Thursday, December 10, 2009

"William F*#@ing Shatner!"

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.

Excuse me? Why does the Enterprise need a 14-year-old ensign piloting the ship?

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.

Humiliation turned to comfort as Wheaton learned about Bill Shatner's toupee.

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.

George "I hate Shatner" Takei

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!


  1. Hoorah! At last someone shows up the ST supporting cast for the whining misanthropes that they are!

  2. This is yet another example of the healing powers of Shatner's toup. Broken and disconsolate, Wheaton was saved by the mention of Shat's wig. What miraculous powers it has.

    Excuse me. Excuse me, but what does God need with a toupee? To make others feel better about their unfortunate time spent with BillShat.

  3. I feel they should have developed the supporting characters more, or at least brought in other characters. They focused too much on Kirk, McCoy and Spock and put them together too often. It made them seem like a homosexual menage a trois, with Spock and McCoy's constant bickering and fighting each other for Kirk's affections. This was inconsistent with what we'd been told about these characters: that they were all nominally heterosexual.

  4. By the way, Bill's pic on this post shows a very obvious and ratty curly toupee

  5. I´m reading Shatner´s twitter and trying to cath some toupee reference! Must have one!

  6. Also, let's not forget how memorable Takei was in the episode Mirror Mirror, when he had more to do. With the possible exceptions of Walter Koenig and GL Whitney, all of the supporting cast members were up to any acting challenges presented to them.

    "Who are these people? What do they want?"
    These are the kinds of questions that pretty well sum up Shatner's attitude to the supporting cast.

  7. This all points to the healing power of the toupee. Bill and Will have an uncomfortable moment, what brings them together? What solves all their issues? This wonderful, magical things called Shatner's Toupee! After all it bring all of here today, in peace and harmony. I submit to all if you reading my words, if the whole world would just join hands and focus on the Toupee, imagine what this could do for mankind!

  8. @RM - The homoerotic undertones are the best part of the show!! Can't have Shatner without those!

  9. The Picard character irked me because that series was so smugly proud of being more 'realistic' in its portrayal of the future, and yet they still hadn't found a cure for baldness. They could have endless idiotic distractions playing Sherlock Holmes in a hologram, exchange forced witticisms with jaundiced androids, read minds whilst keeping a flat stomach in lycra, pipe aboard aliens so matter-of-factly they might as well have been ordinary folks from down the street, etc etc, but hair? That's way too much of a puzzle! So The Shat wins out again on that - he has hair! Hair is the future! Not baldness. HAIR!!

  10. Some people actually look better with no hair. Michael Jordan, Paul Shaffer, etc. So, in the present and future, some people would choose to be bald as opposed to having a full head of hair.

  11. Picard doesn't. He looks like a peanut on a stick.

  12. "... sacrificing dramatic integrity in favor of sickly utopianism ..."

    So true ... so sadly and painfully true.

    Also, I would like to point out that Brent Spiner also wore a toupee in his latter Data-playing days. Shat's revenge.

  13. The writer's comments and opinions were spot-on, I believe, especially in his comparisons of what really worked. The early TNG episodes just look so dated now.

    Never thought I'd ever say this, but the remastered special effects for Shat's Trek really add to the drama and help bolster, justify, and more support to Shat's great acting antics.

  14. Shatner was testing Wil Wheaton's manhood. Had Wheaton said something ballsy or witty to Shatner -- Shatner would have respected Wheaton and changed his attitude right then and there. In defense of Wil Wheaton, most 16 year olds would not have stood up to Shatner.

    Just my two cents.

  15. Wheaton's story describes a simple encounter between two actors, one of which is a fan of the work done by another (for reasons I would never be able to fathom...). But you've managed to spin a '9/11 was an inside job' theory around that encounter.

    It's a simple encounter for this reason: if you are a professional, then you behave like a professional. It doesn't matter if you have some spiritual vision about the legacy of some TV gig you worked on that you think is being corrupted by the producers and writers who are working on that show (Will Wheaton didn't come up with the character of Wesley Crush, BTW...). You treat your colleagues who are working in the same profession as you, as you would expect to be treated by them. There isn't more to this. It's actually quite unprofessional to be a dick (to fellow actors, and to fans, as Shatner is well know for).

    That is all.

  16. Voyager was better than TNG and DS9.

  17. Wow what a bunch of bullsh*t. Shatner was hated by his fellow cast members. This was not a question of "occasional insensitivity", the guy is a straight up dickhead. No one on the cast of TOS could stand him, from throwing temper tantrums because he didn't get enough lines, to insisting the first interracial kiss was his to his complete obliviousness to Takei being gay. Even Roddenberry admitted Shatner was an a-hole. This blog entry is utter bullcrap, author is ignorant and obviously enjoys living life without a clue. Shatner should have been professional to his fellow actors, including Wil who was only a child at the time. Sounds like Shatner was intimidated by a child and had to be nasty to feel better about himself. If you don't like TNG, seriously, no one cares. TOS was silly and cheesy but Roddenberry touched on many social issues permeating the 60s at the time. The utopia was the foundation of Roddenberry's vision so if someone doesn't like that then why the f*** would you watch Star Trek? People are so stupid, you don't like TNG,'s your cookie. Now bugger off.

    1. You are so right. The author is desperately searching for some excuse to overlook bill shatners jerk behavior through the years.

      When you consider that nimoy hadnt spoken to shatner in years, this blogpost looks kind of foolish.

      Also, on a serious note, Grace Lee Whitney, was a good actress but was forced to leave. The reason why, though not mentioned very often, will cast a shadow over roddenberry that is undeniable

  18. "... sacrificing dramatic integrity in favor of sickly utopianism ..."

    Perhaps conservatives and people who don't believe in equality for all should keep away from Star Trek. Its like going to an art museum and then being annoyed because the walls are so cluttered. Seriously, what the fuck did you think Star Trek was based on? Even in TOS, Kirk said that humans had changed and was not motivated by the accumulation of wealth but by acceptance of all no matter their color, gender or size.
    There was no more war or disease, humans prospered and lived peacefully.
    So you like Star Trek but don't like the "utopianism"? Maybe you old farts should all die out and leave the decision making to the rest of us. If you don't get the main point of Star Trek then don't watch.