Okay. Let’s get this straight. On Fridays at 9 p.m. veteran actress Jessica Walter (The Group, The Flamingo Kid) stars as Anne McPherson, a headstrong newspaper publisher who routinely tangles with her equally stubborn daughter in NBC’s The Round Table, set in Washington, D.C. At the same time, over on ABC, her voice comes out of the throat of another mother, this one named Fran, on the show Dinosaurs, set in 60,000,003 B.C. Do not be confused. Anne favors business suits. Fran wears aprons, and is green, and has a tail.
Although Fran is actually played by another actor in a costume (a technician manipulates her facial expressions electronically), the actress doesn’t take Fran any less seriously. ”I do the same work for (Fran’s voice) that I do for Round Table,” says Walter, who trained at New York’s Neighborhood Playhouse with James Caan and Elizabeth Ashley in the early 1960s. ”What is the intention of the scene? What is she trying to accomplish?” For Round Table’s Anne, a big accomplishment would be persuading her daughter (Stacy Haiduk) not to join the FBI. Fran, on the other hand, is more concerned with keeping her live dinner from escaping from the refrigerator. To do both jobs (”It’s going to work out because it has to,” she says), Walter jets between the Round Table set in Vancouver and Los Angeles, where she tapes Fran’s voice and lives with her second husband, actor Ron Leibman (Pacific Station).
With nine movies and an Emmy (for 1975’s Amy Prentiss) to her credit, Walter should be up to the task. In 1971, her jarringly creepy performance as a crazed fan obsessed with Clint Eastwood in Play Misty for Me made her a sensation (”She was so scary in that, I almost didn’t marry her,” Leibman quipped when they wed more than a decade later). But this is the first time she has had to take on herself in the ratings. At the moment, the other networks are Walter-free at 9 p.m. on Fridays (Fox airs the fact-based Sightings, and CBS airs Designing Women). But should Designing’s producers decide to continue their game of musical cast members, Walter could become a very busy woman indeed.