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People Weekly September 1, 1997

TV's 40 Most Fascinating Stars of '97

The hot faces to watch this fall -- and check out those comeback kids!

Behold the new season's sizzlingest stars, who make the medium cool

Legends of the Fall

 

Remember when they called it the boob tube? Joanie Loves Chachi and Starsky and Hutch hardly challenged that notion. But over the years, that box in the living room began emitting cathode rays of hope. Television is now sharper (The Larry Sanders Show), gutsier (Homicide) and more compelling (ER) than ever before. In its finest hours the medium cedes nothing to Hollywood films in terms of writing, direction and acting. Even salaries have caught up. At $ 22 million a year, Jerry Seinfeld now resides in Jim Carrey country.

On the following pages, our panel of experts -- former network honcho Fred Silverman, USA Today TV Critic Matt Roush, BBDO ad agency executive vice president Steve Grubbs and PEOPLE's TV critic Terry Kelleher -- checks out the landscape of the new season and sizes up the luminous talents who will keep you turned on.

 

TV Titans

It is good to be a king or queen of primetime. Meet the monarchs currently enjoying the view from the top of Mt. Nielsen.

(snipped)

 

Lucy Lawless

Xena : Warrior Princess (syndicated)

"Who could have expected this kind of success?" gushes New Zealander Lawless, 29, about her astral trajectory as Xena, history's most bodacious barbarian. "My daughter [Daisy, 9] tries to pretend that Mom being Xena is a bit of a burden," says the 5'10" divorcée (she's dating Xena producer Rob Tapert). "But I think she truly loves it." So do the millions of fans in more than 50 countries where the show airs. But proving she can carry a tune as gracefully as a sword, the opera-trained Lawless is leaving the forest for the asphalt jungle. From Sept. 2 to Oct. 19 she'll be starring as -- who else -- tough cookie Rizzo in the Broadway production of Grease. Still, Xena remains Lawless's signature character. "people are attracted to her masculine bent, " says the actress. "Finally, a woman you can have a beer with."

The Buzz:  "She dishes out camp with more gusto than Linda Carter ever dreamed of," says Roush.

'Xena is threads of my character taken to extremes'

"Xena is a woman who doesn't rely on a man for help," says Lawless. "And that's a good message for all."