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TV’s Great Unseen Voices

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For all its emphasis on visuals, TV would be nothing without its sound. That’s particularly true in the case of these folks – narrators and announcers who elevate the material to greatness.

You’ll notice that I didn’t include announcers who are (or were) sometimes seen, such as the great Johnny Olson, or voices of particular characters, such as the late, great Dick Tufeld, who voiced the robot in “Lost in Space.” That said, here we go…

JAMES EARL JONES

(CNN)

His voice is like none other. It is the epitome of commanding. His brief sentence announcing, “This is CNN,” is equaled only by his Darth Vader movie dialogue. The reason may be that Mr. Jones combines vocal power with an undercurrent of emotion.

JOHN FACENDA

(NFL FILMS)

Facenda wasn’t called the “voice of God” for nothing. His narration of pro football highlights has been imitated again and again, but never matched. Here is his famous rendition of the poem, “The Autumn Wind.”

DANIEL STERN

(THE WONDER YEARS)

Great TV voices don’t always have to be authoritative. Stern, a fine actor, gave “The Wonder Years” just the right sort of  knowing, nostalgic vibe.

BORIS KARLOFF

(HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS)

Karloff’s voice narrating the “Grinch” is exquisite. He savors each Seuss-ian syllable, from “pantookas” to “bamboozlers,” and raises our spirits in the process.

RON HOWARD

(ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT)

Howard, by virtue of his even-keeled, reasonable tone, is an ingenious counterpoint to the utterly crazy goings on of the Bluth family. He also gets to poke fun at his own history as Opie Taylor and Richie Cunningham, adding another layer of wit to one of TV’s funniest shows ever.

CHRIS ROCK

(EVERYBODY HATES CHRIS)

I’ll admit this one may be a bit of a cheat. Rock obviously was trading in on his own persona for the entire show, and he actually did appear onscreen as a guidance counselor, BUT to me the show never would have worked without his gently subversive narration.

WILLIAM CONRAD

(THE FUGITIVE, ETC.)

Conrad’s voice was like a piece of steel that he could shape into whatever he needed – something highly dramatic, aggressive or deadpan funny. His voice work on the classic 1960s show, “The Fugitive,” was fantastic, as was his sublime work on the “Rocky and Bullwinkle” cartoons. Many viewers only knew him as the large dude on “Cannon,” but he was an all-time great voice guy, too.

MAJEL BARRETT

(STAR TREK)

Barrett was the computer voice for every one of the “Star Trek” TV shows, going back to Capt. Kirk and Co. It was both campily robotic and comfortingly familiar.

WILL LYMAN

(FRONTLINE, ETC.)

The precision of Lyman’s voice is phenomenal – not because of its dexterity, but because of the way it conveys import without emotion. At this point, viewers feel almost an implicit trust in material simply upon hearing Lyman’s voice. And that’s why his work on commercials for “The Most Interesting Man in the World” is so devastatingly funny.

DON PARDO

(SNL, JEOPARDY!)

There’s no logical reason why Pardo’s narration is so perfect. But it is. His voice is loopy, loony and lovable. I don’t even want to think about SNL without him. Here’s an odd little clip of him announcing the old version of “Jeopardy!” with Art Flemming.

Now it’s time for you to add to The List!

The Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Horror Make-up All-Stars

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With the summer blockbuster season winding down, we here at The Jimbo List thought it appropriate to salute our favorite masked, made-up and CGI-ified men of cinema. Not just anyone can emote under a latex face, you know.

HUGO WEAVING

This guy is money in the bank. He was Elrond in the “Lord of the Rings” films and created an iconic bad guy as Agent Smith in the “Matrix” trilogy. Currently, he’s delivering the goods as Captain America’s nemesis, the Red Skull.

RON PERLMAN

A modern master of make-up acting, Perlman won a big audience in the ’80s as the lion guy in TV’s “Beauty and the Beast.” These days, he’s the main event in the “Hellboy” movies.

BORIS KARLOFF

Karloff remains a towering figure in movie history. As the Frankenstein monster and again in the Mummy movies, he was stunningly creepy. But it was his control of his own features – the sunken eyes, the set of his jaw – that gave those performances an extra dimension.

JOHNNY DEPP

The only true leading man in this group, Depp isn’t just a pretty face. He’s willing to don a crazy wig and buck teeth as Willy Wonka, don another crazy wig and regalia as the Mad Hatter and sport cutting-edge fingers as “Edward Scissorhands.”

CHRISTOPHER LLOYD

One of my favorites. From crazy-coiffed Doc Brown in the “Back to the Future” movies, to Uncle Fester in “The Addams Family” flicks, Lloyd is great to watch. He also made a damn fine Klingon.

CHRISTOPHER LEE

First and foremost, the dude looked good in fangs. He revitalized Dracula in the Hammer Studios vampire films. More recently, he grew out his air to play bad wizard Saruman in the Lord of he Rings movies and wielded a mean lightsaber in the Star Wars prequels.

BILL NIGHY

What a range. He can play a cold British bureaucrat one moment, then shift into high gear as an octopus-faced scalawag in a “Pirates of the Caribbean” flick. Here’s the thing, though. Despite the CGI completely obscuring his features, you can tell it’s him in there. He was an impressive vampire, as well, in the “Underworld” series.

LON CHANEY

It all starts with Mr. Chaney, though. Known as “The Man of A Thousand Faces,” Chaney transformed his appearance for each film he did. One of his greatest roles was “The Phantom of the Opera.”

So, those are my picks. What are yours?