William Shatner isn't quite sure what makes celebrities like Kelsey Grammer, Valerie Bertinelli and comedian Jimmy Kimmel spill their guts to him on his new talk show, A&E's "Raw Nerve."
Perhaps it's his restrained panache? Or his own tabloid-traversed past?
"I don't want to back anybody into a corner, but if I probe gently enough so that I don't get too vivid a reaction, I get what I'm looking for," said the icon known to generations of TV fans as "Star Trek's" Captain Kirk, hard-edged cop "T.J. Hooker," "Boston Legal" curmudgeon Denny Crane, as well as from his long-running Priceline gig. "I suppose it's almost like a doctor trying to find a place where he can. He probes a little, if there's not too much pain, he probes a little further."
And much to his viewers' delight, Shatner's strangely understated style has yielded many telling gems from his guests. Bertinelli revealed that she thinks she's going to hell, but that she can live with it. Shatner, as father-figure, said he would absolve her if he could.
Grammer told Shatner that his ex-wife once shot at him -- yes, with a gun. Tim Allen talked about going to prison for three years, just before his comedy career took off. Such unexpected celebrity candor has made the show a critics' darling.
But, Shatner confessed to ABCNews.com in his signature deadpan manner, "What I'm doing has no technique in it whatsoever. It's just me trying to make a conversation. No, you can get it on the corner of Laurel and Ventura in L.A. It's just a conversation, that's what I've been doing my whole life."
Ask Shatner, 77, why A&E chose him to man the hot seat on "Raw Nerve," and he doesn't quite have an answer.
"A&E got a hold of me and asked would I like to do a talk show? I thought about it and I kept saying to myself, 'What do we need another talk show for?'" he said, laughing. "Then the title occurred to me, as well as the slant of it. When I thought of 'Raw Nerve,' I thought, 'That would be interesting to me, to see if I could touch a raw nerve in somebody.'"
Hitting that nerve that provokes his guests to open up has created another unexpected consequence -- warm reviews
"What's surprising is how serious this show is, and how grounded is its host," Newsday critic Verne Gay wrote in a review of the show. "It's all very disarming and even charming, and maybe [Jimmy] Kimmel is thinking, 'Jeez, Captain Kirk is asking me about my sex life.' But it works. He gets sober, interesting stuff out of his subjects, and they seem to be enjoying the exercise in Shat's non sequitur style."
The Hollywood Reporter's Barry Garron wrote: "You might not think of Shatner as a talk show interviewer but, in his own way, he is surprisingly effective at getting his celebrity subjects to reveal aspects of their lives that are fresh and surprising."
No one was more surprised than Shatner himself.
"We've had an enormously successful reaction," he said. "When you think something's great, usually others will point out it isn't. So when you think something's great and others agree, that's hugely satisfying."
Shatner says A&E has OK'ed another 13 episodes of the show, with production beginning in the next few weeks.