Sunday, December 07, 2008

William Shatner, has a talk show...

... and there is no punchline to that setup.

Amazingly to some, there doesn't need to be.

It's good.

In fact, it's great, as far as talkshows with celebrities as the guests go.

I just watched him do 30 minutes of "Raw Nerve" (on the biography channel) one on one with Tim Allen, and then 30 again with Valerie Bertinelli; and I haven't seen better celebrity interviews since Tom Snyder retired almost 10 years ago (though Charlie Rose has some good moments).

The reason why it's great is Shatners personality; but not in the way you probably think I mean. I had thought the show would really be about Shatner, more than anything, and the guests would be there sort of as his foils. It isn't... not remotely. The show is about his guests; and talking with them VERY intimately, about what makes them tick.

It works, because of who Shatner REALLY is, not his public image. This isn't James T. Kirk or Denny Crane, it's Bill Shatner.

This next part is going to sound fanboyish, but believe me it isn't. I'm no Trek fanboy, nor a Shatner worshipper; but I've always found him a fascinating man.

Shatner is... well, he's Shatner. There no way he could ever be anyone else; which is what makes him amazing. He is both larger than life, and still humble and personal at the same time (and yes, those ARE contradictory things). He's incredibly intelligent, quick, funny, amusingly self deprecating, and remarkably empathetic.

Amazing, for a man who for years had a reputation as an arrogant, inconsiderate, and ungenerous ass, among his former co-stars...

Funny though, the people he was actually working with at the time such acusations have arisen have always said otherwise; be it Adrian Zmed and Heather Locklear, or James Spader and Candice Bergen (two people who are not known as easy to get along with themselves).

I've met the man several times, at events, conventions, book signings etc... and randomly, once, at a shopping mall in Lexington Kentucky (we talked for a few minutes about his horses on that occasion). In person he is a man of great confidence, self assurance, and self posession.

Above I said that to some, all of this would be unexpected; because of his reputation, and the popular public image of him, as what is essentially self parody.

Simply speaking, Shatner is not remotely what people think he is.

A few years ago, I heard him speak for perhaps a half hour in an interview, about his experience with coming to understand what addiction was; and how he had never truly understood it, until he lived through it with his third wife, Nerine, who drowned in their swimming pool while under the influence of alcohol and sedatives.

As he talked about this horrible period in his life (and if you don't remember, the aftermath was truly offensive, as media vultures insinuated that he murdered his wife, or drove her to suicide); I was struck by a simple fact:

There is no filter to William Shatner. He is showing you everything, with complete honesty. Sure, there's charm and wit and social grace; but there is nothing being concealed there.

Which is why I am not surprised that he has a talk show, and that it is good.

In the hour that I've seen, he really went at it with his guests. No areas off limits, no questions out of bounds; and they talked with Shatner like he was a cross between a confidant, a lawyer, and a therapist.

The two interviews were among the most honest, and interesting, celebrity interviews I've seen; and they were so not because the people involved were particularly famous (Tim Allen and Valerie Bertinelli were never really "A list" by most definitions) but because they were real people, talking about things in a real way; and because Shatner has no filter, they responded to him without filters.

He talks about things that are interesting to him; and it's a conversation, not really an interview. It goes where it goes; without talking points or plugs or agendas.

I can't imagine a better kind of interview really.

I'm looking forward to his future guests, including Kelsey Grammer, Drew Carey, Howie Mandel, Judge Judy, and the kicker (I'm sure they'll save it for the last show of the season) Leonard Nimoy. He has even said that he's asked George Takei on (with whom he has had a long running feud, recently brought up again in the press due to Takeis activism on the gay marriage issue), and that Takeis people have tentatively agreed.