

I hung up my phone, and then it hit me. I mean, it really hit me: the show we’d worked almost a year to make, the show that I’d thought was dead but wasn’t more than once, was actually going to happen. For at least twelve weeks this summer, I’d be hosting a weekly show on television, and I’d get to help write and produce it.

I whooped and hollered and ran around my house, while my dogs tried to figure out why I had the zoomies hours before they usually got them at 5:30pm every day.

Imagine another montage that serves to pass some more time, and ends with us having a meeting with the new guy at the network. Probably include another one of those time lapse shots of a city at night that I think are so cool, but this time a couple of thunderstorms blow over, because those look really neat in time lapse.

“I have to tell you,” the new guy says to us, “that a lot of people have tried to crack this particular nut, and nobody has ever been able to make the show you brought us work.”

We wait for him to continue, and he does, “But this is the funniest pilot in this genre that I’ve ever seen. You guys did a great job!”

I exhale, and thank him. We spend about an hour with him and the rest of his team, making sure we all know exactly what the show is going to be. We talk about what worked and what didn’t work in the pilot, discover that we all agree on those points (a huge bonus for all of us, because it means we see the show the same way), and by the time we’re finished we’re all excited to get the show on the air.

We’re not going to do another montage, because I have to publish this in fifteen minutes and I don’t have time. Let’s just do a simple time cut to me, sitting in my office wearing my Captain Kirk pajamas, writing this out. Marlowe is sleeping underneath my desk, and Seamus is quietly grumbling at me from the couch behind me, because they should have been given their breakfast an hour ago, but I’ve been writing nonstop since I woke up.

This is the part where I finally stop describing the process of creating this show and bringing it to life, and actually tell you what it is, and where and when you can see it.

The show will be on the network formerly known as Sci-Fi, and it is called The Wil Wheaton Project. It premieres on May 27th at 10pm.

The Wil Wheaton Project is a weekly roundup of the things I love on television and on the Internet, with commentary and jokes, and the occasional visit from interesting people who make those things happen. It’s sort of like Talk Soup for geeks, with a heavy focus on those hilariously bad paranormal reality shows (in fact, that’s where the whole thing started a year ago, but as we worked on the show more and more, we discovered that there were lots of scripted paranormal shows that provided a ton of comedic material. When we expanded to cover the scripted shows, we discovered that nobody was doing a show like this that was just focused on the genre shows that nerds like us love, and we decided that we’d make that show because of reasons.)

The official network announcement will be coming out a little later this morning, but I’ll put a little bit of it here, because I can:

Syfy has greenlit the 12-episode summer series, The Wil Wheaton Project (working title), a weekly topical comedy show hosted by actor and champion of geek culture Wil Wheaton.  The 30-minute show will offer a funny, fast-paced exploration and celebration of science fiction and genre entertainment.  The series premieres Tuesday, May 27 at 10PM ET/PT on Syfy.
Each week, Wil provides his insider point-of-view, sense of humor and expertise as he dissects the week’s most popular and trending topics across sci-fi film, television and pop culture, as well as video games, viral videos and news. Wil is on his feet for the rapid-fire half hour, delivering sharp, straight-to-camera commentary as he riffs his way through content clips. The result is a fun appreciation for all things science fiction.

I really love that I get to be part of something that brings Science Fiction back to Syfy, and if I read correctly between the lines during our meetings with the Syfy executives, this is just the beginning of the network formerly known as Sci-Fi returning to its science fiction roots, which is awesome. Developing the show has been incredibly fun, and like I wrote last week, when I met the full staff of writers and producers, I was floored by how talented and funny they are. We’re going to make something that I just know you’re going to love, and I hope that so many people love it, we’ll get to make it for years to come.

If you have questions about the show, the process of bringing it to television, or anything related to it, ask them here and I’ll do my best to answer all of them.

UPDATE: A couple FAQs have emerged, so let me answer them.

Q: Will this be online?

A: I don’t know, but I hope so. I’m pushing everyone who will listen to me to put episodes online, but ultimately that isn’t my decision.

Q: Will this air in [country that is not the US]?

A: I don’t know, but I hope so. That’s a decision that the network will make.

Q: Will this mean no more Tabletop?

A: No! I made sure that everyone knew I’d be doing Tabletop, and I made sure that my contract included language that would guarantee my ability and availability to make Tabletop.

Q: When will you know if you get more then twelve episodes?

A: I think we’d know about halfway through the summer, but I can’t say for sure. I’m pretty sure that if enough people watch and like the show, the network will order more episodes.

 

regarding confidence, compassion, and bullies

Last year, at Denver Comicon, I answered a question from a young woman who was having a hard time at school, because kids were being cruel to her. She asked me if I was ever called a “nerd” when I was in school, and how I handled it. Here’s my answer:

This seems to be going viral today, and made it to the top of the front page of Reddit yesterday, where her mother commented:

That was my daughter. She and the girl that bullied her are cool with each other this year. They aren’t in the same class, though. This year has been a good year, but she noticed another little girl in her class kept getting picked on by the other students. She became this girl’s friend and stands up for her when the other kids are being mean. We’ve talked about this moment a lot. After this panel, she paid to get her picture taken with Wil. He actually hugged her!

In the same thread, her father weighed in:

That was my daughter that asked that question. This was a magical moment for the whole family. What you might not get from the sound of all the applause is that there wasn’t a dry eye in the room after this. Mia met Wil again briefly at the Kansas city con this year, and he was as gracious and cool as you could have hoped. They talked about minecraft, ballet, mistakes, and silliness. Wil Wheaton, you are an honorary member of this family and I hope you know that you have made a real impact on Mia and the rest of us silly nerds. I wish you nothing but the greatest success. Oh yeah we love Tabletop too.

I’m so happy to learn that she and the girl who was mean to her have changed that relationship dynamic, but I’m so incredibly proud that she’s standing up against bullying with other kids in her school.

I really try my best to be the person I want other people to be. I don’t always succeed, but when I see things like this, and hear from people who have been touched or inspired by something I said or did in a positive way, it reminds me how important it is to do everything we can to be awesome.

Speaking of being awesome, please enjoy this picture of her that her mom put on Reddit last year.

UPDATE: via Medium.com, a transcript:

When I was a boy I was called a nerd all the time—because I didn’t like sports, I loved to read, I liked math and science, I thought school was really cool—and it hurt a lot. Because it’s never ok when a person makes fun of you for something you didn’t choose. You know, we don’t choose to be nerds. We can’t help it that we like these things—and we shouldn’t apologize for liking these things.

I wish that I could tell you that there is really easy way to just not care, but the truth is it hurts. But here’s the thing that you might be able to understand—as a matter of fact I’m confident you will be able to understand this because you asked this question…

When a person makes fun of you, when a person is cruel to you, it has nothing to do with you. It’s not about what you said. It’s not about what you did. It’s not about what you love. It’s about them feeling bad about themselves. They feel sad.

They don’t get positive attention from their parents. They don’t feel as smart as you. They don’t understand the things that you understand. Maybe one of their parents is pushing them to be a cheerleader or a baseball player or an engineer or something they just don’t want to do. So they take that out on you because they can’t go and be mean to the person who’s actually hurting them.

So, when a person is cruel to you like that, I know that this is hard, but honestly the kind and best reaction is to pity them. And don’t let them make you feel bad because you love a thing.

Maybe find out what they love and talk about how they love it. I bet you find out that a person who loves tetherball, loves tetherball in exactly the same way that you love Dr. Who, but you just love different things.

And I will tell you this — it absolutely gets better as you get older.

I know it’s really hard in school when you’re surrounded by the same 400 people a day that pick on you and make you feel bad about yourself. But there’s 50,000 people here this weekend who went through the exact same thing—and we’re all doing really well.

So don’t you ever let a person make you feel bad because you love something they decided is only for nerds. You’re loving a thing that’s for you.

I’m coming soon to a TV near you

At MegaCon, I announced that I’ve been developing a television show that I host, write, and produce. Here’s a little bit more about that show.

I can’t say which network it will be on, but the network picked us up for 12 episodes, and we’ll start airing in May. If everything goes according to plan, and they make a full order, I’ll be on your television almost every week for the rest of the year. This show is really funny, and I can’t wait to get permission from the network to talk about it in more detail. I heard today, though, that the network plans to make a formal announcement next week sometime.

Wednesday, I met with my entire staff of writers and producers, and I was blown away by the talent and brilliance of the team I’m going to be working with for the next three months (and hopefully the next few years). I wish I could talk about this in more detail, but until I get the go-ahead from the network, know this: For at least 12 weeks this summer, I’ll be coming into your home to share some funny and awesome stuff with you, and I’m really super excited for you to share the experience with me.

the return of the infamous clown sweater

Longtime readers of the blog are probably familiar with the Infamous Clown Sweater, and the strange role it’s played in my life for over ten years.

I don’t know what happened to the actual sweater, and I’ve never heard from its owner since that one fateful night at DNA Lounge so long ago, but for a few of us* it is a silly thing that makes us happy. It’s sort of an inside joke that we share, and I love that.

So, today at shirt.woot, you can get your own version of it, designed by me and my pal Rich Stevens. If you’re one of the few, you may want to pick one up. In fact, I hope you will, so that we can coordinate some massive picture at GenCon or something like that, where a bunch of us are wearing it … because people need help with their nightmares.

8-bit-clown-sweater-woot-shirt.png

*probably a few thousand, but still, a few

status

Hello, World.

I am not dead, I have just been very busy with the travel and the secret projects and etc.

I have many stories to tell, and they will be told as soon as I have the time to properly tell them.

Until that time arrives … COMMERCE!

The new Humble Bundle has a bunch of really great books, and one of them is mine! My book The Happiest Days of Our Lives is available in ePub and MOBI formats for the very first time, as part of this bundle.

You can also get Steven Gould’s JUMPER, the Zombies vs. Unicorns anthology, Scott Westerfield’s Uglies, and even more.

The whole thing is pay-what-you-want, but if you pay at least $15, you will get the audio version of Cory Doctorow’s HOMELAND, read by me. I’ve done a lot of audiobooks in the last few years, and I can honestly say that this is one of my favourites. I’m intensely proud of the work we did on it, and I want everyone who enjoys my audiobook performances to hear it.

Okay, before I go help Anne with a thing, a picture of me being classy in a sequined bow tie:

2014-03-16 14.24.47

this is my script. there are many like it, but this one is mine

Wil Wheaton Big Bang Theory Script

On Wednesday last week, I picked up my script in my dressing room, and in the upper right corner, it said that the script was for Will Wheaton, playing the part of Will Wheaton.

I picked it up, and walked into the stage. I found one of the assistant directors, and told him, “I think there’s been a terrible mistake. I’ve been given someone else’s script.”

I showed him the name. He looked mortified. “Oh god I’m so sorry. We’ll fix that right away.”

I laughed. “It’s not a big deal, and I can fix it myself right now.” I grabbed a pen and turned the superfluous Ls into little boxes, like I’ve been doing my whole life. “I really don’t care. I just thought I could make a joke about it, and I’m easily amused, so…”

He laughed with me and apologized again.

“I’m not a prima donna,” I said, “and people have been doing this my whole life.”

He spoke into his walkie. “I have him here, and we’re walking.” He turned to me. “They’re ready for you, sir.”

We walked around the back of the stage and along the space that separates the audience from the set. Today, that space is filled with cameras and equipment, but on rehearsal days, it’s empty and quiet.

“When I was in grade school, I went to this really authoritarian parochial school, and they were all about conforming to the rules. One of my teachers — I’m pretty sure it was my third grade teacher — used the dreaded red pen to add an extra L to my name for the first few days of school, until I got really upset about it and asked her to stop.”

“Jesus, she really did that?”

“Yeah, it was not a particularly awesome time for young me.”

We arrived at Howard and Bernadette’s apartment. “So I learned early on that it’s important to not be too precious about it, and now it’s funny to me.”

Later that day, after our rehearsals were finished and the script was updated to reflect changes the writers made, I got a new script, and it was actually mine, because it had my name on it and everything.

We’re shooting some scenes without the audience today, because there are something like 16 scenes in this episode, and if we shot all of them in front of the audience, it would make for a very late night.

Tomorrow, we’ll shoot almost the entire show in front of the audience, including the scenes that I’m in, where I play Wil Wheaton. He’s just this guy, you know?

a few memorable moments on the set at big bang theory

A sharp knock on my door, seconds before it opened. The assistant director poked his head into my dressing room and told me they were ready for me on the stage.

I closed my book. “Here I go!”

We walked into the stage together, and I continued on into the set where we were rehearsing this particular scene. Kaley and Johnny were already on there when I sat down next to them.

“You should never take that hat off,” Johnny said to me.

I looked at him to see if he was being sincere, or giving me the business. Before I could figure out which one it was, he said, “it looks really good on you.”

I smiled. “You are one of my fashion heroes, so that really means a lot to me.”

Inside, I secretly felt cool for almost three whole seconds.

“I mean it,” he said.

“Thank you. That was very kind.”

Kaley dramatically put her script down. “WOULD YOU TWO GET A ROOM ALREADY?!”

I gave Johnny a sly look that he did not return. “Do you want to just sit on that couch together?” I asked.

We all laughed together, and the director called for quiet.

We ran the scene, and I killed a joke*. We ran it a second time, and I nailed the beats I needed to nail. I felt calm and focused and — for the first time I think, ever, since I started working on the show — like I really and truly deserved to be there. I’m not gonna lie to  you, Marge: it felt really good.

I thanked the director for the notes he gave me, and returned to my dressing room where I waited to be called back to the stage, to bring Evil Wil Wheaton (who is decidedly less evil than he used to be) back to life.

Later, I saw Melissa and Kaley waiting to run one of their scenes. “Let’s take a picture for the Internet,” I said.

“I really like that hat on you,” Melissa said.

“Thanks,” I said, “I was just lazy this morning and didn’t want to do my hair, because it’s just a tiny bit too long and I can’t get it to behave. But I’m getting compliments, which is pretty awesome.”

I held out my camera, and we took a silly picture that I put on Twitter.

The writers all came into the stage, and we ran the entire episode for them. Everyone laughed really hard in all the right places, and it’s pretty clear that this episode works. I can’t wait for the audience to see it on Tuesday, and I am so grateful that I get to be part of this wonderful experience.

 

*Note that this means I wrecked the joke, because I delivered the line poorly. This can be confusing to normal people who hear us talk about comedy, because when a joke works, we say that the joke “killed”. So: killing a joke is bad, but making a joke that kills is good.

Comedians are obsessed with death, I guess, or at least dying on stage.

midnight highway

The second song on the Kill Bill Volume 1 soundtrack is a fantastic rockabilly number called That Certain Female. It has this great thick guitar riff with a lot of echo and delay and, for me, it conjures up images of Route 66 under a new moon, windows down and radio blaring as a ’58 Chevy puts miles between its mysterious driver and Chicago as fast as he can lay them down.

This music fills the dark and bug-spattered spaces between Amarillo and Tucumcari, staccato white lines flashing by in the headlights, the smell of exhaust and old tobacco swirling with dust.

Is he running toward something or away from something? Or is it a she behind the wheel? What’s in the trunk? What’s in the backseat? When we see the driver’s eyes in the rear view mirror, briefly lit by the glowing cherry of a cigarette, are they determined? Resigned? Afraid? Tear-stained? Vengeful?

Maybe they are all these things.

The road goes on.

 

 

50,000 Monkeys at 50,000 Typewriters Can't Be Wrong

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