- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 25, 2007

Beauty school

Cast aside by two broadcast networks (ABC and NBC), the Miss America Pageant last year found a new home — and not-bad-for-cable ratings — on Country Music Television. Now, the beauty contest hopes to build on its newfound momentum by giving viewers a behind-the-scenes look — reality-show style — into the drama surrounding the pampered contestants before the coveted crown is bestowed Monday.

An interactive Web site (www.missamerica.cmt.com) enabled those who truly care to keep up with the daily doins’ of the 52 contenders, and tonight, “Pageant School,” a two-hour special (airing at 9) will offer new details on what it takes to compete.

It’s the first time in the history of the pageant, CMT boasts on its Web site, that all the contestants convene in Los Angeles for a pre-pageant training camp. There, the women will be prepped to the max by experts on refining their look and sharpening their skills in an effort to bring one lucky hopeful a step closer to the crown.

The 2007 Miss America Pageant, with Mario Lopez as host, airs Monday at 8 p.m. on CMT.

Starry, Starry night

Celebrities will be out in droves for “An Evening of Stars Tribute to Aretha Franklin,” the syndicated annual telethon for the United Negro College Fund, airing locally at 11:30 tomorrow night on WJLA-ABC7.

Now in its 28th year, the annual all-star telecast — formerly known as the Lou Rawls Parade of Stars since it first aired back in 1979 — raises funds for more than 65,000 students at over 900 colleges and universities nationwide.

Among those taking the stage for this year’s tribute to the Queen of Soul: Chaka Khan, Stevie Wonder, Joss Stone, Al Jarreau, Kiki Sheard and Smokey Robinson. Golden Globe winner and newly-minted Oscar-nominee Jennifer Hudson (“Dreamgirls”) will perform two of Miss Franklin’s classic hits, “Think” and “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You).”

New venture for Oxygen

Returning to its multimedia roots, the Oxygen cable network announced plans for a social networking site called Oomph.net and a broadband site called SheDidWhat.tv, reports TVWeek.com.

The six-year-old company, which scaled back its original Web plans when the Internet bubble burst in 2001, also unveiled a slate of new TV programs in development, including an animated series produced by Jennifer Love Hewitt.

The network held its first upfront sales presentation for advertisers in New York Tuesday night.

Oomph.net is designed to connect women with shared interests such as pop culture, careers, art, culture or sex.

“We created Oomph.net to be a place for emotional support for people who don’t need it,” said Gerry Laybourne, chairman and CEO of Oxygen. “It’s designed for women who are strong, independent and have something to say.”

SheDidWhat.tv will open with a broadband original series, “Our Bodies, Myself,” a comedy about womanhood in America, hosted by Lauren Weidman.

Meanwhile, Oxygen is working on several scripted series for TV, including “Graphic City Limits,” from producer Rob Tapert.

Casting calls

James Badge Dale has been tapped as a lead in ABC’s one-hour “Fort Pit,” while Scott Cohen has come on board Fox’s comedy “The Return of Jezebel James” and Eric Roberts has joined the cast of NBC’s breakout hit “Heroes,” according to the Hollywood Reporter.

From Sony Pictures TV, Denis Leary’s Apostle and writer Michael Chernuchin, “Fort Pit” is a drama with comedic elements set in one of the most crime-ridden NYPD precincts in Brooklyn, where bad cops are sent to live out their careers and rookie cops with no connections are stationed. Mr. Dale will play Bobby Bonelli, who is new to the police precinct and fresh out of the academy, where he was tops in his class.

Mr. Dale most recently co-starred in Martin Scorsese’s “The Departed.” His TV credits include Fox’s “24.”

“Jezebel,” from Regency TV and “Gilmore Girls” creator Amy Sherman-Palladino, revolves around two estranged sisters who reunite after one of them, Coco, agrees to carry the baby of the other one, Sarah. Mr. Cohen will play Marcus, a charming confirmed bachelor whose relationship with Sarah is all about nice dinners, fancy drinks and sex. The actor most recently co-starred on NBC’s “Law & Order: Trial By Jury.”

On “Heroes,” NBC’s superhero drama, Mr. Roberts (brother of actress Julia Roberts) will play Thompson, a new associate of Claire’s father H.R.G. (Jack Coleman). Mr. Roberts joins another new addition to the “Heroes” cast, Christopher Eccleston, who made his debut as invisible man Claude on Monday’s episode.

Mr. Roberts, who co-starred on ABC’s “Less Than Perfect,” will next be seen in the miniseries “Pandemic.”

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

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