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‘Def’ players taking root at HBO

Cabler pacts with Simmons, Lathan

HBO is taking another stride into the multiplatform universe, striking an overall production deal with Russell Simmons and Stan Lathan.

Pact calls for the pair to develop scripted series and comedy specials in addition to exclusive content for new media.

First project to go forward is series pilot “The Unsuccessful Thug,” a comedy from Mike Epps about a small-time criminal’s transition into standup comedy (Daily Variety, March 16). Production begins shortly.

Simmons-Lathan deal comes less than a month after HBO signed comedian Dane Cook to a similar multifaceted production agreement that includes exclusive content for emerging platforms (Daily Variety, March 2).

HBO has a longstanding relationship with Simmons and Lathan, collaborating first in 1989 on “Def Comedy Jam.” Duo also continue to produce “Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry,” which debuted in 2001 and returns with new episodes later this year.

Simmons and Lathan’s Simmons Lathan Media Group will exec produce all projects developed under the deal.

“HBO has allowed us the freedom to knock down doors and have supported us in creative ventures that would not have seen the light of day anywhere else in Hollywood,” Simmons said.

Pair exec produce the MTV docusoap “Run’s House,” which received a second-season pickup last fall. Pair also run video-on-demand service Def On Demand, which launched in Comcast’s Urban Beat VOD area in November.