Action Figure

updated 02/01/1993 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/01/1993 AT 01:00 AM EST

MTV SPORTS IS SORT OF LIKE THE Wide World of Wayne's World—a very hip, very youth-oriented half-hour weekly show, edited with more visual savvy than a Madonna video and devoted to such pursuits as indoor windsurfing and bungee jumping from hot-air balloons. Your host for the surprise year-old hit: Dan Cortese (cor-TEZ), 25, a long-haired, strong-limbed, bandanna-wearing dude—who also happens to be your pitchman in a current series of rapid-fire spots for Burger King. Cortese, actually, is beyond rapid. Closer to in-your-face manic. Take the time superathlete Bo Jackson was a Sports guest. "The producers told me to loosen him up," says Cortese, "so I tapped Bo on the nose and said, 'What's up, handsome?' " Then, goofing on Jackson's salary, Cortese sang the theme from The Six Million Dollar Man. Luckily, Bo laughed.

Bo might have recognized a fellow athlete as well. Growing up outside Pittsburgh, the youngest of four children, Cortese played football and basketball at Quaker Valley High. (His dad, Vince, now retired, was principal; his mom, Marylou, is a seamstress.) He saw plenty of action on the football field at the University of North Carolina (he attended on a sports scholarship), but he also had eyes for showbiz. So Cortese studied film and TV production and had the good sense to work with an MTV crew that was sent to Chapel Hill to film a Janet Jackson concert. After graduating and moving to L.A., he got a job as production assistant with the video network—which led to the MTV Sports gig.

But now the 180-lb. six-footer, who lives in a split-level home in Pacific Palisades with his fiancée, aspiring actress Dee Dee Hemby, 24, has been drafted to star in an upcoming remake of that road-traveling classic, Route 66, for NBC (he'll juggle that and Sports). Given Cortese's cartoony verve, his acting should be animated. "Yesterday I was watching Bugs Bunny," he says, "and every time he got beat up, he went, 'Bbbbbbaaaaa!' I was doing that all day."

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