Last night marked the last of three “Lost Episodes” of Chappelle’s Show material filmed before Dave Chappelle’s abrupt departure during production of the show in 2005. And airing the footage may prove to be a big mistake for Comedy Central.
Let’s recap: The third season of Chappelle’s Show was highly anticipated, and probably would have been a huge success for CC and Chappelle regardless of the quality of the material, had it been completed. DVD sales and critical acclaim from the second season led the channel to fork over a highly publicized $50 million check for another helping. Then their star walked out, leaving the channel suddenly without a scheduling cornerstone. More than a year later the channel got its revenge…
The “lost” episodes, aired against Chappelle’s publicly-stated wishes, were cobbled together in an approximation of the sketch show with replacement hosts Charlie Murphy and Donnell Rawlings (Ashy Larry) introducing the bits and making good-natured jokes about Chappelle’s absence. And that’s really what the whole thing was about. The opening credits, which had featured two bluesman playing the show’s one bar theme until it’s namesake walked on camera was replaced. Instead the two old men play for a moment until one comments, “I don’t think he’s coming.” No kidding. And that stale joke (we heard that one a year ago) works as a metaphor for the bulk of the new episodes (especially this one) with the exceptions of this and this (not necessarily office friendly). No wonder Chappelle didn’t want this stuff on national TV.
Now let’s talk strategy. Did CC do the right thing for its business by using the material to bring in some of the lost advertising and sales revenue? Given that Chappelle probably wasn’t coming back anyway, the channel most likely wasn’t concerned with burning him. But they should have been. By airing this footage, CC may have poisoned the well for future talent. The channel of took a half-completed creation from one of its biggest breadwinners and exhibited it for the world against his wishes. And they did that to one of the biggest comedy stars on television. That kind of behavior has got to cause other talent to pause before signing on themselves, especially up-and-comers who hold much less water and probably look up and relate to Chappelle. And on top of that it hyped a weak show, which diminishes its credibility with its audience.
Since the channel has a monopoly on cable TV comedy, the fallout may not be fatal, but burning the talent and disappointing the consumer is no way to run a business.