MIKE GOLD apologizes to William Shatner… and Denny O’Neil
I realize the whole concept of a public apology has become somewhat tainted, but I hope Mr. Shatner and Mr. O’Neil each accept mine in the spirit in which they are intended.
When the first episode of Star Trek was aired, I thought the show was rather lame. I had just turned 16 and I wasn’t all that much of a teevee viewer. That summer I took up an interest in a young woman who was a dedicated Trekker, long before the term was invented. Ergo, my interest in the show waxed. As we headed towards the awesome events of 1968 my interest in television in general waned as, sadly, so did my relationship with the aforementioned young lady.
As Star Trek’s popularity picked up in syndication, I managed to catch all the episodes, but with growing popularity grew derision towards its star. I found the jokes made about Mr. Shatner’s stylized performance to be hilarious, and I even did my own on radio. At the time I knew better: I remembered his fine performances in The Twilight Zone (perhaps the most famous episode of that praiseworthy series), on The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (where he co-starred with both Leonard Nimoy and Werner Klemperer), and most significantly, in the lead on The Andersonville Trial, an astonishingly brilliant teevee movie directed by George C. Scott and co-starring Cameron Mitchell, Richard Basehart, Jack Cassidy, Martin Sheen, Buddy Ebsen, Albert Salmi. That’s one of the best casts ever assembled for a broadcast, and Shatner – its star – was more than up to the task.
Mr. Shatner proceeded to healthy runs on numerous series, but the jokes went on and on. My own attitude began to lighten up when I realized he had a strong sense of self-awareness about Captain Kirk. His own parody of the character in the movie Airplane: The Very Stupid Sequel (I think I’ve got the title right, but iMDB doesn’t list it as such) was brilliantly self-effacing. I figured somebody else wrote that part. But his performance as William Shatner at a Star Trek convention on Saturday Night Live – the famous “get a life” moment – well, even if somebody else wrote it, Shatner wasn’t playing a character. He was playing himself with a truth and honesty essential to successful comedy.
Damn. That was good.
Since then, Shatner showed his comedic prowess in a variety of television commercials, most notably those for Priceline.com. But the world moved and changed when David E. Kelley hired him to play the part of Denny Crane for a run on The Practice, knowing the show was to spin-off into Boston Legal, unless ABC changed its mind (ask our friends – off the record – at DC Comics about Lois and Clark).
The part, simply put, is a bitch. Shatner must handle comedy, pathos, and drama while seamlessly shifting from one to the other, all the while maintaining a bond with series star James Spader and an incredible cast that includes Candice Bergen, Rene Auberjonois, Henry Gibson and Shelley Berman. The series might very well be the best written teevee show in the past decade without the name “Russell T. Davies” in the credits.
Shatner’s won about a million Emmys for his work as Denny Crane. And he’s deserved all of them, and this apology.
He also deserves this plug. Self-effacing entrepreneur that he is, there’s this thing on the Internet called “Shatnervision.” You can get there by clicking here, williamshatner.com. There are a lot of interview clips with his daughter, some convention clips, various commercials unseen in the United States, and a lot of information. It’s great fun.
While I’m on the subject of apologies, I would like to publicly apologize to my fellow ComicMixer Dennis O’Neil. The idea of spelling teevee “teevee” is entirely his. I thought his spelling was so appropriate that I picked it up about two decades ago. Since then, I’ve seen other correspondents adopt the same spelling. My goal is to see it in the dictionary, preferably on the same page as “truthiness.”
Anyway, thanks, Denny, for The Wørd. You may not have the same impact on our lexicon as Col. Robert McCormick, but at least you’re not a raving lunatic. And that’s always something.