12 wonderful William Shatner television performances beyond Star Trek

Shatner has played everything from a drug lord to an astronaut who can talk with dolphins.

Who doesn't love William Shatner? Few actors so boldly go for it on camera. Yet the Star Trek legend is far more than Captain Kirk. The 90-year-old has a massive resumé with as much range as his acting.

Shatner has played villain and hero, sophisticated and deranged. He has played a fisherman's son and an astronaut who can talk to dolphins. He nabbed a few more leading roles, as in Barbary Coast and T.J. Hooker. We are going to focus on his guest spots.

To celebrate his birthday, here are a dozen spellbinding performances by Shatner both before and after Star Trek — and before his leap to the big screen in Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Which was your favorite?


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1. Alfred Hitchcock Presents, "The Glass Eye"

1957

Stirling Silliphant (Route 66) penned this wonderful script, which casts Shatner as the storyteller. Our man plays a young husband who is cleaning out the apartment of his deceased cousin when he comes across a glass eye. The tale that ensues is both eerie and sad. Jessica Tandy stars.

2. Kraft Theater, "The Man Who Didn't Fly"

1958

Shatner delivers his lines with a snobbish, WASP-y accent in this devilish crime tale of a man who fakes his death via airplane crash (an interesting theme, considering his famous Twilight Zone episode to come). Based on an acclaimed mystery novel of the mid-'50s, this episode also features Jonathan Harris (Dr. Smith of Lost in Space). Yes, two notable space travelers of 1960s television together!

3. Thriller, "The Grim Reaper"

1961

In this deliciously chilling installment of the Boris Karloff anthology series, Shatner portrays Paul Graves, the nephew of a mystery novelist — Gilligan's Island's Natalie Schafer! — who has recently purchased a cursed painting of the Grim Reaper. His howl in the screen grab says it all. This is one of the better horror episodes of the era.

4. Naked City, "Without Stick or Sword"

1962

Sporting an unflattering hairpiece and a hard-to-swallow backstory (he plays a bloodthirsty Burmese Buddhist named Maung Tun), Shatner nonetheless captivates as a man torn by revenge during an existential crisis.

5. Route 66, "Build Your Houses with Their Backs to the Sea"

1963

This being the ponderous and poetic Route 66 (just dig that episode title, man), Shatner is Menemsha Faxon, a melancholy and smooth-tongued son of a lobster fisherman in Maine. Here you can find Shatner at his moodiest.

6. The Twilight Zone, "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet"

1963

In his second appearance on Rod Serling's serial, following 1960's "Nick of Time," Shatner stole the show as a man who slowly grows unhinged on an airplane after spotting a strange creature tearing apart the wing. It is arguably the most referenced and widely known scenario from the classic series, having been often remade. A lot of that success is due to Shatner's sweat-beading mania.

7. The Man from U.N.C.L.E., "The Project Strigas Affair"

1964

Two years before the Enterprise took flight, Shatner shared the bill with Leonard Nimoy in this delightful season one entry of the spy series. (Werner Klemperer is also in this!) Shatner is a chemist with a pest control company who aids Napolean Solo in a plot to discredit an Eastern Bloc diplomat. In an upscale party scene, the actor gets to really lay it on thick as a lush.

8. The Fugitive, "Stranger in the Mirror"

1965

Richard Kimble, the fugitive, goes to work for Shatner, a former policeman who runs a camp. After some cops are killed, suspicion falls on the drifter, but it turns out Shatner's character has a dark side. The viewer gets the full range of good and evil Shatner here.

9. The F.B.I., "Antennae of Death"

1970

As the mutton-chop sideburns announce, we are now in the 1970s, just after the demise of Star Trek. Perhaps seeking to break from his heroic captain role, Shatner began an interesting streak of bad-guy roles. Here, he is a drug runner in the crosshairs of both the F.B.I. and a narcotics syndicate.

10. Mission: Impossible, "Encore" and "Cocaine"

1971, 1972

The villainous streak continued in these two outings, in subsequent seasons. In the first, Shatner plays an elder gangster who the IMF team tricks into thinking he has traveled back in time. In the latter, Bill is Joseph Conrad (not the author), an underling to a drug lord who the IMF tricks into believing there is a machine for manufacturing synthetic cocaine. Alas, Leonard Nimoy was not in these episodes.

11. Mannix, "Search for a Whisper"

1973

Perhaps due to a threatened writers' strike, this later episode recycles a script from Mannix's first season, "Skid Marks On A Dry Run." Interestingly, the character Shatner plays, a politician who hires Mannix to dig up dirt on his own career, was earlier filled by Charles Drake, another Trek alum. Drake was Commodore Stocker in "The Deadly Years."

12. The Six Million Dollar Man, "Burning Bright"

1974

Ah, there's that joyously wild Shatner acting we love. After becoming exposed to electrical fields during a spacewalk, astronaut Josh Lang (Shatner) gains the ability to communicate with dolphins. Amusingly loony, Shatner then attempts to take a dolphin into space on a rocket. This is candy for lovers of over-the-top Shatner.

 
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MarkSpeck 2 months ago
Now for some 1970's Shatner you might enjoy...

Ironside "Walls Are Waiting": The second of three Ironside appearances for Shatner, this one just might interest the T.J. Hooker fans. Here, he plays a parole officer with a particular hatred for drug pushers, and he suspects that one particular pusher just may be behind the threats on his life, but Ironside isn't so sure. Bill's character is very Hooker-like in his anti-drug stance...all he has to do is refer to his enemies as 'maggots', which he doesn't do here, but he certainly did when he played Hooker. Combine this character with the tough patrolman character he played in a 1975 episode of The Rookies ("The Hunting Ground") and, voila, T.J. Hooker!

Cade's County "The Armageddon Contract": Bill works for a foreign power who wants to detonate a nuclear device in wherever Cade is based...was the show set in Baja California? Arizona? New Mexico? Utah? Who knows? What is known is that Cade has to stop him. This and all the other Cade's County episodes (highly recommended!) are on YouTube.

Hawaii Five-O "You Don't Have to Kill to Get Rich...But It Helps" Bill dons the goofiest Southern accent possible to play a Texas-based private eye hired to find--and kill--the person behind a Hawaii blackmail operation. Instead, he pulls an audible and tries to take over the operation once he finds out it pays a lot more than his client is paying. If you're a Trek fan, you may find it a little disappointing, as the actor who could have been Captain Kirk (Jack Lord) and the actor who DID become Kirk (Shatner) don't have any scenes together until the climactic final scene when Lord orders Danno to book Shatner. McGarrett tells Shatner, "I'd HATE to be there when you tell the jury you did it for your wife and kids!"

Barnaby Jones "To Catch a Dead Man": The very second episode of this long-running private eye series, this episode is one of the examples of what Barnaby Jones was originally meant to be, an elderly P.I. in the Columbo mold (i.e., like Columbo, Barnaby is someone you'd look at and think 'Really? How is this old man gonna catch a cold, let alone a murderer?', plus in the early installments, the episodes were more about exposing how the killer screwed up, yet another hallmark of Columbo). Anyhow, in this one, Bill plays a millionaire yachtsman--well, actually it's his WIFE who's the one who's rich--who wants to break free of his wife so he could be with the woman he really loves (Janice Rule), so he befriends a guy he thinks is just some bum he met on the docks, plants his wallet with his I.D. on the guy, sends him off on his yacht...and blows the boat sky-high, with everyone thinking it's Shatner's character who got blown up. Of course, Barnaby becomes involved when he's hired to find the 'missing' man, the guy who really died in the explosion. The Shatner hamfest really takes place when he flips out on Rule and kills her as well, after Barnaby is able to track them down because she took her cat to the vet ("THE CAT! THE CAT! THE CAT! THE CAT!"), and of course, it's something else to see when Captain Kirk pulls a gun on Jed Clampett. Available on YouTube.

Owen Marshall, Counselor at Law "Five Will Get You Six": Shatner plays a scared, vulnerable man in this one, an architect who borrows money from a loan shark and gets into all sorts of trouble as a result, eventually being charged with murder after shooting the loan shark's goon (James Luisi, Lt. Chapman from The Rockford Files).

Police Woman "Smack": Yes, Me-TV did a separate piece on this one...but let me just say this...how can you possibly not want to see an episode of ANY TV show with these performers as the villains...not just William Shatner, but Barry 'Ernie' Livingston and...wait for it...SMOKEY ROBINSON? That triad makes this episode worthwhile viewing, along with the fact that this is the predecessor (albeit over 30 years earlier) of Breaking Bad.

Disaster on the Coastliner: a 1979 all-star TV movie about a maniac who wants to blow a passenger train sky-high unless he's paid a huge sum of money. Shatner plays a roguish (and wanted) con artist who inadvertently saves the day at the end...and naturally winds up mugging for the press!
MarkSpeck 2 months ago
I'd like to point out a few more great Shatner guest appearances, and I will do so in a couple of posts. First, a couple from the 1960's...

Burke's Law "Who Killed Carrie Cornell?": Captain Kirk meets Captain Burke in this one. Our hero plays Arthur Reynolds, one of two beatnik artists who are the prime suspects in the murders in this one...yes, murder is pluralized, as the investigation into the titular Miss Cornell's murder (she's a centerfold model for 'Girly-Cue' magazine) uncovers two other murders, that of another model and their millionaire patron. Bonus for all the Trek fans out there: Bill's roommate in this episode is played by Michael Ansara! And an extra Trek bonus, that has nothing to do with Shatner, but is interesting nonetheless, and it makes you wonder if Gene Roddenberry watched Burke's Law...in the episode "Who Killed Molly?", Hoagy Carmichael's character accidentally refers to Burke as 'Captain KIRK' when Burke is interrogating him. If that's not enough, Nanette Fabray plays a character named 'Mrs. TRIBBLE'!

The Defenders "Whipping Boy": The third of three episodes of this classic lawyer series that Bill appeared on. In this one, he plays a very haughty prosecutor who goes up against Robert Reed's Ken Preston in the courtroom, in the trial of a young mother (Madlyn Rhue) accused of beating her son to death. The infamous Shatner hamminess is fully on display here, especially in the scenes in his office with Reed. This and the other two Shatner Defenders episodes are available for viewing on YouTube, and the Burke's Law is probably there as well.
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Mirramanee 4 months ago
Wow--there are so many appearances by William Shatner over the years. One I particularly liked was when he played Professor Bayer in a Little Women mini-series from the '70's. He played the man who would eventually become Jo's husband. He also played a doctor in a TV movie (also from the '70's) called "The People". It was about a village in an obscure/isolated area where the rather strange inhabitants never seemed to get sick. He mainly tended to their animals actually. Another favorite is another TV movie called "Sole Survivor" where he leads a team trying to recover the bodies of deceased airmen from a remote desert area. Interestingly, one of the co-stars of that movie was Lou Antonio, who also played Lokai on a Star Trek episode called "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield".
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15inchBlackandWhite 4 months ago
Bill Shatner as a Burmese Buddhist is even less believable than that episode of Hawaii Five-O where Ricardo Montalban played a Chinese villain.
Another Trek actor, Mark Lenard, is also not very believable as a Japanese character in the Five-O episode "To Hell With Babe Ruth!".
FestusFan2312 4 months ago
Forgotten is a short lived series he starred in called Barbary Coast. Set around San Francisco in the 1800’s he played a lawman who used disguises to get next to the bad guys. He portrayed everything from old men to pirates and did so really well. I really like the show but I think I was the only one watching.
srrainwater FestusFan2312 4 months ago
Make that two. Had a really catchy theme tune
MarkSpeck FestusFan2312 2 months ago
The entire Barbary Coast series is available on DVD.
scott 4 months ago
Seeing him opposite Mrs. Thurston Howell lll (aka Lovey, aka the wonderful Natalie Shafer) on “Thriller” was simply great acting on his part; a good script made great via S & S as well as the cinematography. Genius.
JayMichaelJones 4 months ago
He also played the father in the teen drug addiction movie "Go Ask Alice."
MrsPhilHarris 4 months ago
He was also in Russell Peters’ Indian Detective. If I recall correctly he was a drug dealer.
retired2019 4 months ago
Oops! I’m pooped. I meant Columbo
stephaniestavropoulos 4 months ago
The question posed: "Who doesn't love William Shatner? I don't love William Shatner, he's alright. So he's a nonagenarian now, big deal. He's not the only one. When he turns into a centenarian, then lets talk!
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Catman harlow1313 4 months ago
I think the "freak flag" lyric is from the Crosby Stills and Nash song "Almost Cut My Hair" and not from Jimi.
harlow1313 Catman 4 months ago
"If Six was Nine."
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lynngdance 4 months ago
Quiz Time!
lynngdance lynngdance 4 months ago


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MrsPhilHarris lynngdance 4 months ago
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srrainwater 4 months ago
Don't forget his album when he sang "Rocket Man"
Stoney 4 months ago
He also did an episode of "The Outer Limits." The title was "Cold Hands, Warm Heart."

Not the best example of either that series or of his work, but there is an interesting pre-Star Trek irony: He was an astronaut involved in a mission called Project Vulcan.
WS was in the pilot ep of Man From U.N.C.L.E. called The "Vulcan Affair". Both he and Leonard Nimoy guest starred in another 1st season episode: "the Project Strigas Affair.
Just back from watching my DVD of the UNCLE pilot, "The Vulcan Affair".
Shatner isn't in that one.
I think you're mixing him up with Fritz Weaver.
retired2019 4 months ago
They should have included his appearance on Columbia. He did an excellent job portraying a conceited creep.
Columbia?!?! He did an acting role on a tv show in Columbia?!?!
Andybandit 4 months ago
Cool story. I like him in Star Trek and TJ Hooker. He still looks good for his age at 90 years old.
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