On 'South Park,' a Chef Who's Not Toast

Chef loses the sneeze shield -- but what about the voice? -- in the
Chef loses the sneeze shield -- but what about the voice? -- in the "South Park" season premiere. (Comedy Central)
By Lisa de Moraes
Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Still basking in the boffo ratings generated by the controversy surrounding the yanked "South Park" episode that skewered Tom Cruise and Scientology, Comedy Central announced yesterday that the show's 10th-season kickoff tomorrow night will be all about Chef.

The character of Jerome "Chef" McElroy was at the eye of the storm last week when Isaac Hayes, who has given voice to the advice-dispensing school cook since the show debuted in 1997, announced last week he wanted out of his contract because he'd just noticed the show mocks religion.

(Apparently he'd forgotten that just last January he'd told the New York Daily News that he loved the "humor" and "audacity" of show creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker. "Nobody is exempt from their humor," he said. "They're equal-opportunity offenders. Don't be offended by it. If you take it too seriously, you have problems.")

Stone and Parker swiftly retaliated, noting that Hayes had never had any problems in nearly 10 years cashing his "South Park" checks.

They declared in the news media and on late-night television that Hayes being shocked -- shocked -- to discover there was satire going on in "South Park" was really all about the fact that the animated series in November had done an episode savaging the Church of Scientology, of which Hayes is a member.

(So is Tom Cruise, who also was lampooned in the episode and who, as you are reading this, is out promoting "Mission: Impossible III," a flick produced at no small expense by Paramount. A division of Viacom under Chief Executive Tom Freston, by the way. As is Comedy Central. Small world, isn't it?)

Comedy Central was going to rerun that episode last Wednesday night but pulled it without warning. Which must have ticked off the nearly 2 million people who tuned in to see it -- more than double the show's audience the previous two nights.

While other animated shows take months to create, the producers of "South Park" can churn out an episode in days, enabling Parker and Stone to jump on current events. Their "Christmas in Canada" episode, depicting the capture of Saddam Hussein, aired three days after his arrest by U.S. forces, Wikipedia notes.

In tomorrow night's season debut, the little Colorado town is jolted out of a case of the doldrums when Chef suddenly reappears, Comedy Central announced yesterday.

The four potty-mouth half-pints of South Park -- Stan, Kyle, Kenny and Cartman -- are thrilled to have their old friend back but they notice that something about Chef "seems different," the network says, without elaborating. When Chef finds himself in trouble thanks to his new ways, "the boys pull out all the stops to save him," the network said.

Having had our chains yanked last Wednesday by the suits at Comedy Central, do they actually think they can get us to tune in tomorrow night with such an obvious ploy?


* * *

Washington's most adorable couple, James Carville and Mary Matalin, are taking their nails-on-chalkboard routine to cable's chick network Lifetime, where they will star in a reality series called "Election" -- just like the Reese Witherspoon flick.

Jamary will counsel real candidates running for class president at a high school in the Washington area; their antics will be filmed for the series, Time magazine reports.

Even nonpolitical types may remember Jamary for their tour de force scenery-chewing on "K Street," HBO's short-lived docufiction series. While it generally was regarded as a failure, "K Street" nonetheless generated about 2 million viewers a week on the pay-cable network in 2003, when HBO was in about 30 percent of the country's TV homes.

Lifetime is averaging about 1.5 million viewers in prime time this year, and it's available in a lot more homes.

Carville, who helped orchestrate Bill Clinton's winning 1992 campaign, and Matalin, a longtime adviser to Dick "Deadeye" Cheney, also have hosted shows on CNN and CNBC.

In the Time report, Matalin says cutely that she doesn't think there will be a media campaign for this student election. Carville adds puckishly that the trick for a 61-year-old dealing with 16-year-olds is getting them to listen to a word you say, adding that he is remarkably unsuccessful with his own kids.

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