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''Sexiest Man'' -- Not Many Rabbit Ears

By RD Heldenfels Published: November 14, 2005

Because it's Monday, and I am trying to avoid serious work as much as possible, I have been pondering People magazine's ''Sexiest Man Alive'' list, which is marking its 20th anniversary.

The latest winner of that title will be announced on Nov. 16. At you can find the previous winners, who are, in chronological order: Mel Gibson, Mark Harmon, Harry Hamlin, John F. Kennedy Jr., Sean Connery, Tom Cruise, Patrick Swayze, Nick Nolte, Brad Pitt, Denzel Washington, George Clooney, Harrison Ford, Richard Gere, Brad Pitt (again), Pierce Brosnan, Ben Affleck, Johnny Depp and Jude Law. (There were a few years with no pick.)

So, how many of those are TV guys? Harmon, then starring on ''St. Elsewhere,'' and Hamlin, then on ''L.A. Law,'' qualify. So does Clooney, since he was still riding his ''ER'' success when picked. But not Brosnan, Washington and Depp, who had significant TV credits but were movie stars when named the sexiest men.

It's not as if viewers don't find some TV men sexy. A People online poll at this writing as Patrick Dempsey of ''Grey's Anatomy'' in second place (behind Matthew McConaughey) and ''Lost's'' Daniel Dae Kim in fifth (one percentage point ahead of the perennial Mr. Pitt).

And, in a companion online piece on ''Fall TV's Sexiest Guys,'' the magazine cited James Denton, Bradley Cooper, Chad Michael Murray, Wentworth Miller, Mathew St. Patrick, Jared Padalecki, Matthew Fox, Stuart Townsend, Benjamin Bratt, Eddie Cibrian, Jason Lee, David Boreanaz and Josh Duhamel.

You may be wondering who some of them are. I'll get to that in a moment.

So with all those names in play, why aren't more pure TV stars named the SMA? I consulted some of the women in my office and a number of possibilities arose: that there's still a difference in the way we see movie stars and TV stars, for one, and that a TV actor who is genuinely sexy will quickly become a movie star. (Think of Brosnan, Depp, Washington and Clooney.)

But the best theory may be that TV is so huge and scattered, that even its sexiest actors may be known only to a small portion of the audience.

The pool of well-known movie actors is fairly small, and makes for endless repetitition on TV shows about Hollywood, in gossip columns and on magazine covers. Although a big TV hit is seen by far more people than see a big hit movie, the audience for a hit show is still a fraction of the total TV audience. So even if you're watching Dempsey make knees weak on ''Grey's,'' millions of other people are occupied elsewhere (perhaps with the sexiest person in their real lives).

Indeed, Dempsey may have the best shot at the latest SMA title not only because he was a movie actor for awhile, but because his fan has spread beyond ''Grey's.'' The guy has been on a lot of magazine covers, and is using him as an example of an actor who has gotten sexier as he has aged.

Because of that, folks have heard of him in a way they haven't heard of some of the other actors on that Fall TV list. In fact, I asked several women to identify the names on that list -- and most of the names got no glimmer at all. (Bratt, Fox and Dempsey were the best known, and all have had show-biz lives before their current shows.)

So here's each TV actor again, with current show attached: James Denton (''Desperate Housewives''), Bradley Cooper ("Kitchen Confidential''), Chad Michael Murray (''One Tree Hill''), Wentworth Miller (''Prison Break''), Mathew St. Patrick (''Reunion''), Jared Padalecki (''Supernatural''), Matthew Fox (''Lost''), Stuart Townsend (''Night Stalker''), Benjamin Bratt (''E-Ring''), Eddie Cibrian (''Invasion''), Jason Lee (''My Name Is Earl''), David Boreanaz (''Bones''), Josh Duhamel (''Las Vegas'').

Ringing any bells? Maybe not. Maybe you're already scurrying to other Web addresses to find pictures of these actors. After all, ''Kitchen Confidential'' isn't even on at the moment. And you may better remember St. Patrick from ''Six Feet Under,'' Padalecki from ''Gilmore Girls,'' Bratt from ''Law & Order,'' Cibrian on ''Third Watch'' or Boreanaz from ''Buffy the Vampire Slayer'' and ''Angel.''

In some ways, then, a sexy TV actor can be like a drunken one-night stand: You vaguely remember being attracted to him, but can't really remember his name...

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