Star Trek: The Next Generation actor Wil Wheaton's first ever encounter with William Shatner wasn't a particularly pleasant one. The two have since made up as Wheaton notes in a footnote in his 2004 memoir Dancing Barefoot (he also mentions the toupee, which we'll get to in a moment):
"In 2002, Bill and I played together on a special Star Trek edition of the game show Weakest Link. He was warm and friendly towards me the entire time. Several months later, I asked him on Slashdot, 'Are we cool or what? I mean I always thought you didn't like me...' " According to Wheaton, Shatner replied " 'We are so cool, we are beyond cool. We are in orbit man.' "
Wheaton is also one of only a few people that Bill Shatner follows on his Twitter page.
But back in 1989, Wheaton was so affronted by Bill Shatner's reaction to him that he coined the phrase "William Fucking Shatner" to describe the actor. Wheaton had popped over to the Star Trek V: The Final Frontier soundstage during a break in filming Star Trek: The Next Generation. Nervous, Wheaton was about to meet a legend:
" 'Well?' [Shatner] asked.'
Oh no. He'd asked me a question, and I'd missed it. 'Excuse me?' I replied.
'I said, what do you do over there?' he asked. There was a challenge in his voice.
'Oh, uh, well, I'm an acting ensign, and I sometimes pilot the ship.' Maybe he'd be impressed that I'd already logged several hours at the helm of the Enterprise D, all before the age of 16.
'Well, I'd never let a kid come on to my bridge.' He said and walked away."
Embarrassed, angered, devastated and humiliated, Wheaton returned to the TNG makeup room, sharing his angst with the makeup lady. Later on the set, Brent Spiner (alias Data) tried to comfort the young actor:
" 'I heard about Shatner,' Brent Said. Jesus, was this on the news or something?
'Yeah,' I said.
'You know he wears a toupee, right?'
I giggled. 'I didn't know that.'
'Yep. He's balder than old baldy up there.' He tossed a gold thumb over his shoulder at Patrick [Stewart]. I giggled some more, as the stored up adrenaline coursed through my veins.
'Boy, that's pretty bald.'
'Yep.' Brent put his hands up on the console."
There are a number of things that we can try to analyze from the above. The first, is that this is another example of Bill Shatner's occasional insensitivity to others, particularly to "lesser" actors. Yet, as much as Bill Shatner probably should have expressed this particular thought in a more diplomatic way (or just have kept it to himself), the substance of the remarks represent a perfectly valid observation. Bill Shatner certainly wasn't the only one to question the idea of a child effectively piloting the USS Enterprise in TNG. It was, arguably, a dumb idea and one that demonstrated Gene Roddenberry at his weakest - sacrificing dramatic integrity in favor of sickly utopianism (a process which began with 1979's Star Trek: The Motion Picture and cost him control of the entire movie franchise).
Now that the dust has settled, it is pretty evident that Star Trek: The Next Generation has not withstood the test of time the way that the original Trek has. And it certainly has not attained the same kind of iconic status (Voyager and Enterprise likely will be remembered even less, while DS9, we feel, has often been unfairly overlooked).
The kid on the bridge (yes, Shatner had a point - Kirk would not have tolerated this); the first officer who seems redundant sitting next to the captain, selectively echoing his orders and the empathic counselor ruining dramatic integrity by overtly revealing character motivations rather than allowing both the audience and the on-screen characters to discover them - TNG's character dynamics are riddled with dramatic non-sequiturs. Many of these can be directly attributed to Gene Roddenberry, who created the show. Adding to these issues was replacement guardian-producer Rick Berman, who essentially took full control of the show during its third season. Thereafter, Berman fired a cinematographer (Edward R. Brown) for lighting the emotions that a given scene suggested (precisely what TOS did). A few years later, Berman fired a talented, albeit temperamental composer (Ron Jones) for writing melodic music. Despite some excellent installments, a slow descent into blandness arguably followed in a climate that increasingly stifled bold aesthetics - the very antithesis of the insane, brightly colored, dynamically scored melodrama that Shatner's Star Trek embodied.
Bill Shatner makes it pretty clear what he thinks of the character of Deanna Troi in the 2005 documentary How William Shatner Changed the World (more here).
Bill Shatner, as an old-school kind of guy, has expressed similar thoughts about the "lesser" original cast too. Again, it has often caused offense, but yet again his arguments are valid. He believes (as do many) that the show had three main stars (Shatner, Nimoy and Kelley), not seven. "Who are these people? What do they want?" those were the kind of meaningless lines spoken by Takei's Sulu during Star Trek's run - did we really want more lines from the gang of four's largely two-dimensional characters? How much fake Russian or Scottish accents could we have withstood? And to be blunt, Sulu really was an incredibly dull character. Today, George Takei has made a career of unfairly dissing Shatner, as if he were somehow responsible for the former's tepid post-Trek career.
Finally, Brent Spiner's comments about Bill Shatner's toupee may have some wondering just how much he knew (was Shatner really Patrick Stewart bald?). We think that Spiner was probably just speculating. But it is interesting how the toupee, as an obvious example of a personal conceit, was the first "attack point" that Spiner found. And as Wil Wheaton notes, he was unaware of the toupee until the above encounter. Could this incident have been Shatner's Mr Miyagi "sand the floor" moment? Did he diss Wheaton in order for the young kid to finally learn (knowing that anger at Shatner often produces toupee revelations) about the secrets and power of Shatner's toupee? One thing is clear, Wil Wheaton will never forget the first time he learned that Bill Shatner wore a toup.
You can buy Dancing Barefoot here, read several extracts here and visit Will Wheaton's website here. Feel free to disagree with anything or everything we've written!