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Full Speed Ahead

From Captain Kirk on "Star Trek" to Denny Crane on "Boston Legal," William Shatner has played the macho man role with no regrets.
Betsy Model
From the Print Edition:
William Shatner, Sept/Oct 2006

(continued from page 7)

During this same period, he'd landed the lead role in the television series "TJ Hooker" and, while continuing to make four more Star Trek movies for Paramount—and ultimately seeing the now-retired James T. Kirk killed off in the 1994 sequel Star Trek: Generations—he became the host of the reality show "Rescue 911," which aired for seven seasons.

By the late 1990s—almost 30 years after the introduction of James T. Kirk—Shatner still couldn't seem to escape the reminder of the swaggering captain; the fans wouldn't let him. For decades, Trekkie conventions had allowed devotees to convene, swap dialogue (sometimes in Klingon) with other fans and purchase merchandise, meeting a demand that hadn't been there during the show's original airings.

The original cast for the television series—as well as the cast members of the many television spin-offs, including "Star Trek: The Next Generation," "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" and "Star Trek: Voyager"—were in big demand as speaking guests and, whether for the money or the glory, most of them went quite willingly. Shatner had his reservations and, although he attended events and collected substantial fees for autographs, speeches and participation in question-and-answer panels for many years, his apparent disdain for the events and the fans themselves became so well known that, years later, he actually did a now-infamous skit on "Saturday Night Live," in which he told a roomful of adoring Trekkies to "get a life!"

The phrase, and the sentiment behind it, caused immediate outrage from the fans and former cast mates, not to mention a movie studio that was investing tens of millions of dollars into each Star Trek movie installment.

Shatner issued a mea culpa, saying that he'd simply not understood the complexity of the fans' devotion. He also claimed to be confused and perplexed by all the commotion around what was meant, in large part, to be a joke and, in 1999, put the experience down for (financially rewarding) posterity by penning Get a Life, yet another book in the Shatner library of more than 20 fiction and nonfiction titles that are either about or at least inspired by "Star Trek."

Shatner, who has often commented about the rumored $2 billion that's been generated from the merchandising and selling of the "Star Trek" franchise, has himself done quite well from his association with Starfleet; besides the television show, the movies and the royalties that, at least in theory, continue to pay out, Shatner himself has produced more than a dozen films and documentaries related to either "Star Trek" or the exploration of science and space. He has also seen his Tek War book series become a Sci-Fi Channel television series, and introduced a monthly sci-fi/fantasy/horror DVD club that bears his name, if not exclusively his movies.

When questioned over the years about his take on the secret of the enduring popularity of "Star Trek," Shatner has alternately claimed not to understand it at all, or not to understand it fully. Today, he chooses the neutral zone.

"Well, nobody knows. You have to accept the fact that nobody knows what the chemistry's like Coca-Cola; they aren't going to tell you. Or they don't know themselves. It might have been the times. It might have been the characters. It might have been the stories. It might have been the philosophy. It might have been the actors.

"You know," Shatner concludes, "one would tend to think that it was all those things. But what it was, was that it caught the imagination of the American public, and NASA was at its height then. NASA says to this day, when they had the moon shots, that the ratings would go up on our show and our show helped them get a larger budget, and it was a whole thing that was happening at NASA and [with] the romance of space."

The romance of space exploration, however, seems to have its limits when it comes down to Shatner's personal interest. Contrary to media reports that Shatner had signed on with Virgin Galactic—British entrepreneur Richard Branson's space travel company—to be one of its first adventure tourists into space at a ticket price of $250,000, Shatner says it's not only untrue, it all comes down to money and that vomit thing again.

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