1 NEIL PATRICK HARRIS
Age 32 Role/Show Barney on CBS' How I Met Your Mother You might remember him from Doogie Howser, M.D.; Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle He's a scene-stealer because We fought about it you know, weakly, because who are we kidding? but we're going to have to give Mother's lovable sleazebag Barney exactly what he wants: more attention. Harris' performance is so inventive, so kinetic, and so out-there that he's the No. 1 scene-stealer on any new television show this fall. We're not surprised; Harris has done this before, even though he claims it isn't his goal to be a thief. ''No, really! I just try and get good roles and hope that they're memorable.'' Sure, funnyman. So it's a coincidence that the Doogie star got excellent stage notices for Assassins and Rent? It wasn't his master plan to steal the movie from both Kumar and Harold by filling a role meant for a Neil Patrick Harris type? He claims not. ''When a script comes down the pike that says there's a part in it for Neil Patrick Harris, I gotta really stink up the audition to not get that job,'' he says. Okay, but what about Barney? ''Barney's such an extreme character. He always was, even from the pilot. So you're sort of required to take a strong stab at it.''
Barney, extreme? To say the least. The perpetually be-suited wannabe lothario, who Harris says is a cocktail of David Spade, Michael Richards' Kramer, radio personality Tom Leykis, and Larry from Three's Company, is ''the guy that wants everyone to talk about him.... He needs to be the guy who created the epic evening, or the catchphrase that stuck. He wants to be heralded and known throughout the annals of cultural history.'' How such a megalomaniacal pain-in- the-annals-of-cultural-history could still be endearing, we don't know. But somehow Barney is. ''For all of Barney's bravado, he doesn't mean any harm. He talks a good game about all the numbers he's gonna lose and all the strippers he's gonna date, and none of that really comes to fruition.'' There's also the inescapable reality that Barney, whose best friend, Ted (Josh Radnor), is obsessively looking for a life partner, is going to be one lonely dude at some point. ''He doesn't want Ted to settle down with anyone. And seeing as the show's called How I Met Your Mother, I think Barney might not win.'' Best moment Bribing TV-reporter pal Robin (Cobie Smulders) with ever-increasing sums to perform embarrassing stunts on the air (including ''honking'' her boobs).
2 WILLIAM FICHTNER
Age 50 Role/Show Sheriff Tom Underlay on ABC's Invasion You might remember him from As the World Turns; Contact; Crash He's a scene-stealer because While hurricanes swirl, shadowy government agents plot, and glowing fish-aliens light up Invasion's Florida waters, Fichtner is still the scariest thing on screen. The sheriff's eerie calm at the notion that his wife may be growing gills proves he knows way more about what's in the water than he lets on. He's either a seriously misunderstood good guy, or bad...very bad. Best moment The look of serenity on Underlay's face when what appears to be an attempt to drown a teenage boy is actually a lesson in SCUBA (supremely creepy underwater breathing ability).