Netflix Pulls ‘Chappelle’s Show,' Comes Off Smelling Like a Rose

Dave Chappelle
(Image credit: Dave Chappelle)

Already known as a friendlier place among Hollywood creatives than, well, Hollywood, Netflix seems to have burnished that reputation by doing Dave Chappelle a solid. 

The streaming service, which has paid the comedian $20 million per stand-up special since he signed with it in 2016, has agreed at his request to take down three season's worth of episodes from his old variety series, Chappelle’s Show, which enjoyed a popular run on Comedy Central from 2003-2006. 

“That’s why I like working with Netflix,” Chappelle said in an 18-minute-plus stand-up video posted on his Instagram page, detailing what he believes to be exploitive distribution tactics employed by ViacomCBS, which owns Chappelle’s Show, as well as WarnerMedia, which licenses the series for HBO Max. 

Indeed, Chappelle doesn't seem to be collecting any royalties for a show with still-vital repeats, which he executive produced and starred in. And the comedian has staged a rather clever asymmetrical guerrilla media attack on ViacomCBS to change this.

During his earlier post-election Saturday Night Live hosting appearance on Nov. 7, Chappelle referenced the fact that Netflix and HBO Max were streaming re-runs of Chappelle’s Show, without anyone telling—or paying—him. Chappelle noted that if his great grandfather, a slave, “could see me now, he’d probably be like, ‘This n—- got bought and sold more than I have.’” 

And in his just-posted social media standup special, which was recorded in front of a live audience and titled Unforgiven, Chappelle sheds more light on the latest saga in the long twisting drama of Chappelle’s Show. Let’s just say Hollywood comes off looking, as Chappelle describes it, as the “monster,” while Netlfix is portrayed as the company that “didn’t even exist while all those bad things happened to me.” (Editor’s note: Technically, Netflix was around, but it was only renting DVDs at the time.)

Quick refresher: Chappelle abruptly left his self-titled show in May 2006, shortly after re-upping with the erstwhile Viacom with a $50 million multiyear contract. 

It wasn’t a pretty ending—Chappelle indicated strong regrets about committing his life to long days in corporate media. He was 33 at the time, and he described having other things he wanted to accomplish and figure out.

The tabloids, meanwhile, wildly speculated at the time that he was battling drug addiction and mental illness. 

Jump forward 14 years later, and Chappelle has ascended to George Carlin-like relevancy, lending more than enough credibility to his youthful decision to walk away to South Africa and find himself. 

And ViacomCBS? Well, as Chappelle admits, the conglomerate is perfectly in abidance with the contract the comedian said he signed as a “28-year-old expectant father who was broke” and “desperate” and “needed a way out.”

Chappelle said ViacomCBS didn’t tell him it was selling Chappelle’s Show to Netflix and HBO Max, much less pay him anything to do that. And that’s “perfectly legal,” he said in his video. 

“But is that right?” he added, spiking applause from the crowd.

Since his SNL appearance, Chappelle said he talked to Netflix and told executives that the decision to stream a hit show he claims he was vastly underpaid to have produced and starred in, without receiving royalties, makes him “feel bad.” 

Netflix, he said, quickly agreed to pull the show. “They did something just because I might think they are wrong,” Chappelle said of the streaming service. “If you’re streaming that show, you’re streaming fenced goods.”

Chappelle also extended the fight to WarnerMedia’s HBO, which he said he pitched Chappelle’s Show to in the early 1990s, only to be asked, “Why do we need you?”

WarnerMedia hasn’t yet responded to Next TV’s inquiry as to whether Chappelle’s Show will remain on HBO Max, or if the company has any comment. 

Chappelle, meanwhile, wrapped up his monologue with a plea: “I’m not asking you to boycott a network,” he said. “I’m asking you to boycott me. Boycott Chappelle’s Show.”

He said he’s standing by if anyone at ViacomCBS wants to renegotiate his deal. 

Daniel Frankel

Daniel Frankel is the managing editor of Next TV, an internet publishing vertical focused on the business of video streaming. A Los Angeles-based writer and editor who has covered the media and technology industries for more than two decades, Daniel has worked on staff for publications including E! Online, Electronic Media, Mediaweek, Variety, paidContent and GigaOm. You can start living a healthier life with greater wealth and prosperity by following Daniel on Twitter today!