Nearly 170 actors - including winners of two Academy Awards, 14 Emmys and nine Tonys - have lent their voices to characters on the 65-episode series premiering Monday, Aug. 31 in syndication from Buena Vista Television five days a week, Monday-Friday (check local listings).

"We've cast each episode as a little movie, and selected actors that bring out the most in each role," says Tad Stones, the series' executive producer. "Hollywood has an outstanding voice-acting community, and we've taken advantage of many of those individuals. This influx of star power h

as allowed us to make this series truly distinctive."
The majority of the 1997 Disney feature film's cast has returned for the animated television series, including Tate Donovan (Hercules), James Woods (Hades), Bobcat Goldthwait (Pain), Matt Frewer (Panic), Paul Shaffer (Hermes) and the Muses. Two central characters - Icarus (French Stewart of "3rd Rock from the Sun") and Cassandra (Sandra Bernhard, "Without You I'm Nothing") - have been added to the main cast.

"Having James Woods and most of the film's cast aboard gave instant credibility to the series and made it far easier to encourage other notable actors to take part," says Stones. "The result is arguably the greatest cast in children's animated television history, boasting stars from major motion pictures, television, stage and the recording industry."

The eclectic list of nearly 170 guest stars includes, to name a few: Jason Alexander, Jennifer Anniston, Tim Conway and Harvey Korman, Kathie Lee Gifford, Linda Hamilton, Florence Henderson, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Lisa Kudrow, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Heather Locklear, William H. Macy, Reba McEntire, Wayne Newton, William Shatner and Vince Vaughn.

"This cast is a dream come true," says Casting Director Jamie Thomason. "I think we've even surprised ourselves with some of the people we've signed for this show. I mean, I look into the booth and I think to myself, 'It's Carl Reiner, for goodness' sake!' There are more than a few living legends on this show, and that's awe-inspiring. So this has been tremendous."

Of course, working with Hollywood's cream hasn't been without its challenges. Many guest stars performed their first voiceover for animation working on "Disney's Hercules."

"It's a different way of working - the actor's only tools are between his larynx and his lips to convey the message and the emotion of the scene," Thomason said. "On the other hand, it's very appealing for many actors because voiceovers are very 'in the moment.' There's no waiting for lights, makeup or wardrobe. They can just come in and cut loose. And that's where the fun starts."

The cast of "Disney's Hercules" has received its share of honors, including two Academy Award winners (Lou Gossett Jr., 1983 Best Supporting Actor, "An Officer and a Gentleman"; Steven Wright, 1989 Best Live Action Short Film, "The Appointments of Dennis Jennings") and four Oscar nominees (Barbara Barrie, Robert Stack and two-time nominee James Woods).

The voice cast also boasts winners of 15 Emmy Awards (three-time awardee Betty White, two-time winners Ed Asner, Jane Curtin and James Woods, as well as Tim Conway, Jonathan Katz, Mandy Patinkin, David Hyde Pierce, Carl Reiner and Jay Thomas) and winners of nine Tony Awards (Jason Alexander, Alice Ghostley, Andrea Martin, Patinkin, Carole Shelley, Lilias White, and three-time winner Harvey Fierstein).

"I'm amazed by the remarkable cast assembled for this show - it's a little intimidating," says Diedrich Bader ("The Drew Carey Show"), who plays Adonis, Prometheus Academy's arrogant big man on campus. "We don't often record together, so it's a lot like playing tennis alone against a wall ... and suddenly you look up and your partner is Bjorn Borg."

Some mythical parallels made it easy to cast with today's entertainment personalities. Bob Keeshan, famed for his portrayal of Captain Kangaroo, was a natural choice to play the teller of tales, Aesop. Who better to play the Prometheus Academy's gym teacher, Phys Oedipus, than exercise guru Richard Simmons? Mandy Patinkin's Emmy Award-winning portrayal of Dr. Jeffrey Geiger on "Chicago Hope" made him an obvious choice for the role of Hippocrates, the world's first physician. And when seeking to fill the born-leader shoes of Jason in his endless quest for the Golden Fleece, who is better suited to captain the Argo and lead its crew than William Shatner?

"Disney's Hercules" is also laced with parody. The riddle of the Sphinx is posed by Sphinx Martindale - of course, played by Wink Martindale, game show host extraordinaire. A Grecian talk show host appears in the form of a griffin - voiced by none other than Merv Griffin. In the flip-flop Amazon society where women are warriors and men do the cooking, noted chef Emeril Lagasse fits nicely as the King of the Amazons. From the "takes one to know one" category: Dan Castellaneta, renowned as the voice of Homer Simpson, switches characters but not names in voicing the Greek epic poet Homer on "Disney's Hercules."

For Echidna, the "mother all of monsters," the voice casting department looked no further than its own synergistic ranks - to ABC and America's sweetheart, Kathie Lee Gifford.

"I like to think of Echidna as every mother," Gifford said. "Any of us who have children know that, at any time, our children can be monsters - even mine. Still, we love them because they're our little monsters. It's great fun because I can be surprising playing Echidna. Nobody expects it."