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Dave Chappelle inks $50 million deal

Writer-comedian agrees to 2-year contract at Comedy Central
/ Source: Hollywood Reporter

Dave Chappelle has signed a massive deal with Comedy Central that will return the comedian’s hit series to the network for two more seasons.

Sources familiar with the deal indicate it could be worth about $50 million, vaulting Chappelle, 30, into the rarefied realm of television’s top earners. The new contract is believed to mark not only a steep increase for Chappelle as star, writer, co-executive producer and co-creator of “Chappelle’s Show,” but more significantly, reward him with a hefty chunk of the series’ robust DVD sales.

Increasing the pressure on Comedy to close a megadeal with Chappelle was interest from other programmers eager to tap his talents, including NBC Universal Television Group, according to sources, which ultimately deemed Chappelle too expensive. FX is said to have made an eight-figure offer to lure Chappelle to the network, but to no avail.

The deal also has implications beyond Comedy for Chappelle within the network’s parent company, Viacom, sources said. Another component sets up Chappelle with a multimillion-dollar deal at Paramount Pictures to star in an adaptation of the autobiography of Rick James, the funk veteran whom Chappelle has lampooned on “Chappelle’s Show.” He may also be tapped for a different film project.

In addition, the contract is said to establish a development deal for Chappelle’s production company, Pilot Boy Prods., with managing principal Mustafa Abuelhija. The pair already has a project under consideration at Comedy featuring “Chappelle’s Show” contributor Paul Mooney.

Also reaping the benefits of the deal was Chappelle’s longtime partner, Neal Brennan, a director, executive producer, co-creator and writer of the series. While terms of the deal for Brennan were not disclosed, it is one of the richest deals in basic cable for a multihyphenate.

“I knew we could continue at Comedy Central,” Brennan said. “We weren’t thinking of going anywhere else.”

Chappelle, who is vacationing in Paris, was not available for comment.

“Chappelle’s Show” has become an important series for Comedy, scoring a trio of Emmy nominations last month and ranking as the highest-rated cable program for the network’s demographic sweet spot, men 18-34, who comprised much of the 3.1 million total viewers the series averaged in its second season.

The ratings for “Chappelle’s Show” not only held up well in reruns, but boosted other longtime Comedy staples including “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart” and “South Park” — not to mention the network’s strong primetime performance in the first and second quarter of the year.

“Life without ’Chappelle’s Show’ would not have been very bright as far as getting or exceeding those numbers again,” said Lauren Corrao, senior vp original programming and head of development. “It means a great deal to growing our schedule. We’re thrilled to have him back.”

More important, “Chappelle’s Show” has become a juggernaut on DVD, selling 1.7 million units to date of a collection of first-season episodes — the most successful television-related DVD of the year despite minimal marketing.

Chappelle’s original deal reaped barely a fraction of DVD revenues — a source of frustration to the comedian as his second one-year deal with Comedy expired. The new deal cuts Chappelle not only a larger portion of DVD sales — including retroactively to the first and second seasons — but revenue from merchandising and events as well.

As DVD becomes an increasingly lucrative revenue stream for networks and studios, the format is taking a place next to syndication as a crucial deal point for profit participants. In HBO’s contentious renegotiation with “The Sopranos” star James Gandolfini last year, DVD also emerged as a thorny issue.

Combining Chappelle’s DVD take with his per-episode salary (estimated to be in the low-middle six figures) puts him in the league of Gandolfini and fellow Comedy executive producers Matt Stone and Trey Parker of “South Park.” He is also slated to partake of a syndication sale of “Chappelle’s Show,” which may be a remote possibility given the series’ raunchy content.

Chappelle has already turned down an offer to host the upcoming sister network MTV’s Video Music Awards but is said to be considering a second installment of the stand-up special he filmed for another Viacom property, Showtime, that debuts next month.

The first of 26 new episodes of “Chappelle’s Show” is expected to premiere in the first quarter of next year. Each 13-episode season will consist of 10 original episodes, plus two “best-of” episodes and another devoted to music performances.