Laff net crying over split star

Comedy Central relocates ads tied to 'Chappelle'

Billboards promoting the third season premiere of “Chappelle’s Show” are still up, just part of the wreckage on Comedy Central caused by Dave Chappelle’s disappearing act.Timing couldn’t have been worse for the cabler, which up until then had been coasting on the ratings and buzz of “Chappelle” repeats and latenight staple “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart.”

Less than 24 hours after the net’s upfront presentation, laffer net’s PR department announced that production on “Chappelle” — slated to debut in less than a month — had been halted. Its star had gone AWOL, later surfacing in South Africa saying he needed “a break.”

All in all, an odd welcome for newly installed ad sales chief Jeff Lucas, a 20-year NBC vet who joined the Comedy Central team on the eve of the upfront. He’s had to work overtime to smooth over the loss. Most of the advertising that had been tied to “Chappelle” has been relocated to other shows, though it’ll be tough to recoup marketing coin pushing the May 31 premiere.

“They’ve probably reduced CPMs and likely have logged some make-good spots. It’s really just an unfortunate situation for them,” one cable ad sales exec speculates.

When advertisers buy during upfront market, they are given ratings guarantees as well as an option not to buy all of the time they agree to purchase. If ratings fall short of those promises, buyers usually get make-good spots and rarely cash back.

“No one thinks their show’s going to implode this close to a launch and for such a reason,” the exec says.

On the programming side, the cabler has readied Plan B. Execs have already told staffers not to anticipate a return of “Chappelle” until 2006, if at all. And net’s gotten a fair amount of attention for its upcoming assault on latenight, greenlighting three from Stephen Colbert, D.L. Hughley and Adam Corolla.

Reno 911!” will fill meanwhile, followed beginning June 28 by frosh series “Stella” at 10:30 p.m.