Maybe you don’t know all their names — yet. If you’ve watched their shows lately, however, they’ve caught your eye. They’re this year’s breakout character actors, some of them relative rookies, others seasoned veterans who’ve paid their SAG dues with thankless parts in projects unworthy of them. Now they all have two things in common: They’ve landed plum supporting roles on quality series. And they’re all talented enough to deserve shows of their own some day.
ANDREA THOMPSON She debuted on NYPD Blue (ABC, Tuesdays, 10-11 p.m.) last season in a recurring role as Det. Jill Kirkendall. Now that she’s a regular, we’ve seen a lot more of her — figuratively and literally. Her first seminude scene, seducing squirrelly ADA Leo Cohen (Michael Buchman Silver) to get inside info on a cop-corruption case, was mighty impressive. Even more impressive is the smoky-throated Thompson’s ability to portray a hard-nosed cop convincingly.
JASON BATEMAN He’d already done six sitcoms (from Silver Spoons to Chicago Sons) but never a good one until George & Leo (CBS, Mondays, 9:30- 10 p.m.) came along. As Bob Newhart’s underachieving chef son, Bateman gets to show off the comic chops he developed over all those years toiling in laugh-track land. Plus, he can pick up a few tips on timing from old masters Newhart and Judd Hirsch.
CHARISMA CARPENTER Barely visible as cheerleading queen Cordelia on Buffy the Vampire Slayer (The WB, Mondays, 9-10 p.m.) last season, Carpenter has been given increased screen time this fall. She makes a fine comic target for the wisecracking Xander (Nicholas Brendon) and a formidable rival to Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) for the affections of studly vampire Angel (David Boreanaz). Charisma commands attention whenever she’s on the screen — her parents must’ve known something when they named her.
BRANDON HAMMOND He’s only 13 years old, but Hammond has already amassed a long list of credits, including roles in Space Jam (as the young Michael Jordan) and in the surprise hit Soul Food. Still, as the star’s son on The Gregory Hines Show (CBS, Fridays, 9-9:30 p.m.), Hammond doesn’t seem like a professional child actor — and that’s a good thing. There’s nothing self-consciously cutesy about him. In short, he doesn’t suffer from Webster’s disease.
TITUS WELLIVER When Brooklyn South (CBS, Mondays, 10-11 p.m.) premiered, we thought Welliver’s tightly wound Officer Jack Lowery would be the show’s resident nutcase. How wrong we were. He’s shown surprising tenderness in dealing with the sudden death of his shrewish wife, Yvonne (Jana Marie Hupp). Welliver’s Lowery could become the most complex TV cop since Sipowicz.
JON SEDA After a blistering turn as a spectacularly self-destructive convict on Tom Fontana’s HBO prison drama Oz, Seda has switched sides to costar as Det. Paul Falsone on Fontana’s Homicide: Life on the Street (NBC, Fridays, 10-11 p.m.). A transfer from the car-theft division, Falsone has rubbed most of his new squad the wrong way, yet Seda’s energy is invigorating. He can hold his own with Andre Braugher, who blows most actors right off the screen.