Patricia Heaton, The MiddleAre the narrators of television programs, be they sitcoms or dramas, always the stars of the show?

In a recent conversation, it was suggested that whoever narrates the show is generally the person whose character dominates the series. There is certainly a lot of evidence that validates this assertion that we’ll explore in just a minute.
Do lead characters on TV shows always serve as their series’ narrators?
What do you think?
Have your say in today’s VOX Daily!

Narrative

I happened to catch some of Bill Holmes‘ most recent show, The Voiceover Doctor Show featuring an interview with actor Neil Flynn who plays Mike Heck (husband and father role) on “The Middle.”

While the conversation was interesting in general, one topic in particular caught my attention and inspired me to write this post about how a voiceover narration role in dramas and sitcoms tends to skew toward the protagonist or lead character in a series.

Flynn suggested that whoever narrates the show is usually the main character. On the show “The Middle,” actress Patricia Heaton (Frankie Heck) serves as both star and narrator.
To further the argument in favor of leads serving as narrators, the narrator of Scrubs was Zack Braff (Dr. John ‘J.D.’ Dorian) who also played the lead. Another example of this trend includes Ellen Pompeo’s character Dr. Meredith Grey on Grey’s Anatomy with Pompeo serving as both lead actress and narrator.

The Benefits Of Protagonists As Narrator

Something this trend allows for is a more in depth look at how the protagonist is feeling or what they are thinking between the lines of dialogue with other characters. You get a feel for the narrative as it relates to the main character and their perspective and often become more attached to that character because it feels as though a relationship outside of what’s going on in a scene is being built between the narrator and the viewer.
Another instance of a protagonist serving as narrator can be found in The Wonder Years. Although the young Fred Savage didn’t serve as narrator in this case, a grown up version of the Kevin Arnold character was able to give a unique perspective through narration and provided commentary in a wry, nostalgic manner through hindsight.

An Exception To The Rule

While it would appear that the main character narrates for the most part, I’ve observed narration coming from other characters as well in televised series. One of the best examples I can think of is the character Mary Alice Young narrating from beyond the grave on Desperate Housewives.
I couldn’t help but note that the narrator was no longer part of the story in earnest but was still able to participate in a more omniscient manner akin to the voice of the narrator in books written from the perspective of someone other than the characters at play. In this application, the narrator has access to those all important glimpses into the lives of many characters and can weave together a cohesive narrative unlike the perspective that a protagonist in the thick of it could have in a real-time narration scenario.

What Do You Think?

What do you think of the use of narration on television shows? Any thoughts about what you just read or this topic in general?
Looking forward to hearing from you!
Best wishes,
Stephanie

21 COMMENTS

  1. One of the most prominent narration parts on any TV show in the past 10 years was involving a character who was continually narrating but never seen – I’m thinking of Ron Howard on ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT. He got some of the best laugh lines, too.

  2. You had mentioned the omniscient narrator in DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES, but Ron Howard’s narrator is such a key to some of the gags they did on that show that I felt I should bring him up — great article, Stephanie!

  3. Another show that comes to mind is “How I Met Your Mother”. The main character, Ted Mosby (Josh Radnor) is narrated by Bob Saget. Bob’s character takes place in the year 2030, as it explains to his son and daughter the events that led to him meeting their mother. This also explains the title and allows for a narration in the past tense, by Bob Saget. It’s a great show and very clever because it always leaves you wanting more to find out how he did in fact meet the woman of his dreams.

  4. Another exception might be Gossip Girl. The narrator is the voice of an anonymous character, who has, to this point, never been seen on screen.

  5. On the ‘Desperate…’ theme, the character of Fred Walters narrated Desperate Romantics, and was more a supporting character in comparison to the other members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood

  6. I am convinced Scrubs is more of an ensemble piece rather than being Dr. Dorian’s story…Plus other characters have served as narrators on the show.

  7. Two notable exceptions would be Arrested Development, already mentioned, and the gone-way-too-soon Pushing Daisies, brilliantly narrated by Jim Dale

  8. The guy who narrates Mythbusters has a crackerjack gig. Never appears on camera, but gets to wisecrack, explain and comment on the success or failure of the experiments. And talk about regular work!

  9. @Michael ‘Wonder Years’ and ‘How I Met Your Mother’ are good examples, but in both cases the narration is done not by a pyshical member of the cast. Daniel Stern for ‘Wonder’ and Bob Saget for ‘Mother’. I think more; Tom Selleck ‘Magnum P.I.’

  10. I’d completely forgotten about the spoken narrative in MAGNUM! There’s also the standard-setting Jack Webb narration in DRAGNET.

  11. This is an interesting test to see how many shows like this we can recall. Hmm… and I would also suggest especially good for the writers among us. 🙂

  12. The fact that DRAGNET was a radio show that was converted to television explains why the narrative is so overwhelming in DRAGNET, too – The fact that sometimes, almost comically, the narrator is telling you EXACTLY what the people are obviously doing in the scene.

  13. Offering up some big narration credentials was William Conrad. ‘Gunsmoke,’ ‘The Fugitive,’ and one of my personal favorites…Rocky & Bullwinkle.

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