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msnbc.com contributor

Neil Patrick Harris

Image: Neil Patrick Harris
Cliff Lipson  /  Business Wire
We always knew we loved Doogie, but we never knew we’d love him as much as we did when Neil Patrick Harris played a parody of himself in “Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle” in 2004. Even if we’ll always see him as the cute, 16-year-old medical prodigy, he’s parlayed his recent revival into a spot as one of TV’s most awesome characters, Barney on CBS’s “How I Met Your Mother.” With a reprise on “Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay” and his recent turn on Joss Whedon’s Internet sensation, “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog,” Harris, 35, is on the pulse of pop culture.

Mark-Paul Gosselaar

Image: Mark-Paul Gosselaar
Richard Drew  /  AP
Even with the luscious new locks, most people look at Gosselaar and see Zack Morris from “Saved By the Bell.” But at 34, he’s all grown up and has worked his way out of the typecast and into serious drama. TV drama guru Steven Bochco recently called Gosselaar “one of the small, handful of best actors that we have in television today.” That might have something to do with the fact that Gosselaar stars in Bochco’s latest venture, TNT’s “Raising the Bar.” But Bochco’s admiration is genuine; as he’s given Gosselaar a role in virtually everything he’s created since “NYPD Blue.” 

Alyssa Milano

Image: Alyssa Milano
Bryan Haraway  /  Getty Images
It could have gone either way for the bubbly “Who’s the Boss?” cutie after she starred in “Poison Ivy II” in 1996, but she made it through the darkness and found the light. A regular role on “Melrose Place” helped land her a starring gig on the it-lasted-longer-than-you-thought-it-did “Charmed.” (Eight seasons. Who knew?). On the heels of her wild guest role on “My Name Is Earl” last season, ABC recently announced that it picked up the pilot for the 35-year-old Milano’s new sitcom, “Single with Parents,” which also stars Beau Bridges and Annie Potts.

Fred Savage

Image: Fred Savage
Frederick M. Brown  /  Getty Images file
Ahh, Kevin Arnold longing for that first kiss with Winnie Cooper on “The Wonder Years.” Savage, who seems immune to aging, might forever carry that prepubescent role with him, but he’s making his biggest moves behind the camera, these days. Savage, 32, is directing sitcoms, scoring nominations from the Directors Guild of America for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Children’s Programs in each of the past two years for episodes of The Disney Channel’s “Wizards of Waverly Place.” He has also directed 11 episodes of cult favorite, FX’s “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” The pilot for his new sitcom, “Secret White Millionaire,” was recently picked up by CBS.

Michael J. Fox

Image: Michael J. Fox
Evan Agostini  /  AP
The original, modern-day child-star-turned-success-story, Fox rode the “Family Ties” wave to some starring movie roles, including “Back to the Future” and “Teen Wolf.” That rolled into a starring spot on ABC’s “Spin City,” for which he won an Emmy and three Golden Globe Awards, but Fox cut his time on the show in 2000, shortly after announcing that he’d had Parkinson’s Disease since 1991. Fox, 47, is the voice of Stuart Little in the animated mouse movie franchise, and has made occasional guest appearances on shows such as “Scrubs” and “Boston Legal” in recent years.

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