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Word power

Super girl shows strength in fighting crime, helping kids build their vocabulary.

September 14, 2010|By Joyce Rudolph,

When the animated character Becky Botsford isn't dealing with fifth-grade homework or her family, she turns into WordGirl and fights villains while correcting their vocabulary in the TV show of the same name.

The Scholastic Media production began its third season this week on PBS KIDS GO! It received an Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing in Animation in 2008 and was nominated for three Emmy Awards this year. It has also received a Television Critics Award for Outstanding Achievement in Children's Animation and a Gracie Award for its portrayal of a strong female character.

Voicing that role model for elementary-school-age kids is Glendale's own Dannah (pronounced Donna) Phirman. The voice of her dad is performed by Ryan Raddatz of Burbank.

The show is produced out of Boston, but the voice talent meets at a studio in Los Angeles.

Phirman originated the role of Becky/WordGirl and said starting the third season is nothing short of awesome.


"I've worked on a few animated shows, and this is the best," she said. "Kids and parents love it. It is so well written. I'm so excited! It's the best job in the world. It never feels like work."

Danielle Gillis, one of the show's producers, still laughs after seeing the same show several times, she said.

"Dannah always surprises me," she said. "She's clever and thinks on the spot. She can come up with the funniest things out of nowhere."

When coming up with her character's voice, Phirman said she tried to remember what her voice sounded like when she was about 10 and took her already high-pitched voice up a little higher.

Another fun aspect for Phirman is getting to voice several other characters, like the mother of villain Chuck the Evil Sandwich-Making Guy, voiced by Fred Stoller from "Everybody Loves Raymond."

"What's great about the show is the great cast members," Phirman said.

There are plenty of comedians, including Chris Parnell from "30 Rock" as the narrator; Maria Bamford of "kick Buttowski" as Mrs. Botsford; Jeffrey Tambor of "Arrested Development" who provides the voice of Mr. Big; Tom Kenny from "SpongeBob Squarepants" as Brent; John C. McGinley of "Scrubs" as Whammer.

And so it's not all work, Phirman said, adding that the voice actors take time to play tricks on each other.

"At the last recording, we noticed that it started getting darker and darker in the room and we looked in the hallway and Jeffrey Tambor had his hand on the light switch and was starring at us and laughing maniacally," she said.

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