NEW YORK -- It was 1998 when a travel startup -- known as a "dot-com" in those days -- called signed on "Star Trek" celebrity William Shatner to do a series of radio commercials, then TV ads, in exchange for a few hundred dollars and stock. 

Back then, the colorful Apple iMac was brand new, and cellular phones were just becoming popular. The term OTA was not yet coined. The web was a new thing but poised to be a major disrupter in travel. The reverse-auction premise of set it apart from Expedia and Travelocity (Orbitz was still a few years from launch). 

Priceline's other ace was Shatner's "Negotiator" personality, which was witty and fun, a travel-deal hero in a light-colored suit. Remember the blue phone? When Leonard Nimroy stole Shatner's thunder? When Priceline appeared to kill off the Negotiator by sending him over a bridge in a bus? 

Through it all, and even through the demise of Name Your Own Price for air and car rentals, Shatner continued as Priceline's primary spokesman.

Shatner on Monday was in New York for a media breakfast, and at the urging of Priceline CEO Brett Keller, he reminisced about the start of the relationship. Shatner "vividly" recalled the setting in his house, overlooking the San Fernando Valley, as he took a meeting with a executive.

"What's a dot-com company? I had no idea," he said. He admitted to having trouble saying the name of the company (one word, no pause between "Priceline" and "dot-com"). And he joked that he was excited about the prospect of getting rich off the Priceline stock -- before the dot-com bubble burst and sent prices tumbling.

"We made these extraordinary commercials that I'd like to think helped push the company into popularity," he said. "And here we are, 20 years later."

 He added that he uses Priceline's services "all the time."

 As for creative control, Keller said that Shatner helped shape the ads as they went along: The agency delivers a script, and Shatner provides feedback, "which most of the time we take into account." On set, Shatner will deliver a version exactly as scripted, Keller said. "Then he'll say, 'I've got a better idea.' He'll modify the lines, he'll modify how the script unfolds. Nine times out of 10, we're cutting the spots around things that were not in the original script."

The company's current ad spot is "Twentiversary" that celebrates Priceline's 20 years with deals. In true wry fashion, Shatner pops out of a cake, and offers viewers a birthday cake, but a phone pops out of the cake, but the phone is actually a cake (did you follow that?).


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