Friday, March 25, 2011

Star Trek Illustrates the Dangers of Facebook

Trouble strikes the Starship Enterprise when Mr. Spock can't stop checking his Facebook page.

Facebook is everywhere these days. It's obscenely popular - a year ago it overtook Google as the most-visited web site in the United States - and it's a good bet that almost everyone you know has a Facebook account. But what if Facebook had existed in the future - as imagined in the past - of Star Trek's 23rd century?

The video you see here attempts to answer that question. You see, in the original Star Trek, Mr. Spock was always looking into a mysterious black scanner box in order to report his scientific evaluations to Captain Kirk. According to this clip, though, Spock was really just using that time to browse his "Spacebook" list.

It's an incredibly well-edited clip - Spock's reactions to the things he reads (as posted by the other members of the Enterprise) are spot-on. It's also very clever in its complete lack of dialogue - nobody says a word through the whole scene, but the intention still comes through nonetheless.

I guess your coworkers finding those embarrassing photos on your Wall is still a problem two hundred and fifty years in the future, huh?

An audience with William Shatner

My interview with "Star Trek" legend William Shatner took an unexpected spiritual turn when he talked about the afterlife. Shatner has promised to communicate with me after he passes on.

I won't count on that happening any time soon. The actor who was Capt. James T. Kirk sounded too full of energy and merrymaking.

The actor, who turned 80 this week, speaks irreverently about his projects (including Priceline commercials), his TV series, his approach to life and his visit to MegaCon in Orlando. He will talk Saturday at that convention for sci-fi fans.


I started by asking the actor, who interviews guests on "Shatner's Raw Nerve," what makes a good interview. His response: "If the person you're interviewing can be heard."

I could hear him loud and clear.

What about the future of your CBS sitcom, 'Bleep My Dad Says'?

We did 19 shows. I thought we ended up in top 25. In my previous experience, that's a hit show. I can't imagine us not coming back. I had a ball doing the show. It's the first time I've done a four-camera show. I was shocked in the first few shows we did that it was neither staged nor live television nor improvisation. It was not stand-up. It was totally something unto itself, a hybrid of that, aided by my experience at conventions like I'm attending.

How so?

At those conventions, what I'm doing there is going up in front of audience and answering questions but trying to make answers a little fleshed out and amusing, and trying to keep them laughing and informed. I'm standing in front of an audience. I don't know what's going to come out of my mouth. That's the feeling you have in front of a situation-comedy audience, because I have an affinity for an audience. I seem to connect. I'm there with them. I feel their vibes.

How many conventions like MegaCon have you done over the years?

I don't know. I've been to Orlando more than once at a convention. I go to two or three in a year. Some years I don't do any. I used to try to get in as many as I could. One time I had done six or seven conventions in a weekend. I probably did Friday night, Saturday. I'd fly to Orlando. I'd go to Charlotte, then Atlanta.

Why are you going this particular MegaCon?

Because it's in Orlando and it's a big one. I'm free that weekend. I'm not busy that weekend. I'll take the opportunity. I bring my wife. We drive down to Tampa, where we have relatives. It's just what I do. I go and be as entertaining as I can. I will have worked, then I have fun.

What are people most interested in?

It varies. It can be: What was your favorite moment in 'Star Trek'? They may have seen something I've just done. I just talked to Daniel Ellsberg [who released the Pentagon Papers] for four hours, Jeffrey Wigand [tobacco whistleblower] for four hours, Sydney Biddle Barrows, the Mayflower Madam, and the ex-wife of the man who rescued baby Jessica and years later committed suicide. I interviewed them in a two-day period. Daniel Ellsberg and I bonded. Those interviews will be on a show called 'Aftermath.'

People at a convention might ask me about their personal life. I talk about horses. Over the years, I've acquired confidence that it will be all right. I'll talk about anything and maybe make a discovery. It's great fun for me. It's work, but it's a great pleasure. I'm not that crazy about signing autographs and taking pictures, but conventions seem to need that. Talking to the audience is a kick.


What kind of reaction do you usually get at these events?

Anything less than a standing ovation is a great disappointment to me. The reaction is one of two friends meeting. How often have you said, 'Let's go have a cup of coffee.' That's how it is.

What was your favorite moment in 'Star Trek' or did you have one?

The acting assignments were quite frequently challenging. I wish I had the knowledge of how to be an actor that I have now. I wish I knew then what I know now and could have applied it then. I see things I would have changed about my performance all the time. If we talk in 10 years, maybe I'll come to you when you pray. Remember, if you hear a voice it's me. I would probably say at 90 I wish I could have applied what I know at 80. Even though I look at my performance and say that wasn't bad, 55 percent of me is saying, 'I could do that so much better now.' I have a sense of satisfaction and a sense of dissatisfaction.

What did 'Boston Legal' and that character, Denny Crane, mean to you?

It was a wonderful five years that I did David E. Kelley's words. I've worked frequently with talented people. David Kelley is a genius. I was gratified and delighted to work with him. There seemed to be a — what is the word I'm looking for — when two people benefit each other — that seemed to happen with David E. Kelley. I'd do something on the screen, he'd see it and write more. We had a synergy. It seemed to be the creative process you might get in the theater. The author is in the audience and writes a new scene from what he'd seen. That's what's happening on 'Bleep My Dad Says.' These guys are fantastic. They're rewriting as you go along. The next day's rehearsal, the script can be entirely different and hugely improved.

Why did Denny Crane capture people's attention?

Given the license of the possibility he was approaching some kind of senility — that gave him license to do what he wanted to do. My late mother, many years ago, said, 'I can do anything I want.' I guess she could. I think that's what Denny Crane thought, 'I'm a big lawyer with a lot of money and I can do whatever I want.' There's something freeing about that. He doesn't have to do the conventional thing. He can do what he wants.


Your commercials stand out in the TV landscape; how do you approach them?

An agency five or six years ago said we're going to do this character, the Negotiator, and they gave me the script. They had a big motorcycle on the set. I got on this motorcycle with a big, fat rear tire and huge engine. I remember vividly the moment. I was thinking about the Negotiator. When I came back, I had the idea of character who is slightly insane about how good the product is. There isn't anything this character wouldn't do to get you a good deal. That became the Negotiator. This year it seems to have come to fruition. The last commercial seems to exemplify what I had in mind: soft-spoken, intense, crazy, ability to change disguise, be slightly CIA, all the characteristics of a crazy negotiator.

To what do you attribute your longevity in this business?

Health is everything. Energy, to have the health that allows you to have the energy and try and do all these things. I've put in my time to try to get good and I'm getting good.

Do you have more to say about when we'll talk in 10 years?

When the dirt starts hitting the casket. No, I think I'm going to be burned. As the last of the ashes burn, start listening.

William Shatner in a "Q & A with Captain Kirk" at MegaCon

When: Panel discussion is 2 to 3 p.m. Saturday; Shatner will be at the convention all day Saturday.

Where: Orange County Convention Center, 9800 International Drive, Orlando

MegaCon admission: Three-day pass is $60; one-day is $25.


The Shatner file


The Canadian-born actor has performed on television since the 1950s. His many TV appearances include "Alfred Hitchcock Presents," "The Twilight Zone," "The Fugitive" and "Gunsmoke." He became a TV superstar with "Star Trek." That sci-fi landmark ran from just 1966 to 1969 on NBC but gained legions of fans through reruns and movies.

Shatner's other TV series have included "T.J. Hooker," "The Practice," "Boston Legal" and "Bleep My Dad Says." He won two Emmys, four additional Emmy nominations and a Golden Globe for playing the memorably off-the-wall Denny Crane first on "The Practice," then on "Boston Legal."

He showed a gift for comedy as the Big Giant Head on "3rd Rock From the Sun" and received another Emmy nomination. He has played talk-show host on "Shatner's Raw Nerve" and "Aftermath." He has sung. He has played pitchman. He has done it all in a way that commanded attention — just what you would expect from the man who was Capt. Kirk.