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How I Ended Up Starring in a Multi-City Billboard Campaign for ‘Parenthood’

Will Lerner

Thinking of moving to the City of Angels to get your big break in showbiz? I say, do it. Hollywood is exactly as glamorous as you have been led to believe, and you will be instantly rewarded with all the trappings of fame and glory. I have the story to prove it.

Let’s go back to 2010. President Barack Obama was in year two of his first term. People were busy going to movie theaters over and over again to see Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. Estonia was closing in on its deal to join the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. It was a big year for all those reasons and one more: I was on billboards in New York, California, and Florida promoting Season 1 of Parenthood.

A billboard from ‘Parenthood’ Season 1 (Photo Credit: NBC)

Parenthood, which aired on NBC from 2010 to 2015, is now known as a show that didn’t score massive ratings but had a devoted, passionate fanbase and critical acclaim. However, before its premiere episode aired, the network thought it might become a hit show in the way This Is Us did in 2016. This line of thinking led them to heavily promote Parenthood — with commercials, magazine ads, and, of course, billboards.

A series of billboards were placed featuring the main cast members in scenes that were meant to capture awkward and/or frustrating moments that parents have. For instance, Erika Christensen and Sam Jaeger were shown in a bed with their child jumping on it, along with text that read, “Putting sex on your to-do list.” “Having 911 on speed dial” accompanied a scene of Peter Krause and Monica Potter dealing with Max Burkholder stuck in a staircase railing. And there was one titled, “Wishing you had knocked first,” with Lauren Graham walking in on her daughter, Mae Whitman, about to kiss some guy. I was “some guy.”

I didn’t appear in one second of Parenthood’s five seasons, nor am I a professional model (already ignoring your comments about that statement). The reason the side of my face was blown up to billboard size was because of a friend. NBC’s marketing team had hired someone to play the part of “some guy,” but they didn’t like how the final product turned out. They wanted to replace him, but given a tight deadline, they needed someone as quickly as possible. My friend there asked me if I would be interested. Of course, I was.

Now, if you’re imagining me palling around with A-listers like Graham and Whitman on a photo set, stop right there. It’s even better than that. I wasn’t on some cool set, and I wasn’t in the company of any actors from the show. Instead, my photo shoot happened amid the glamorous trappings of a gray-painted utility closet on the now-defunct NBC studio lot in Burbank, Calif. Instead of making kissy faces at the lovely Mae Whitman, I made them to a photographer’s assistant whose name escapes me. Let’s say his name was Buck.

For maybe a half-hour, I sat in front of a nondescript background and puckered up to Buck so that I could have an eye line. After the shoot was done, they Photoshopped me in. I waited a couple of weeks, and then bam! If you lived in Los Angeles, you could see my giant face on the Sunset strip. If you were visiting Universal Studios in Orlando, my dumb face was there too. The crème de la crème was an appearance in Times Square. My parents, living in Westchester County at the time, made a trip down there to see it, which honestly was actually pretty cool.

The billboard in Times Square in New York (Photo Credit: My Mom)

It’s definitely an odd feeling to see your face inches away from a star’s face on a gigantic billboard. I couldn’t help but wonder if Mae Whitman ever saw that and thought, “Hey, who the f**k is that guy?” I wondered if Lauren Graham, already a huge star and accustomed to seeing her face plastered on signs, even noticed the change.

I never dared to dream that I would ever be in a setting where I could discuss this with my billboard co-stars, but that all changed last month when Yahoo TV welcomed Graham to our Los Angeles studios to discuss her other beloved show, Gilmore Girls.

After we wrapped her interview, I approached her with a printout of the billboard. At first, Graham thought I was using it to prove that she was in Parenthood, as though she might’ve forgotten. I then managed to mumble to her that actually I was on the billboard with her and got it nice and awkward when I tried to reenact it for her.

Why did I do this? (Photo Credit: Yahoo)

Graham was as gracious and pleasant as I could have ever hoped she would be in the situation and then offered to take a photo of our reunion. She blocked my face with her hand.

Me standing next to Lauren Graham, who is holding a picture of Graham standing near me (Photo Credit: Yahoo)

I could take this time to summarize my experience or again encourage you to become a world-famous star like I am now, but instead I’m going to use this space to be petty. What’s the deal, Mae Whitman? Why haven’t we reunited? Sure, you don’t know who I am. Sure, it’s unreasonable for me to expect you to have any knowledge of what happened after you were done shooting. I don’t care — I want a photo with you now. Let’s make this happen, Whitman.

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