Showtime is jumping back into the standup comedy business.
After a years-long hiatus in headliner comedy shows, the net has recruited comedian-thesp Dave Chappelle to launch a handful of hourlong specials that recall the cabler’s days as a force in the comedy biz.
Showtime entertainment prexy Robert Greenblatt pointed out that standup comedy used to be the channel’s bread and butter, noting comics such as Tim Allen, Brett Butler, Jon Stewart, Ellen DeGeneres, Denis Leary and Drew Carey got their start on the net.
Pay cabler will premiere three or four specials next year but doesn’t plan to showcase the usual suspects.
“Comedy is an area of special programming that needs some reinventing,” Greenblatt said. “The competition does the big-name headliner thing, so it doesn’t make sense for us to do that as well. We’re going to hand-pick a few up-and-coming comics and present them in a way that hasn’t been seen all over the dial. They’ll be one-man theatrical events.”
He noted the shows would not employ the traditional microphone and brick wall format.
Chappelle is in production for the second season of his Comedy Central sketch series “Chappelle’s Show,” which will premiere in January. Skein’s premiere brought in the Viacom-owned net its best-ever numbers in adults 18-49. He will tape his special live in spring for airing in summer.
“I’m a full-fledged member of the Viacom-family,” Chappelle quipped. “And that’s a been good thing because I’ve tried to do sitcoms, but I could never get my point of view across. Now, I have people who are investing real money in my ideas. That kind of trust is unprecedented for me.”
“Dave’s been around for a few years and he’s a huge success on the road and he’s really about to come into his own,” Greenblatt said. “Most people, once they get a taste of that sitcom bug, they never turn back. Dave has, and he’s still out on the road working his ass off.”
Comic recently completed his sold-out, 60-city “Dave Chappelle is Blackzilla” tour, which racked up $3.5 million in ticket sales.
Chappelle teamed with HBO in 1999 for “Dave Chappelle: Killing Them Softly.” This reps his first project with Showtime.
“I really love doing standup. I know a lot of people in my position who stop doing it because so many opportunities open up,” Chappelle said.
“But I’ve never left it. I’ve been a comedian for more than half my life. And I’m a father now, so I got plenty to talk about.”