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Hippodrome: The Next Apollo?

Reid, who built the Petersburg studio seven years ago, plans to move the television operation to Richmond once the renovations are complete in about a year. In partnership with TV One, where Reid is senior executive supervising producer, the Hippodrome will become a live studio for the national network. In addition, New Millennium Television will build a postproduction facility adjacent to the Hippodrome in the old Elk’s Lodge, says Randall Williams, president of New Millennium Television.

“We’re at the final point in this,” Williams says of the financing, the most critical piece of the puzzle. “We have received a letter of intent from the bank.”

The project should be a boon for Jackson Ward and the city. On the heels of TV One, which launched in eight cities last month, New Millennium will be in a powerful position to gain exposure for Richmond and the Hippodrome. Reid is a senior executive at TV One, with considerable influence over the network’s programming.

TV One, which targets higher-income black audiences, plans to grow to 12 million viewers by end of this year (adding about three cities a month). And the Hippodrome, with the capacity to seat more than 1,000, offers a rich historical backdrop for the network. From the 1930s to 1950s, the theater was a centerpiece for Jackson Ward, then known as the “Harlem of the South,” where Lena Horne, Cab Calloway, Billie Holiday and Nat “King” Cole played early in their careers.

Among the new programs planned for the Hippodrome, Williams says, is “Straight from the Hipp,” a variety talent show drawing from local musicians and artists similar to the famous “Live at the Apollo.”

Other shows expected to be filmed and produced at the Hippodrome for TV One would be similar to “Chappelle’s Show” on Comedy Central, a humor-variety program that stars comedian Dave Chappelle, and “MTV Unplugged,” a series of concerts featuring pop artists in a stripped-down setting with acoustic instruments.

Once the financing closes, Stallings says the Hippodrome should take about a year to complete and could be open for business by February 2005. In addition to being a production studio for TV One, it will also host concerts and theatrical productions and include a dining facility. The adjacent production facility will open six months later.

“This should bring a lot of attention to Jackson Ward,” says Stallings, who also is pitching a new show for TV One. The show would feature Stallings as a developer who renovates old houses in places such as Richmond, Baltimore and Memphis … la “This Old House,” the home-improvement show on PBS.

“There would be major exposure,” Stallings says. — Scott Bass

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