You are on the streets of Manhattan, shooting on location. A dozen paparazzi and a dozen teenage girls come at you, screaming. The paps give you a little room. The girls give you none. They text and Twitter and suddenly there are many more of them. They would surround you, topple you, if it weren't for security. They just want to touch you. Just for a second. Surely this must be what being famous feels like: being in your early twenties and good-looking, making money, and starring in the kind of TV show that makes fans want to consume you. People keep telling you something big is happening. The phrase window of opportunity is in the air. You could be the next George Clooney, joking with wry self-deprecation 20 years from now about your humble beginnings on a teen soap. Until you Google yourself one night and discover that someone has called you the new Spencer Pratt.

This is the joy, and the stab of anxiety, that comes with being one of the three guys on Gossip Girl, the CW's melodrama about very rich, very beautiful, very stylish, very old students at a private high school on Manhattan's Upper East Side. The show's audience is a strange coalition: 14-year-old girls who dress age-inappropriately, 34-year-old women who dress age-inappropriately, gay men, straight guys who are soap-curious, entertainment-media people, and the Gawker/Defamer/TMZ circuit, which must continually manufacture fresh celebrities to stay alive. But together, they've given Gossip Girl the heat and flash and swagger of a smash (if not the ratings it finished 150th out of 161 prime-time series last season). Even those who've never seen the show now know that Chace Crawford (Nate, the cougar-bedding heartthrob) and Penn Badgley (Dan, the good guy) and Ed Westwick (Chuck, the snake) are famous for something at least right now. Which means that if you are Chace, Penn, or Ed (from now on we're using first names, since "Crawford, Badgley, and Westwick" sounds like a Boston law firm), you have a problem: How do you play this moment a moment for which, just as with virtually every scene in the show, you have had no time to rehearse, very little direction, and no information about what comes next?