NAT'L CHRISTMAS TREE LIGHTING Biden's First Tree Cost You $139K ... Live Audience Returns!!!

President Biden's first National Christmas Tree Lighting is going to be more lively than Donald Trump's last one ... but bringing back a live audience is gonna cost taxpayers a bundle.

According to federal docs, obtained by TMZ, the National Park Service shelled out $139,000 to a company in Ohio to locate, transport and transplant this year's National Christmas Tree just outside the White House.

The feds got a jump on their holiday shopping, signing the tree contract back in September. BTW, the last pre-pandemic National Tree, in 2019, set us back just over $160k -- so, the government actually can spend less!!! Talk about Christmas miracles.

After a virtual tree lighting ceremony in 2020 during the height of the pandemic, it looks like things are getting back to normal with a live audience this year ... and that means another big bill.

The docs show the National Park Service dropped an additional $171,000 on "event support" for the 2021 National Christmas Tree Lighting Festivities.

The official ceremony and lighting is set for Dec. 2 ... and LL Cool J is hosting, with holiday music from Billy Porter, Chris Stapleton, H.E.R., Juanes, Keb' Mo', Kristin Chenoweth, Maren Morris, and Patti LaBelle.

On a smaller scale, the White House also spent $41k on holiday decorations for the Eisenhower building and Jackson Place.

The holidays ... never cheap.

Joel McHale Alleged Doc on Don Lewis Doesn't Exonerate Carole Baskin!!!

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Joel McHale knows a thing or two about 'Tiger King' -- and he also knows this ... just because Carole Baskin's husband might still be alive, she's not totally off the hook.

We got the comedian/actor at LAX and asked him about this big revelation in the 'TK' sequel -- namely, what the documentary asserts is a legit form from the Dept. of Homeland Security that alleges Don Lewis is actually alive in Costa Rica. Not just that ... but apparently he's chillin'!

Our camera guy asks what a lot of people thought when they saw this ... that Carole has been vindicated from all the claims of having something to do with his disappearance/presumed death.

Joel -- who hosted the original 'Tiger King' post-show special -- says not so fast ... as he sees this in a different light, and actually convinced our photog to come on over to his side.

Check it out ... Joel says that if this document is legit -- and if DL is, in fact, alive in CR -- then it's still a harsh indictment of Carole, especially if she's known about it all along.

Now, in Carole's defense ... she seemed to know nothing about this alleged DHS form -- and has maintained since the beginning ... she did her part in trying to find Don, and had absolutely nothing to do with his disappearance in the '90s.

The former 'Soup' host thinks this doesn't really paint her in that fond of a light. And, he even has suspicions about how the guy could've remained missing for so long if he is actually out there somewhere.

BTW, he isn't saying Carole deserves any sort of retribution -- but he does insist this latest development wouldn't make her any kinda saint.

To be continued, we're sure!

Stars and Scars You Be the Judge

Kanye's not givin' up on love, and he's counting on God for Kim to see it his way ... And some big verdicts this week. So, we gotta ask ...

Kanye And Kim Will Get Back Together ...

Ahmaud Arbery Verdict

Kyle Rittenhouse Verdict ...

Britney Will Reconcile With Jamie ...

Britney Will Reconcile With Jamie Lynn ...

LeBron Elbowing Isaiah Stewart ...

Who Ya Got?

Travis Scott's Career Post-Astroworld ...

Matthew McConaughey For TX Guv ...

Dwyane Wade Heat Will Retire Haslem's Jersey ... Only A Matter Of Time

BALL TALK
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Should the Miami Heat retire Udonis Haslem's jersey??

Dwayne Wade says it's a matter of when, not if -- telling TMZ Sports he knows his former teammate's jersey will hang from the rafters in Miami one day.

Haslem -- who was drafted by Miami in 2002 -- has spent his entire career with the org ... and is considered a Heat legend for the longevity he has with the team.

Of course, D-Wade and Haslem have a strong bond -- the two played together for the Heat franchise for a number of years ... winning 3 championships in that span.

UD postponed retiring this past offseason and signed on with the Heat for year 19 ... and even though the veteran doesn't see much playing time these days, his impact on the sideline and locker room is certainly felt by the players.

As for Wade -- who was in New York for the release of his new book "Dwyane" -- we asked him if he had any advice for players on the Phoenix Suns ... whose owner -- Robert Sarver -- has been embroiled in allegations of racism and misogyny.

"You know, I'm in ownership now," the Utah Jazz part-owner said. "I don't comment on other teams."

The dude's learning the ropes with his new gig pretty quickly!!

Feast Your Eyes On These Fall Hot Shots Guess Who!

Hollywood is cooking up more than dry turkeys and soupy mash potatoes ... Los Angeles has been roasting social media with some grade-A sexiness for you to feast your eyes on.

Stars like Kourtney Kardashian, Heidi Klum and Vanessa Hudgens have all whipped up some hungry content with their fit figures as the main course just waiting for you to sink your teeth into ... and while you're indulging in the trimmings try to guess the celebs behind the hot shots.

If you're still not satisfied try some of the sides getting fished out by Ed Westwick, Kara Del Toro or Paulina Gretzky.

Delish.

Dallas Jenkins My Jesus Show is a Modern Take ... Just the Ticket for COVID!!!

FRESH TAKE ON FAITH
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Dallas Jenkins says his show about Jesus isn't the same old, same old we've seen done time and again -- and as Christmas nears ... his latest installment might just be what everyone needs as we exit the pandemic.

We talked to the TV producer -- who's the EP of 'The Chosen,' which gives a modern take on Jesus' journeys -- and he tells us why he thinks his latest holiday special spinoff, 'Christmas with the Chosen: The Messengers,' is going to resonate with audiences.

First off, he acknowledges a lot of people have turned to religion during the pandemic -- plus everything else we've been through as a society over the past year-plus ... and his series is perfect for scooping those folks up and bringing them on an entertaining, spiritual journey.

As DJ explains ... he thinks the neat thing about Jesus, specifically, is that getting onboard with him is more about building a relationship and less about the institution of religion itself -- something that seems to come through on 'The Chosen,' which has been on since 2017.

Speaking of his show -- you might've heard about it ... it's very modern, in the sense that it plays like a comedy-drama from a major network -- and JC isn't portrayed as lily white stiff.

Dallas says that's for a reason ... watch, he breaks it down in biblical terms -- but it's very relatable to the common man. Anyway, the Christmas special hits theaters Dec. 1st!

What's The Big Frigin' Difference?

Don't let these two almost identical images of Sara Bareilles, Renee Elise Goldsberry, Paula Pell, and Busy Philipps parade you away! Grab your warmest coat as you try to avoid falling for all the sneaky switches!

The group of celebrity personalities were seen bundled up at rehearsals in New York City this past week as they prepared for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade ... and we have made a few changes to the original pic! March forward and be thankful for your talent to find the differences between these two super similar snaps!

**HINT -- There are THREE differences in the above photographs!**

Stephen Sondheim Broadway Legend, Songwriter, Composer Dies

Broadway legend Stephen Sondheim, famous for his song writing and music compositions, has died.

Stephen died Friday at his home in Roxbury, CT ... according to a New York Times report citing his lawyer, F. Richard Pappas.

The cause of death is currently unclear ... but it sounds sudden, because Stephen's lawyer says he had celebrated Thanksgiving dinner with his friends in the area.

Simply put, Stephen is the godfather of the American musical ... writing lyrics for famous plays like "West Side Story" plus "Follies," "Into The Woods," "Pacific Overtures," "Sweeney Todd," "Company," "A Little Night Music," "Merrily We Roll Along," "Sunday in the Park With George," "Passion," "Assassins" and "Gypsy."

Stephen's decorated Broadway career includes three Tony awards, a lifetime achievement award from the Kennedy Center and a Presidential Medal of Freedom from Barack Obama.

In addition, his name now adorns the famous Broadway house in New York City formerly known as Henry Miller's Theater.

Stephen celebrated his 90th birthday in March 2020, but the pandemic postponed a Broadway revival of his famous "Company" ... though he was later honored by Broadway performers singing his famous songs.

SS recently got some movie love ... he's portrayed in the new Lin-Manuel Miranda movie "Tick, Tick...Boom!" which just dropped this week on Netflix ... with Bradley Whitford playing the role.

Stephen was 91.

RIP

North Carolina Mall Shooting Gunshots Send Shoppers Running ... Scary Black Friday

FLEEING THE SCENE

Gunshots rang out at a shopping mall in North Carolina, sending Black Friday shoppers running for their lives ... and leaving multiple people injured.

The shooting went down at Southpoint Mall in Durham, N.C. ... where police say 3 people were struck by gunfire.

Naturally, the mall was super packed with folks coming through for Black Friday deals ... and the hail of bullets resulted in chaos, with people scrambling for cover as a stampede broke out.

A local reporter also captured video outside the mall, showing throngs of shoppers booking it to their cars to try to get the hell outta Dodge.

Police say one person is in custody, though others involved in the shooting managed to flee the scene. Cops say there is no active shooting threat.

Nevertheless, police are urging people to steer clear of the mall ... and the shopping center is closing up shop for the rest of the day.

Former 'X Factor' Star Thomas Wells Dead at 46

Thomas Wells, famous for singing on a ton of talent competition shows including 'X Factor,' is dead ... TMZ has learned.

Thomas died earlier this month following an accident while working on the job at a tire manufacturing plant in Oklahoma ... according to his wife, Jessica Wells.

We're told part of Thomas' body was caught in a machine, described to us as an automatic conveyer belt type of machine which did not stop, and he was rushed to a nearby hospital in Idabel, OK.

Thomas' wife says he was then airlifted to a bigger hospital in Tyler, Texas ... because doctors thought specialists in Tyler might be able to help him.

Ultimately, we're told Thomas died in the hospital in Tyler back on November 13.

You may have seen Thomas singing his heart out on TV ... he appeared on "America's Got Talent" as well as "The Voice" and "The Winner Is" ... in addition to 'X Factor.'

Thomas got into music at an early age, teaching himself to play instruments by ear and singing choir at church and in school in Oklahoma. He mostly sang hymns and contemporary music.

His wife of 17 years is remembering him as a unique person who always had a smile on his face and tried to make people laugh. She says he would sometimes bust out singing and didn't mind the spotlight.

Thomas was 46.

RIP

Alec Baldwin Lawyering Up Over 'Rust' Shooting ... Ready To Fight Civil Suits

Alec Baldwin is preparing for legal war ... hiring a lawyer for the civil lawsuits resulting from the fatal "Rust" movie shooting.

The "Rust" star and producer is lawyering up with Aaron S. Dyer of Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman ... according to multiple reports.

Dyer, who spent almost seven years as a federal prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles, will reportedly rep Alec plus Rust Movie Productions and the other production companies involved in the western.

As you know ... Alec pulled the trigger in the fatal shooting on set last month that killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and injured director Joel Souza.

The revolver was loaded with at least one live round ... though assistant director Dave Halls announced it was a "cold" gun -- meaning no live ammo -- before handing it over to Alec inside a church where they were practicing for a scene.

10/30/21
"SHE WAS MY FRIEND"
BACKGRID

TMZ broke the story ... the key gaffer on "Rust" is already taking legal action against Alec, Halls and armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed ... Serge Svetnoy is suing over the shooting, claiming the defendants' alleged negligence caused him severe emotional distress.

Remember ... Svetnoy claims the deadly bullet nearly hit him too, and says he was one of the first people who tended to Halyna while she was bleeding from her gunshot wound, trying to comfort her and keep her conscious.

Alec is also named in another suit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court by script supervisor Mamie Mitchell, who claims she suffered emotional and physical injuries when AB shot Halyna.

All eyes are now on Halyna's family ... as they have yet to file suit.

Channing Tatum Who Wants My Kid's Lemonade ... Zooey Deschanel Does!!!

BUSINESS IS BOOMING
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Channing Tatum is logging some quality time with his daughter ... selling lemonade by the side of the road and serving a very famous customer in Zooey Deschanel!!!

The "Magic Mike" star helped his little girl, Everly, open a lemonade stand Friday in Los Angeles ... wrangling in customers with some homemade signs and balloons.

Channing and Everly, who he shares with estranged wife Jenna Dewan, are calling the pop-up stand Evie's Lemies ... and daddy was dancing around and twirling their painted yellow and purple sign.

The dude's got skills ... Channing's sign-twirling looks like it caught Zooey's eye ... the actress stopped by for some fresh lemonade with her boyfriend, "Property Brothers" star Jonathan Scott.

TMZ broke the story ... Channing and Jenna finally worked out a parenting schedule in February 2020, putting an end to one of the nastier parts of their divorce, and they alternate holidays.

Jenna had Everly on Thanksgiving, and now Channing's getting his turn for some family fun.

Ye 'Memba This Kiss, Kim?!? Talks Alcohol, Mental Health & MAGA in Prayer

Ye is putting on a full-court, very public press to patch things up with his currently estranged wife, Kim Kardashian -- he's using old photos, and confessing to his failures as a husband ... all in hopes of getting her back.

The man formerly known as Kanye West is feeling some sorta way about an old pic of himself and the missus kissing -- he posted the black and white image on his IG story Friday morning. We'll get back to that in a moment, but he did something else extraordinary on his social media.

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Ye posted what he called his Thanksgiving prayer on Thursday evening. He warned it would be "super super super super super long," and then over 5 minutes he confessed to drinking too much, letting his ego and temper get the best of him and even to being a "self-righteous Christian."

In the earnest speech he goes back and forth between jokingly poking fun at himself -- "I was arrogant with my Jesus. Like I had just got me some Jesus at the Gucci store with a stimulus check" -- to dead serious.

Ye admitted, "Good Lord, my wife did not like me wearing the red [MAGA] hat. Being a good wife, she just wanted to protect me and our family. I made me and our family a target by not aligning with Hollywood's political stance, and that was hard for our marriage."

The earnest and revealing prayer came one day after he publicly declared God would help him and Kim come back together.

As we previously reported, Ye stopped by the L.A. Mission on Wednesday, and grabbed a mic to let everyone know he was keeping faith that God will help repair things between Kim and himself. In fact, Ye attached our headline from that story to his posting of the old kissing shot.

As for that B&W pic? It dates all the way back to September 2019, when Kimye and their kids had taken a family vacay to the Bahamas. Kim posted it back then but, mysteriously, deleted it moments later. Clearly, Ye did not delete it from his memory.

Of course, Mr. West's pining for his wife comes just as she's feeling more and more at ease with Pete Davidson in public. Earlier this week, they were spotted at dinner in Santa Monica ... where Pete was sporting a hickey on his neck.

Kanye has been linked to Irina Shayk and 22-year-old model Vinetria since Kim filed for divorce in February -- but right now he seems laser-focused on saving the marriage.

Cowboys Game Brawl Women Throw Down at Concession Stand ... Nacho Fast, Bitch!!!

CONCESSION CALAMITY

The penalties in the Raiders-Cowboys game were nothing compared to what went down at a concession stand -- at least 3 women throwing, and landing, big punches in an ugly brawl.

So much for all that Thanksgiving spirit crap ... these ladies clearly checked theirs at the door Thursday when they entered AT&T Stadium. From the video, all we can tell is something or someone pissed off a female staffer serving refreshments ... because she hurled herself over the counter, ready to fight.

Unfortunately for her, the floor was covered in nachos, so she slipped down ... giving her opponent a chance to punch her square in the face!!! Ball caps and the combatants' long hair went flying.

As the fight raged on, at least one other woman and a male concession worker made some feeble attempts to break it up.

Cops tell TMZ ... there was a lot of this sorta thing happening during the game. They made several arrests for intoxication, but it's unclear if either of these women were taken into custody.

11/7/21
CROWD CHAOS
Storyful

Maybe it's overly passionate fans returning to stadiums post-quarantine, or maybe it's fans being overly served ... but we've seen some gnarly fights at NFL games lately. Earlier this month a Titans fan was hurled down several rows at SoFi Stadium during a wild brawl at a Rams game.

BTW, if you were stuffing your face and missed it ... the Cowboys lost their game in OT. So, it's a good bet there were more pissed-off fans fighting in the parking lot.

'WHERE WE BOUT TO EAT AT' Kid Mom Wants To Honor Him With Restaurant!!!

Antwain Fowler -- the viral kiddo who famously asked "where we bout to eat at?" -- could soon have a restaurant opened in his honor ... that's the big plan from the late kid's mother.

Christina Burns, Antwain's mother, tells TMZ ... his GoFundMe was created in March during one of his many stays in the hospital and it's now raised $72,000, with $22k being donated since he passed away on Sunday. She wants to put the money towards keeping his legacy alive, in the form of a restaurant called, "Where We Bout To Eat At."

Antwain's mom says the $22k raised in the past few days will be put towards kickstarting the business, with the other $50k helping pay off Antwain's hospital bills and other family expenses. Christina says she will help create the menu, but needs help managing the other aspects of a restaurant. The menu will be versatile with seafood, chicken and other grub -- so you won't have to look much further when you're asked "where we bout to eat at?"

The viral sensation had a ton of catchphrases, which will be reflected on the menu ... for example, Antwain's mom is already planning some "You Have Cheese Like Me" mozzarella sticks.

After Antwain went viral, his mom says she tried starting a seafood truck biz ... but after mapping things out, she just didn't have the time to commit to getting the biz up and running because she was busy taking care of him and her other 3 children.

As we reported ... Antwain died Nov. 21 after fighting a rare autoimmune deficiency his mother says caused him to be consistently in and out of the hospital ever since he was 4 months old. He was only 6.

His mom is shedding more light on his death ... she says Antwain was home when she heard his ventilator sounding off an alarm. Typically, Antwain alerts his family when he's experiencing pain or has trouble breathing, but this time he was silent.

Antwain's mom says police and an ambulance responded to their home and attempted to resuscitate him, but had no luck ... he was taken to a hospital where doctors fought to keep him alive, but were ultimately unable to.

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A week before he passed, Christina says Antwain was having the time of his life at a local ice cream shop in Miami. COVID made it difficult for Antwain to socialize, but the shop made special accommodations for him and he couldn't wipe the smile off his face.

COVID Pandemic New Variant Could Make Vaccine 40% Less Effective ... President Biden Acts

11:14 AM PT -- President Biden looks like he's taking the new COVID variant seriously ... because he's restricting travel from countries in the area where the new strain is cropping up.

Biden will restrict travel, starting Monday, from 8 African nations ... most notably, South Africa. Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Namibia, Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe are also on the list, according to CNN.

POTUS, who was briefed Friday on the new variant, is reportedly acting on advice from Dr. Anthony Fauci and the CDC.

Bad news -- possibly REALLY bad news -- there's a new COVID variant that has some countries in a panic ... a variant that may make the vaccine WAY less effective.

The new strain turned up in South Africa, but it's also been detected in Belgium, Botswana, Hong Kong and Israel. As everyone knows by now, this virus knows no boundaries, so it's become a concern worldwide.

Some scientists are saying the variant makes the vaccine 40% less effective, which is beyond alarming. The hope was the Delta variant would wane after the first few months of 2022 and the pandemic would be behind us, but this new strain poses a real threat.

A bunch of countries -- including Britain, Israel, Germany and Italy -- have banned flights from South Africa, but the U.S. is still allowing planes from that country to land here. The U.S. has still listed South Africa as "Level 1: Low Level of COVID-19."

Dr. Eric Feigle-Ding sounded the alarm in a tweet -- "My god—the new #B11259 variant being possibly ~500% more competitively infectious is the most staggering stat yet. Also, #NuVariant has more than >2x the number of bad spike mutations than Delta." Scary.

Short story ... there's concern this strain spreads way more easily than what we've already seen. That said, it's unclear if the strain is more severe than the strains we've all been dealing with over the last year-and-a-half.

Dr. Fauci says there's no evidence the variant has made its way to the U.S. ... at least not yet.

Originally Published -- 7:53 AM PT

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