"3rd Rock from the Sun," 1999-2000
Role: The Big Giant Head
Shatner's painfully self-aware guest spot on this NBC sitcom can be summed up with its first gag being a "Twilight Zone" reference between him and John Lithgow about seeing "something" on the wing of a plane. This is Shatner at a TV low point -- okat, not his lowest -- but one predicated on us knowing all too well why he's appearing and why he's playing "The Big Giant Head." It's filled to the brim with references only "Star Trek" nerds and those who'd kept up with Shatner's career to this point would find funny -- which is why the greatest role he has played since James T. Kirk is the one that broke this downward spiral...
5: The Upward Swing
"The Practice"/"Boston Legal," 2004-2008
Role: Denny Crane
Imagine if you took all the great things about Shatner as a performaer, threw them into a blender and, upon pouring the resulting mess out, shouted "Go!" Denny Crane became a massive turning point for Shatner, as it launched him back into a weekly dramedy with not a single sci-fi element aside from explaining how James Spader doesn't do freaky sex things. Shatner's Crane is so self-obsessed, he routinely ends sentences with a pierced "Denny Crane!" just to make sure you get the point he's a legend. For four years, Crane waltzed through courtrooms, shot people he didn't like and showed off an actor who had came to terms with his own iconic image -- William Shatner!
Priceline commercials, 1999-2013(?)
Role: Himself/Priceline Negotiator
Shatner didn't officially become the Priceline Negotiator until after two previous versions (including Leonard Nimoy making cameos) could solidify his post-Denny Crane self. Gone were the attempts to shy away from his past. Instead, the ads found him embracing his iconic timbre for song medleys and playing an Evil Negotiator with a goatee in a nod to the classic "Trek" episode "Mirror, Mirror." Even when he was "killed off" in January, Priceline still milks the fact that people can contact "The Negotiator," because Shatner still technically has a year left in his contract. But when was the last time an actor could so transform a simple ad spot into his own personal place to show-off?
7: Acceptance and Hope
"The Captains"/"Get a Life!"
Which leaves us with the current status of not James Tiberius Kirk, but William Shatner, new-found documentarian and oddly proficient interviewer. Who else could spearhead a project like "The Captains," which involved arm-wrestling Chris Pine outside the Paramount lot, or "Get a Life!," which takes the original SNL sketch from 1986 that provided the title and turns it around with Joseph Campbell? Shatner's transcended just "being" an actor. His roles, while sometimes questionable, are what make the man himself more impressive than Kirk, Hooker or even Denny Crane.