Tae-Bo sweeps Hollywood -- Find out why Billy Banks seems to be all over your television

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It was a promotional knockout. Tae-Bo, the Uberworkout created by martial artist Billy Blanks, is the hottest exercise craze in the country. So it was no shock seeing Blanks talking up his sweat-fest on The View, Leeza, Howie Mandel, and Oprah last month. But how did the fitness guru, who made a name for himself in low-budget karate flicks, score his biggest PR coup: a veritable in-show ad on an episode of ER?

According to Blanks, the scene — in which he offers med student Lucy (Kellie Martin) classes at 5:30 a.m. to fit her busy schedule — was hatched after ER‘s producers contacted him about using the trademarked Tae-Bo name in an episode. Martin, a self-professed Tae-Bo disciple, says she encouraged her producers to offer Blanks the cameo to keep it authentic — which is how it came off: ”We’ve gotten calls [at his Sherman Oaks, Calif., studio] for early classes that don’t exist,” says Blanks. ”People have to realize that we were working off a script.”

ER producers decline to comment on why the show pushed the craze. But it’s not that unusual, considering the mania for Tae-Bo. Sales of the workout tapes have reached an estimated $60 million since last August, and Blanks is expected to sign a $1.5 million deal with Bantam Books soon. Meanwhile, stars like Cuba Gooding Jr., Brooke Shields, Brandy, Carmen Electra, and Sinbad can be seen on line to get into Blanks’ gym. ”He’s got a gold mine,” says Martin.

For his next move, Blanks wants to do ”an Arnold Schwarzenegger-Jean-Claude Van Damme type of action-hero movie. I want people to see me and say ‘Hey, I work out with that guy.”’

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