If you haven’t noticed anything special about the voices of the callers on Frasier‘s phone-in radio-shrink show, wake up and smell the Starbucks. Along with The Simpsons, Kelsey Grammer’s new series is creating a TV trend: celebrity voice cameos. Frasier casting director Jeff Greenberg got the idea from Wendy Wasserstein’s play Isn’t It Romantic?, for which the likes of Meryl Streep and John Ritter prerecorded answering-machine messages. ”At first we were hunting down people,” says Greenberg about the search for Frasier‘s star voices. For the premiere episode, he managed to snare Linda Hamilton (as Claire, a despondent, dissed girlfriend) and Griffin Dunne (Russell, a depressive).
But with the post-Seinfeld sitcom firmly planted in the top 10, agents are now calling Frasier to get their clients a voice spot. ”Word just started to spread,” Greenberg says. The show’s phone alumni now include Joe Mantegna (Derek, a newspaper critic who hated Frasier), Christopher Reeve (Leonard, an agoraphobic), Judith Ivey (Lorraine, who kept putting Dr. Crane on call waiting), and Jeff Daniels (Doug, who had a problem with his mother). Later in the season, Ben Stiller and possibly John Malkovich will ring Frasier’s bell. ”We’re trying to keep it classy,” Greenberg says. ”We want people not associated necessarily with half-hour sitcoms.” On Oct. 21, Bruno Kirby (Marco, an ex-boyfriend who can’t commit) and Eddie Van Halen (a clueless caller who can’t figure out if he’s on the air) will keep the lines busy.
With as many as three guest voices per show, Dr Crane’s 555-KACL could become TV’s hottest number. But don’t bother dialing. All you’ll get is an annoying operator’s recording—which just might send you to the couch.