ASSOCIATE EDITOR KAREN S. Schneider was the obvious choice to spearhead this week's cover story on the most fascinating stars of the new TV season. For one thing, "Karen brings life to everything she does," says deputy managing editor Carol Wallace. For another, "I love TV," says Schneider, 33. Though tired of Melrose Place, she's wild about Frasier, fond of Friends and hooked on NYPD Blue. "I crave TV," she adds. Perhaps now more than ever. While putting in 14-hour days assigning, editing and working with our bureau correspondents—who conducted more than 100 interviews for this project—she had no time to actually watch TV.

Schneider joined PEOPLE as a staff writer in 1989 and has mastered much more than the airwaves. "Karen has an extraordinary sense of words," says assistant managing editor Charles Leerhsen, "and a great feel for pop culture." Before earning a graduate degree at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism in 1988, she studied Italian literature at Stanford University, where classmate Andre Braugher, now a star of NBC's Homicide: Life on the Street, once offered her a rose. (Why? See page 42.) For PEOPLE she has written two dozen cover stories, including profiles of Hugh Grant, Brad Pitt and, most recently, Margaux Hemingway. And she conducted one of the last interviews with director Federico Fellini before his death in 1993.

In 1994, Schneider moved from New York City to her Minneapolis hometown to be close to her mother, Marilyn, 63, a retired professor of Italian literature at the University of Minnesota, who has Alzheimer's disease, and to help her father, Herb, 64, a retired architect, care for her mother. "I just decided sharing this time with her was the most important thing I could do," she says.

Schneider, who returned to Manhattan for this special issue, is now back in Minneapolis, linked to us by computer, fax and phone. But we know better than to call when she's watching All My Children.