With the William Shatner campaign for Priceline.co

With the William Shatner campaign for Priceline.com, freelance copywriter/art director Ernest Lupinacci learned the pleasure and pain of hitting pay dirt with a childhood hero. It was Lupinacci, a Wieden + Kennedy alum and Star Trek fanatic, who recalled Shatner’s obscure 1968 album The Transformed Man, which blended dramatic narratives and pop tunes.

Convinced it was time to revive Shatner’s bizarre performance art, Lupinacci, 33, pitched the idea to David Wecal, creative director at Priceline agency Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos, New York. After months of meetings and uncanny Captain Kirk imitations from Lupinacci, the $60 million TV campaign was green-lighted. But that was just the warm-up.

Lupinacci wanted Shatner to play the balladeer role straight, but the star disagreed. “Now I know how Spock felt,” says Lupinacci. “I could not believe that after all we had gone through, here I was screaming at the talent.” Wecal recalls “weird Twilight Zone moments when Ernest was using his Shatner imitation to show Shatner how to do Shatner better.”

With confidence gained from six years on Nike and ESPN at Wieden, Lupinacci shot 10 spots in two days. Priceline’s sales shot up, and the 69-year-old Shatner was hot again, admired for his humor and self-parody. A second round, tapping the production staff of VH1’s Storytellers, produced 14 ads in two days. This time, Shatner and Lupinacci squared off over wardrobe changes. A third series is due next month.

Lupinacci also recently wrote and directed an ESPN.com campaign and was creative director and director on an effort for Bigwords.com. He likes to participate in client presentations and production of his work, so he often hooks up with production firms, such as Hungry Man and Cyclops, on projects.

His goal is simple: “In my work, I prefer to instigate the conver sation” and let people take it from there.

Even if it means reining in a TV legend.