NEW YORK: When the first of the final three episodes of Chappelle's Show debuts on Sunday, it will do so without its eponymous star.
While Comedy Central faces the difficult position of marketing a marquee show without Dave Chappelle, Tony Fox, EVP of corporate communications at Comedy Central and Spike TV, said that it would not negatively affect its core PR strategy.
As exhaustively reported in the past year, David Chappelle famously left the set of his show when he started to feel the racially-tinged jokes he performed weren't attracting the type of laughter he wanted. He has subsequently disavowed "ownership" of the sketches. Fox admits that the abrupt departure – and Chappelle's hand wringing to the media – has only boosted interest.
"The fact that there was so much attention not only when [Dave left], but when it was successfully airing, created an enormous awareness," Fox said. "There's a natural curiosity to view the new shows."
Actors Charlie Murphy and Donnell Rawlings and co-creator and head writer Neil Brennan have stepped in for Chappelle to talk about the show with the media.
Fox especially praised Brennan for stepping up as a spokesperson for the show.
"Neil didn't try to talk about Dave [and his leaving]; he talked about how proud he is of the shows," Fox said, adding that Brennan wanted to offer a contrast to Chappelle's desire to not stand behind the work. "Neil felt the quality of the sketches was equal to that of the previous work. He wanted to get out there and set the record straight per his point of view."
The media attention was so palpable, that Fox said the channel only sent out one episode to reviewers very close to the airing date.
"The news value was built in, and we wanted to leave the media and public wanting more," Fox said.
Fox said that the coverage so far has been both positive and fair.
"I was certainly concerned that we wouldn't get a fair shake," Fox said, imaging a news arc where Comedy Central was portrayed as the corporate behemoth and Dave was the put-upon artist. "Fortunately, we played our card and handled the situation well; we never took pot shots at Dave."
The channel is banking on the success of the final three episodes, using those to launch a new night of Sunday programming. Fox said that the channel had been waiting for a year for constructive dialogue with Chappelle with no progress, so the airing of the final three episodes would likely bring forth a closure to the relationship.