Indeed, the former boy wonder is now clearly a man, sporting three days' worth of stubble as he talks about NBC's Stark Raving Mad, his first series since Steven Bochco and David Kelley's Doogie Howser, M.D. In the new show, one of the few new sitcoms this season, Harris plays a book editor whose overly refined sensibilities are repeatedly assaulted by an insane but highly successful horror novelist (Tony Shaloub, of Wings). Says series creator Steve Levitan (NBC's Just Shoot Me). "Neil is an incredible physical comedian. At first, we worried he was so serious he wouldn't get the comedy, but the truth is he's a ham at heart."
He has been a ham forever. Discovered in 1986 by writer Mark Medoff (Children of a Lesser God) at a drama camp in Albuquerque, N.M., Harris made his professional debut at age 14 opposite Whoopie Goldberg in 1988's Clara's Heart, written by Medoff, before landing Doogie Howser, M.D. When the series ended in 1993, a relieved Harris, then 19, bought a house in New Mexico and "chilled" for a year and a half, spending his time rock climbing, becoming reacquainted with old friends and coming to terms with the effect the TV role had on his life. "My initial attitude was, 'Doogie's not me, and I'm not him,'" says the unattached Harris, who returned to L.A. - and his career - in 1994. "But I was Doogie Hoser. And I had to own it to make peace with it."