Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Happy Birthday William Shatner!

Today is William Shatner's 80th birthday. You've gotta admire the guy. For a while it looked like he was forever going to be typecast as Captain Kirk, but then in the mid-90s, he went through a career resurgence. After Captain Kirk was disappointingly killed on-screen in Star Trek Generations, Shatner went on to pen several memoirs, co-author ten Star Trek novels, and get a new lease on his career by sending up his image in Priceline commercials.

But even after that he still spent the first few years of the millennium appearing in low-budget direct-to-DVD fare and Hallmark movies... until his recurring role on The Practice as Denny Crane. The popular character was quickly spun off into Boston Legal, and Shatner officially began the "respected elder statesman" portion of his career, winning the awards and respect that eluded him in the days he wore a Starfleet uniform.

These days he's starring on $#!+ My Dad Says, and he's the lone bright spot on the sitcom. His more interesting venture is the interview show Shatner's Raw Nerve, where his unusual interviewing style leads to conversations more engaging than you'll find on most talk shows. His recent interview with former co-star Walter Koenig was an often-tense conversation between two guys with a lot of history and not all of it pleasent. The Jason Alexander interview was one of the more revealing I've seen with the man. He managed to make Rush Limbaugh seem not sub-human for a few minutes even while confronting the man's arrogance head-on and not giving Rush an opening to pull his usual bulldog replies when challenged. Even when the guest on Raw Nerve is someone you might not usually find interesting, the conversation is worth 22 minutes of attention.

So you have to salute the man. The man's starting his ninth decade and he's keeping busier than most guys half his age. Most actors are lucky to get one iconic role in their careers. Shatner's had at least three: Captain James T. Kirk, Denny Crane... and William Shatner.

What's your favorite Shatner?


  1. I've always liked him best as Don Carter and Bob Wilson in "Nick of Time" and "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet," respectively, from the Twilight Zone.

    I think his acting was brilliant and though he was known for taking on too many roles early in his career, I'm sure he was also offered those roles because he was a good actor.

  2. I didn't forget T.J. Hooker. I just don't think it's one of his iconic roles. The show was successful in its time, but you don't often see it brought up.

    Controversial opinion about Shatner's acting: I think he acts circles around Patrick Stewart in their shared scenes together in Generations.

    Also, if you get a chance, read his book on Star Trek conventions, entitled "Get a Life!" It's full of funny anecdotes.

  3. But - but - I LIKE TJ Hooker! I've only recently started rewatching it and realized I couldn't appreciate it as a child the way I do now as an adult. It's a bit hokey and there's some things in it I'm sure aren't at all realistic - but then again, neither is L&O:SVU. And I realized that even for now it's rather edgy. Things that L&O:SVU don't even cover. They're perfectly willing to show Catholic priests raping little boys - but TJ Hooker had an atheist raping an Episcopal (woman) priest. Something you'd never see on L&O.

    And I've always preferred Nick Of Time over Nightmare myself.

  4. I challenge anyone who questions Shatner's acting ability to watch Spock's funeral scene in ST2. There's so much going on there.

    I just finished speccing Shit My Dad Says. I never expected to have such a great time writing lines for Shatner, even knowing that he would never say them. The man is the total package.

  5. For great insight into how Nick Meyer got that performance out of Shatner, one MUST read Meyer's book "View from the Bridge." He talks about how in one scene, Shatner kept overplaying a line. It's a moment where Khan - in his stolen Starfleet ship - has Kirk and the Enterprise at his mercy and he gives Kirk 60 seconds to surrender all the material they have on the Genesis Project.

    What Khan doesn't know is that Kirk has access to security codes that could be used to force down Khan's deflector shields. When the time expires, Kirk says, "Here it comes," which to Khan means "here comes the data," but to Kirk and his crew, it means "Take THIS!"

    The problem was that Shatner kept playing it with a sing-song "here it co-omes!" Meyer kept reminding him, "Khan's a supergenius, Bill. He'll figure out what you're up to if you play it like that." But Shatner kept telegraphing it in his delivery - until Meyer shot so many takes that Bill got bored, just said the line, and THAT is the take that's in the film.

    You can see it HERE.

    Meyer's book is full of directing insight like that, and has some interesting notes about directing Ricardo Montelban. Shatner's a good actor, but he just needs a director who knows how to mold that raw ability.

    I'd also point to the scene in Trek III when Kirk learns of the murder of his son as another of Shatner's better acting moments.