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At 19, Raven already has had a long career



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One of TV's most seasoned and skillful comic actresses can't get served in a bar.

Raven-Symone has been featured on "The Cosby Show" (1989-92), "Hangin' With Mr. Cooper" (1993-97), and "That's So Raven" (2000-present). More than a dozen years of solid sitcom experience. By TV standards, a long career. And Raven still hasn't turned 20.

She's also extremely active as a recording artist, a feature-film actor and a voice talent for cartoons. Obviously, for a teenager to amass such an impressive resume, she has to start early.

The performer, born Raven Symone Christina Pearman in Atlanta, was 3 when she began playing the cherubic Olivia on NBC's "Cosby Show."

Even then she was a natural. "Because of her age, the bar was set extremely low," recalled Warren Littlefield, an independent producer who at the time was president of NBC's entertainment division. "Bill (Cosby) said, 'She's adorable. We'll let her run around on the set and take whatever the camera gets.'

"In the first week everyone took a deep breath and said, 'Wow!' because she was doing things no one ever thought possible. She took to the world of acting like a duck to water. The next thing we knew, she was intricately scripted into the material."

"Raven's gift is that's she's not just funny, but she's fearless," said Gary Marsh, the Disney Channel's entertainment president.

"As a comedienne, she will try anything to get a laugh, even create laughs at her own expense."

Her approach has turned "That's So Raven" into the channel's top-rated series, averaging 2 million viewers per episode (slightly more in its 9:30 Saturday morning slot on ABC). Raven, who plays a teen with mild psychic powers that always seem to land her in trouble, has been promoted to producer as the program tapes a fourth batch of episodes for showing next year.

She also profits from the deluge of "Raven" products available in stores.

Star/producer/franchise property. That's a considerable burden for a 19-year-old to shoulder.

"I don't think about it," Raven said. "It's kind of overwhelming. I've worked so hard for so long."

With no signs of slowing down. Raven recently filmed the TV movie "For One Night," which Lifetime will debut in February.

It's based on the true story of a girl in Georgia in 2002 who tried to end her high school's policy of segregated proms.

"It's my first venture into drama," Raven said.

"I could do anything -- a bubble-gum project that might do great in the movie theaters but wouldn't have significance. I wanted to show people I'm not in the business to make money. I'm here to make a difference."

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