Chappelle's Show, but not its star, return to Comedy Central

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Chappelle's Show is returning to Comedy Central, but that doesn't mean its star is anytime soon.

The network announced Monday that it will air more episodes of the hit cable series next year using footage shot before Dave Chappelle abandoned the production in May.

But Comedy Central's decision to air the never-before-seen sketches only increases the unlikelihood Chappelle will ever return to complete the third season of the series, the network's president, Doug Herzog, said.

"We have to do this because we have no idea what the future foretells," Herzog said. "He hasn't been able to articulate what he would like to do, so we're moving forward."

Comedy Central first disclosed that it would air more episodes of Chappelle at a taping Sunday night of the upcoming special Comedy Central's Last Laugh '05 in Los Angeles. The production included a two-minute trailer teasing the upcoming episodes.

The trailer also will begin running next week on Comedy Central's new broadband channel, MotherLoad. The new episodes--sources say there was only enough footage to produce four half-hours--won't air in prime time until the second quarter of next year.

That would return Chappelle to Comedy Central about a year after a 13-episode third season was originally intended to bow. Chappelle was first supposed to return in February but was bumped to May amid speculative reports that Chappelle, who also is co-creator and co-executive producer of the series, was suffering from everything from the flu to writer's block.

By the time May rolled around, Comedy Central was forced to admit that the series was postponed indefinitely as more reports surfaced that Chappelle had ventured to Africa and sworn off further involvement with the series for unspecified reasons.

Since May, Comedy Central has futilely attempted to reestablish a dialogue with Chappelle but held off on plans of airing the new episodes in hopes he would return. The network has no plan to pursue legal remedy, though sources indicate Chappelle could conceivably be sued for breach of contract.

Chappelle had signed a contract in August 2004 to do two more seasons of the series for an estimated $50 million. The payout included a significant chunk of DVD sales from the series, which is one of the highest-selling TV discs on the market. Chappelle is still expected to participate in profits derived from the first two seasons, and sources indicate he received a hefty advance prior to starting production on the third season.

Comedy Central warned Chappelle's representatives that the network was moving forward with production on new episodes without the comedian, who had involved himself in every aspect of production in past seasons. The network owns the rights to the footage and could conceivably distribute the episodes on DVD as well, but no determination has been made.

Herzog said Comedy Central will never shut the door on future collaboration with Chappelle.

"We always hold out hope against hope," Herzog said. "We would very much relish the opportunity to be back in real business with Dave."

Neither Chappelle nor his representatives could be reached for comment.

Chappelle lampooned his own newfound wealth in footage seen in the trailer teasing the series. One sketch has Chappelle showing off his home on a faux episode of MTV's Cribs; he is shown cooking a Tyrannosaurus rex egg and sprinkling it with diamond dust.

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