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    Chappelle Still a Question Mark

    More than two months after Dave Chappelle disappeared on an impromptu South African spiritual retreat, Comedy Central still has no idea when the top-rated Chappelle's Show will return to the air.

    The third season of the sketch-comedy series was scheduled to debut on May 31, but production on the show was shut down early that month after Chappelle vanished.

    Chappelle surfaced weeks later in South Africa, where he did an interview with Newsweek in which he denied rumors that he had succumbed to either mental illness or drug abuse, but admitted that he was stressed out and unhappy with the creative direction of his show.

    In late May, Chappelle turned up in his hometown of Yellow Springs, Ohio, before heading back to Los Angeles in early June and performing a series of surprise standup routines in area comedy clubs.

    A few days after returning to Los Angeles, Chappelle met with Comedy Central President Doug Herzog in a hotel lobby to talk business.

    Speaking to the Hollywood Reporter Thursday after unveiling his upcoming programming slate to TV critics, Herzog said that he told Chappelle the network was looking forward to welcoming him back, but that the comedian said he needed more time.

    "The ball's in Dave's court," Herzog said. "If you see him, tell him to phone home."

    Under the terms of the $50 million contract Chappelle signed last summer, he's supposedly locked into a production deal with the network through 2006, including a third and fourth season of Chappelle's Show.

    Herzog said earlier that he does not expect the show to return to the air this year.

    Despite losing the network's top show, Herzog said Comedy Central's ratings were actually up a bit--but not as high as they would be with Chappelle's irreverent humor on board.

    "We didn't go backward without him, which was a great fear," Herzog told the Reporter. "It's no question that [the ratings] would be much better with Dave Chappelle."

    Since no new episodes of Chappelle's Show have aired since 2004, the series was absent from this year's Emmy nominations. However, Chappelle picked up an Emmy bid for his Showtime special Dave Chappelle: For What It's Worth, which was nominated in the Best Variety Special category.

    Meanwhile, in the absence of Chappelle's Show, DVDs of the series' first and second seasons have been flying off the shelves as fans get their fix the only way they can.

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