Comedy Central suits have fired off a popgun in an effort to frighten Dave Chappelle back to the table to talk about the aborted third season of his "Chappelle's Show," announcing that sometime in the second quarter of '06 it will telecast the sketches he shot before pulling a Cat Stevens and dropping out.
"Comedy Central to Premiere Third Season of 'Chappelle's Show' during 2Q 2006," the cable network said yesterday in a news release.
Unfortunately, it contains no other information about the telecast plans for the four episodes' worth of sketches, except that you will be able to get a 21/2-minute "sneak peek" at the material during the network's "Last Laugh '05" on Dec. 11 and, after that, on its new broadband channel, MotherLoad.
"We've tried to get some real definitive response out of Dave and have yet to," Comedy Central chief Doug Herzog told The TV Column about talks to get Chappelle back to work.
He said yesterday's announcement was about Comedy Central trying to find a way to offset the millions it spent this year promoting the launch of a third season that never happened.
"We leave the door wide open for Dave to return at some point," Herzog said, adding, "I don't want to create expectations he's going to; I have no reason to believe he's going to at this point."
"Good call!" says Chappelle spokeswoman Carla Sims. Actually, what she really said was:
"Comedy Central is not going to obtain Dave's return by releasing material that he has not approved or that doesn't meet his standards."
But, she added, "flowers still work."
Late in April, Chappelle vanished from production on the third season of his show, after the network had started to promote it -- to the tune of the millions of dollars to which Herzog alluded.
Chappelle eventually turned up in Durban, South Africa, on what he described to Time magazine as a "spiritual retreat."
Chappelle has said in various interviews that he did not like the direction of the show and decided to take off.
In the Time article, Herzog noted it was the second delay Chappelle had caused in production of the third season. Last December Chappelle, who became a practicing Muslim in the late '90s, tried unsuccessfully to perform the hajj -- a pilgrimage to Mecca.
Chappelle told Time he took that first break because he felt the show had moved from sending up racial stereotypes to reinforcing them.
When he returned, however, that had not changed, according to his writing partner at the time, Neal Brennan. Brennan told Time that Chappelle would like an idea; it would be shot, but Chappelle would then say, "This sketch is racist, and I don't want this on the air."
"He was calling his own writing racist," Brennan said.
Herzog insisted yesterday's announcement was not a ploy to get Chappelle back to the table. "It's not like Dave's Osama bin Laden and we're trying to smoke him out or something," he said.
"We tried to wait for Dave as long as we could. We will see what happens in the next couple weeks. It will not be on the air until well into next year. So we have a lot to figure out between now and then."