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Priceline killing off William Shatner character

Must… find… new… ad campaign.

Alas, for fans of the vocal stylings of William Shatner, that’s the news from Priceline.com, which has decided to kill off Shatner’s Priceline Negotiator character. On Monday, the company will begin airing ads showing the erstwhile Captain Kirk shooing passengers off a bus moments before it tumbles off a bridge and explodes in flames.

Mr. Negotiator was five years old and is survived by a company adapting to a changing market and seeking to highlight its other, non-bidding-based business.

This is not the first time a Shatner character has died in the line of duty, of course, as Captain Kirk met his own demise in the 1994 movie “Star Trek: Generations.”

“Our ad agency said that if we really wanted a spot that would grab people’s attention, we needed to do something over-the-top,” said spokesman Brian Ek. “They recommended killing off The Negotiator, which is a character William Shatner has played in our commercials since 2007.”

Shatner, Ek added, has been Priceline’s celebrity spokesman for 14 years and is still under contract with the company.

The Negotiator, however, has apparently struck his final deal as the company seeks to emphasize other lines of business than the Name Your Own Price bidding-oriented booking option that Shatner promoted.

Although less well-known to consumers, the company also operates a non-bidding, published-price service for 200,000 hotels in 140 countries, a business, said Ek, that has tripled in size over the last three years. “We decided to focus our 2012 campaign on that part of the business,” he told msnbc.com.

The move also reflects the shifting nature of the online hotel business, said Norm Rose, president of Travel Tech Consulting Inc., as hotels and third-party sellers of their inventory jockey for the hearts, minds and wallets of consumers.

“There are always these battle lines being drawn between suppliers and the OTAs (online travel agencies),” he said. “It’s a real love/hate relationship.”

For Priceline, he noted, killing off The Negotiator is essentially an effort to better align its messaging with its business model: “They want to get into the minds of consumers that they’re an OTA rather than an opaque, distressed-inventory site like Hotwire.”

And Shatner-as-The-Negotiator got thrown under the bus, so to speak, although not before handing off his cell phone to a woman and intoning in that inimitable style: “Save yourself … some money.”

Meanwhile, said Ek, the company expects to run some follow-on ads interviewing the people saved before the crash, as well as spots during the Super Bowl pre-game show.

The Negotiator, however, appears to be destined for his own final frontier.

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Rob Lovitt is a longtime travel writer who still believes the journey is as important as the destination. Follow him at Twitter.