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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!