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Heard from Alec Baldwin lately?

Thousands of people have, thanks to a Web site that lets you personalize a greeting using the 30 Rock star's voice.

By JACQUES STEINBERG New York Times
Published December 25, 2006


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photo
[AP photo]
While the messages are recorded, Alec Baldwin, right with 30 Rock's Tina Fey, also can be heard relating details about the recipient, like the person's job.

Tens of thousands of fans of the NBC show 30 Rock (or their friends or colleagues) have had the unusual experience over the last week of picking up their phones to hear the voice of Alec Baldwin addressing them by name and wishing them a happy holiday.

While the messages - reminiscent of get-out-the-vote efforts known as push polls - are obviously recorded, Baldwin can also be heard relating details about the recipient, like the person's job (including the fields of public relations or pharmaceuticals) and hobbies (cooking, doing crossword puzzles), as well as complimenting his or her physique. (One choice: "I am not above telling you, you have a nice behind.")

The promotion, using the fledgling technology of a company called Varitalk, is being mounted by the NBC Universal Television Studio, which produces 30 Rock. In a telephone interview, Shelley McCrory, senior vice president for comedy development at the studio, said she and her colleagues had been seeking a way to give the freshman comedy an edge over its tough competition at 9:30 on Thursday nights, including the veteran dramas Grey's Anatomy on ABC and CSI: Crime Scene Investigation on CBS.

The right fan base

The idea of making available customized messages to be transmitted by phone or e-mail - in this case accessible via www.nbc.com/30Rock - was inspired by an earlier Varitalk campaign, in which Web users were able to send messages using the voice of the actor Samuel L. Jackson, who was promoting the movie Snakes on a Plane. In recent months the CW television network used similar technology (and Tyra Banks' voice) to promote itself.

"We just immediately knew the sensibility was right for our audience," McCrory said. She declined, however, to say how many such messages have been delivered (beyond an estimate in the tens of thousands) or how much the campaign, which is free to users, had cost NBC.

Still, those who have received the messages, which sound so seamless, have surely been left with a more pressing question: How do they do it?

People who try to send such a message quickly discover that it is like the old, fill-in-the-blank children's game of Mad Libs. During a session in a Manhattan recording studio that lasted just a half-hour, Baldwin recorded about 500 first names - including such potential tongue twisters as Fowzia - from which the sender may choose. (Choosing a name that is not on Baldwin's list will sometimes prompt an error message from the Web site, advising the sender that it could not be found.)

Baldwin also recorded the names of all the states (so that the message makes reference to where the listener is sitting) as well as entries for drop-down menus that give the sender choices for pinpointing the recipient's job, interests and "physical traits." Then a computer synthesizes all this information for a greeting.

Happy to speak up

Baldwin has been traveling, according to an assistant, and was not able to come to the phone in person.

But McCrory said Baldwin, a favorite target of the New York Post for his occasionally volatile personality, immediately and enthusiastically signed on to the project after being approached by producers in late November. On the messages he sounds as if he were rehearsing for a Broadway play or Saturday Night Live, with a dulcet tone of voice that is self-deprecating, and very close to that of Jack Donaghy, the network executive he plays on 30 Rock.

While not present for the main recording session, McCrory said she did attend a followup session, on the 30 Rock set at Silvercup Studios in Long Island City, Queens, where Baldwin had to redo seven state names and add three names.

"They called, 'Action!' " McCrory said. "He said them like bang-bang-bang. Then he said, 'Are we done?' Someone said, 'We're done.' And he walked off with a big smile on his face."

Fast Facts:

 

Hi, it's Alec

Want to send a personal greeting from actor Alec Baldwin to a friend (or to yourself)? Go online to www.nbc.com/30rock. You will be able to choose between a phone or an e-mail greeting (Alec politely calls only between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m.) and then will have plenty of fun options to personalize your message.

 

[Last modified December 25, 2006, 07:05:39]


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