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Strength in Numbers

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Some 150 actors, including Sandra Bernhard, Garrison Keillor, Ray Romano and Jennifer Jason Leigh, have taped guest appearances in 65 “Hercules” episodes, which begin airing this September. (“The Simpsons” has featured 110 star cameos in nearly 200 episodes.)

The producers of “Hercules” decided to give a unique sound to this spin-off of the 1997 feature film about the mythical strong man. “In most TV cartoons, you have a small cast doing multiple voices,” says Mark McCorkle, one of the show’s producers. “We cast each 22-minute episode like a mini-movie. If there were 18 different roles, we cast 18 different actors.”

For the series, the creators weren’t looking for just movie-style casting, but for movie-quality casting as well. Many from the film’s original roster signed on, including Tate Donovan as Hercules, and Bobcat Goldthwait and Matt Frewer as bumbling henchmen. But it was when James Woods agreed to reprise his acclaimed role as Hades that guest stars like Regis Philbin and Carl Reiner came aboard. “James Woods’s signing on impressed agents and made a nice calling card,” explains the producer. “We’d say, ‘James Woods is doing it, wouldn’t your client like to?'”

The makers of “Hercules” took pains to cast their guest stars with a knowing wink. Playing the endless voyager, Jason of the Argonauts: William Shatner. Hercules’ gym teacher, Phys Oedipus: Richard Simmons. And Echidna, the mother of all monsters: Kathie Lee Gifford.

Some celebs were quite vocal about wanting to tease their own image. When William H. Macy (“Fargo”‘s crooked car salesman) voiced two Vikings anticipating Ragnarok, the end of the world, he was eager to give them a Minnesota accent: “Oh yah, Day of Doom. Heck of a deal.” “We asked, ‘Are you sure you don’t mind?'” says McCorkle. “He said, ‘Oh no, I’ve been banned in my house from doing Fargo-speak, I’m itching to do it.'” When “Swingers” star Vince Vaughn was told the Macy anecdote, he excitedly said, “Oh, you want me to do a ‘You’re so money, baby’?” Come Fall, these lines should make parents howl, even if they remain Greek to the kids.

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