- The Washington Times - Monday, October 31, 2005

Vampire’ bites Ball

HBO wants to remain in the Alan Ball business.

The cable biggie has signed an exclusive two-year deal with the “Six Feet Under” creator to develop and produce original programming for HBO, the network said yesterday.

First up will be an hourlong series based on the “Southern Vampire” books by Charlaine Harris. The novels explore a strain of vampires living in the rural South who openly feast on synthetic blood.

“I picked up ‘Dead Until Dark,’ the first book of the ‘Southern Vampire’ series, on impulse and could not put it down,” says Mr. Ball, who will write and direct the pilot and executive produce the series.

His “Six Feet Under” recently wrapped its fifth and final season on HBO.

Mr. Ball also won the best-original-screenplay Oscar for 1999’s “American Beauty.”

Happy birthday

Tonight, cable’s Black Entertainment Television kicks up its heels with a star-studded gala to celebrate its 25th birthday; it’s an uplifting testament to the network’s continuing success.

The A-list lineup of stars includes performances by Alicia Keys, R. Kelly, Mary J. Blige, John Legend, Nelly, Snoop Dogg and more. A number of other stars — including Queen Latifah, Usher, Sean “Diddy” Combs, Arsenio Hall and a revamped Whitney Houston (who manages to redeem some of her former glamour after starring in Bravo’s tawdry summer reality hit “Being Bobby Brown”) also will appear on the program.

The show, taped last week at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles (and airing at 9 tonight on BET), captures the jubilant revelry of both the audience and the performers. Among the highlights: Earth, Wind & Fire opens the show with a rousing rendition of the group’s hit “Let’s Groove.” Bobby Jones — host of BET’s long-running gospel music showcase — introduces a toe-tapping segment with gospel music superstars Yolanda Adams, Kirk Franklin and Shirley Caesar. Rapper LL Cool J also gets the crowd on its feet, as does a reunion of the ‘80s boy band New Edition — which included Miss Houston’s husband, Bobby Brown.

The celebration also doubles as a farewell salute to BET’s retiring founder and chairman, Robert L. Johnson, who sold the network to Viacom five years ago for $3 billion. BET is seen in about 80 million homes.

Welcome back

Sidelined by baseball playoffs and the World Series for the past four weeks, Fox’s “House, M.D.” returns to its regular Tuesday slot tonight with a new episode at 9.

Ron Livingston — known best for his turn as insecure writer Jack Berger, the man who ended his romance with Carrie Bradshaw via a Post-it note on HBO’s “Sex and the City” — guest stars as a noble yet egotistical humanitarian who contracts tuberculosisand is treated by House (Hugh Laurie).

Major moves for Mencia

Dave Chappelle’s in-your-face humor about race drew millions of viewers to his weekly show on Comedy Central.

Now the cable channel is throwing its clout behind Carlos Mencia, another minority comic who doesn’t mind breaking barriers with routines on immigration and race relations.

Comedy Central officially renewed Mr. Mencia’s “Mind of Mencia” for a second season, Reuters news agency reports. The network also announced plans for an hourlong special starring the Honduran-born funnyman and will sponsor his 30-city live-performance tour next year under its Comedy Central Live banner. Also, an uncensored DVD of the show’s first season — featuring bonus material such as deleted scenes, outtakes and backstage “diary” footage — will be released in conjunction with the show’s second season, set to premiere in March.

“Carlos really struck a chord with the audience this summer, which was very competitive in terms of launching comedies,” Lauren Corrao, executive vice president of original programming and development at Comedy Central, told Reuters.

The network tried a similar maneuver with Mr. Chappelle, whose “Chappelle Show” became a breakout hit. However, after signing a lucrative contract — reportedly worth $50 million — the D.C. native abruptly bolted without explanation, forcing production to end on his show’s third season.

Meanwhile, “Mind of Mencia” averaged 1.4 million viewers weekly for its 13 first-season episodes.

The series debuted July 6, taking over the Wednesday night slot previously occupied by “Chappelle’s Show.”

Compiled by Christian Toto and Robyn-Denise Yourse from staff, Web and wire reports.

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