Quite a trek: William Shatner, Priceline.com

January 3, 2008 10:41:12 AM PST
They don't often compete for parts, but William Shatner beat out Bill Cosby for his longest-running role.

Ten years ago, online travel company Priceline.com Inc. narrowed its list of potential spokesmen to Shatner and Cosby. The former Captain Kirk won out because he was more "futuristic," and because "anyone holding a credit card aged 18 to 95 had heard of William Shatner and knew who he was," said Brett Keller, the company's chief marketing officer.

It has been a happy union.

Shatner lent his credibility and camp to the company's early TV spots, in which he performed contemporary hits like "Bust a Move" in a classic lounge-lizard style.

The ads, which became a cultural phenomenon and were sent up on NBC's "Saturday Night Live," "propelled Priceline from a second- or third-tier brand to a top-tier brand with extremely high brand awareness," Keller said.

Shatner, too, saw a bump in his fortunes.

After some lean years, he began finding work and was eventually cast as lawyer Denny Crane in ABC's "The Practice," then took the role to the spinoff, "Boston Legal." The part earned him an Emmy.

"It's possible that when I was being amusing in these commercials, (writer) David Kelly saw them and brought me to mind for a part in `Boston Legal,"' Shatner said on the set of a new Priceline commercial.

Shatner, 76, has played the role of Priceline spokesman for far longer than the four years he spent as Captain Kirk on the original "Star Trek" series, though he reprised that role over the next several decades.

In the new spots, Shatner plays "The Negotiator," a superhero summoned when a customer needs help.