LOS ANGELES—David Cavanaugh, best known as the guy who says "Previously on Heroes" at the beginning of the hit NBC program, revealed to reporters Tuesday that his true career ambition is to become the guy who says "Previously on Lost" on the popular ABC show Lost.
"I'm extremely proud of the crucial part I play on Heroes," said the 47-year-old voice-over actor, whose role on the show primarily entails alerting viewers that they are about to watch a short montage of scenes from prior episodes. "I've taken this unseen narrator character as far as anyone can, and I've done everything I set out to accomplish on Heroes. Now I'm ready for the big leagues."
Cavanaugh, who landed his first big "Previously on" role during the short-lived CW program Veronica Mars, said he had struggled for years to make ends meet by doing freelance "To be continued" jobs and the occasional "Promotional consideration provided by" gig. But after landing a dream "Previously on" opportunity with the premiere of Heroes, Cavanaugh says there was no looking back.
"Don't get me wrong, there are 'Use only as directed' guys who would kill to be where I'm at, but I know I was meant for so much more," Cavanaugh said. "I'd lose a full syllable making the transition to Lost, but the show has such complex and mysterious recaps that I feel it would give my voice some real opportunities to shine. No offense to the way they do it on Lost, but I can take it in so many new directions."
"First and foremost, I would hit that t in 'Lost' a little harder, instead of trailing off and leaving the viewer confused and directionless," Cavanaugh added. "That's 'Previously on' 101, if you ask me."
Though Cavanaugh has no professional experience saying 'Previously on Lost,' he said he is confident that his years of vocal training, his love of performing, and his familiarity with speaking two-thirds of the phrase would adequately prepare him for the new challenge.
"It's a daunting task, especially since you can't rely on such actorly tricks as facial expressions and body language," Cavanaugh said. "All I have is my finely tuned instrument and its subtle tones of honesty and vulnerability that envelope the viewers and make them feel safe and informed."
While the increasingly complex plots of network dramas forecast limitless possibilities for the "Previously on" industry, Cavanaugh expressed concern over the recent trend of television shows using their own characters to introduce their summarizing montages—seen on both Battlestar Galactica and 24.
"I applaud those shows for taking a creative risk, but it's just not professional," said Cavanaugh, singling out Edward James Olmos as the worst offender. "On-screen actors don't have the skills to pull off a 'Previously on.' They think it's all about hitting the 'P,' because that's the flashy bit, but they have no respect for the 'on.'"
"Battlestar Galactica—what's that, seven syllables?" he continued. "What a waste."
Cavanaugh stressed that while it is important to be technically proficient with enunciation, the quality of the introduction must be rich and compelling or viewers will lose interest before watching a summation of events from previous episodes.
"They record my voice once to play over and over again, so I have to provide a wide scale of emotions in that phrase," Cavanaugh explained. "I need to capture a spectrum of feelings for every conceivable situation that could happen during a recap. That's just the kind of adaptability I could bring to Lost."
Though his desired position at Lost is not yet open and producers have not shown any interest in rerecording the show's recap introduction, Cavanaugh has begun compiling a three-hour demo reel to showcase the thousands of ways he can deliver the three-word narration. But as the plots to network dramas grow increasingly complicated, Cavanaugh believes the "Previously on" field is wide open.
"There's so much that can still be done with short-form, pre-episode narration," Cavanaugh said. "Between Grey's Anatomy, Lost, and the occasional reality TV show episode after there has been a fistfight between the contestants, we are truly entering a golden age of saying 'Previously on.'"