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Top 5 Celebrity Narrators in Television History

by Brad Trechak, posted Oct 18th 2010 2:55PM
Arrested DevelopmentThey're heard, but not seen. TV show narrators have set the scene for viewers for decades, their familiar voices cluing us into what to expect (or how to react) to certain plot developments. And more often than not, these off-screen narrators are well-known celebrities -- making their comments and asides all the more familiar and comforting.

While compiling a list of our five favorite celebrity narrators, only two stipulations were used: First, this list only deals with scripted american programming. Documentaries don't count, nor do any overseas imports. Second, the narrator in question can not have appeared on screen as a regular character on the series (although in some instances, the narrator is a future version of the main character, played by a different actor).

That being said, here are our five ...

5. Kristen Bell on 'Gossip Girl.' It was very apropos to feature an anonymous Gossip Girl reading missives from her blog about the lives of the New York City elite. And this was one of the few female-oriented shows that actually used this device. Bell's excellent, snarky voice-over fit right in and provided the perfect play-by-play for the bright lights and dark shadows of the Upper East Side.

4. Bob Saget on 'How I Met Your Mother.' As the older version of Ted Mosby (played on screen by Josh Radnor), you can tell that Saget is definitely spinning the story, so that it may or may not be the truth of his Manhattan-spent youth. Saget has this wonderful talent for rambling and going off on tangents (which could also be seen when he hosted 'America's Funniest Home Videos), and you can actually see the Mosby children getting older as each season progresses. It's looks like it takes a year for him to tell a story that takes place over the course of a year. Here's an example.

3. Ron Howard on 'Arrested Development.' When the narrator's role went unfilled, executive producer Howard filled in -- but the creators decided that he had the right voice, so he stayed on. Howard's narrator had an all-American honesty about him (would you expect any less from Opie Cunningham?), which was useful in exposing the various lies of the Bluth family. For example:
Michael: Boy, the lengths you'll go to sleep with a woman.
Gob: Believe me, we didn't do any sleeping. I had sex last night.
Narrator: But he really didn't.
Gob: Yes, I did.

For now, here's Ron narrating the theme.

2. Daniel Stern on 'The Wonder Years.' As with 'HIMYM,' this is an example of an older person narrating his youthful experiences. This was a good role for Stern because it was different than the slapstick movie roles he was known for at the time (most notably as one of the criminals in the 'Home Alone' franchise). He brought an earnestness to describing a young man's coming of age, plus his comedic timing added some lighthearted fun to the show. His closing monologue for the series finale was one of the best I've ever heard in a television program:

"Growing up happens in a heartbeat. One day you're in diapers, the next day you're gone. But the memories of childhood stay with you for the long haul. I remember a place, a town, a house, like a lot of houses. A yard like a lot of other yards. On a street like a lot of other streets. And the thing is, after all these years, I still look back ... with wonder."

Here's an excellent example of the narration from the finale.

1. Waylon Jennings on 'The Dukes of Hazzard.' Who do you get to narrate a story about a group of "modern day Robin Hoods" in the south? Why, you get a country singer of course. Jennings served as "The Balladeer" for seven seasons of the show (even when Bo and Luke Duke decided to leave for a little while) and he spoke with that southern charm that fit the atmosphere of the show. Of all the narrators in question, his voice is the most memorable. It helps that he also wrote and sang the theme song.

There are other examples that should be given honorable mentions: Jim Dale was perfect on 'Pushing Daisies' and Ted Knight was superb as the narrator of 'Super Friends' (I'll never forget his immortal "Meanwhile, back at the Hall of Justice..."). What do you think? Who are your favorite celebrity narrators?

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Danny Smith

All narrators on screen are a younger version of themselves unless they are doing a flash forward.

October 19 2010 at 5:55 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Danny Smith

You might notice that like Brad I only include those who talk throughout the show and not those who just start or end a show like Vic Perrin (Outer Limits), George Fennerman (Dragnet), and Rod Serling (Twilight Zone, Night Gallery, while he has narrated within a couple of episodes, he is well known for starts and ends)

October 19 2010 at 4:37 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Danny Smith's comment

Your list violates one of Brad's prerequisites which was that the person doing the narration never appeared on screen (except in a younger version played by a different actor).

October 19 2010 at 1:27 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Danny Smith

Here's a few more that come to mind that are even better choices than some that you picked (before most of you, including me, were born)

Art Gilmore (who just died recently) - Highway Patrol - This is probably one of the voices that gave Ted Knight the way he did his narrating.

Jack Webb - No nonsense can't be denied.

Lloyd Bridges - Scuba diving enthusiasts wouldn't have learned a thing without his voice.

William Conrad - The man who made both Quinn Martin and Bulwinkle J. Moose a household name.

Leslie Neilson - It's was his TV's Police Squad narration that bought the Naked Gun's to movie theaters everywhere.

Marlin Perkins - The granddaddy of all animal narrators. Without him, Animal Planet would not exist, and Jim Fowler don't conquer any of his fears.

October 19 2010 at 1:35 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Morgan Freeman and the late Richard Kiley

October 18 2010 at 5:07 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
David D

Edward Everett Horton reading "Fractured Fairy Tales," of course!

October 18 2010 at 3:58 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Wow. No Liev Schreiber? This list should have begun and ended with the unbeatable Liev Schreiber. The man is the definition of narrator.

Morgan Freeman and Donald Sutherland are also wonderful, as is James Earl Jones.

October 18 2010 at 3:56 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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