Comedy Central Again Steals 'South Park' Thunder

By Lisa de Moraes
Friday, April 14, 2006

Comedy Central has gone all cautious and timid again, this time banning an image of Muhammad from an episode of its irreverent cartoon series "South Park," citing "recent world events."

Just last month, the cable network pulled a rerun of an episode in which creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker took on Scientology, citing "events of earlier this week."

The most recent cave-ola occurred during this week's denouement of a two-part episode called "Cartoon Wars." In it, Stone and Parker addressed the violence that erupted over cartoons featuring images of Muhammad that first appeared in a Danish newspaper. Representations of the prophet are banned by most schools of Islamic thought.

Weeks ago, when they were mulling the episode on this subject, Cowardly Central told Parker and Stone they could not run an image of Muhammad on the network.

Ironically, about five years ago, "South Park" did just that. That episode was called "The Super Best Friends" and in it Jesus and his Super Best Friends -- including Muhammad, Krishna, Buddha, Joseph Smith, Laotzu and Moses -- took on the church of Blaintology, founded by David Blaine, the street magician who is a sweeps special staple of ABC.

Of course that episode ran before the Sept. 11, 2001, al-Qaeda attacks in Manhattan and Virginia.

In Wednesday telecast of the two-parter, South Park moppet Kyle tries to persuade a Fox broadcast network executive to air, uncensored, an episode of its animated series "Family Guy" featuring an image of Muhammad.("Family Guy" was, you need to know, standing in for Parker and Stone's own show to make the point.)

Meanwhile, South Park's residents have gathered to figure out how to save themselves from the wrath of radical Muslims in the wake of the "Family Guy" broadcast.

When a pundit suggests they all bury their heads in the sand so the extremists will know they were not watching the episode, one citizen dares speak out:

Freedom of speech is at stake here, don't you all see? If anything, we should all make cartoons of Muhammad and show the terrorists and the extremists that we are all united in the belief that every person has a right to say what they want.

Look, people, it's been really easy for us to stand up for free speech lately. For the past few decades, we haven't had to risk anything to defend it. One of those times is right now. And if we aren't willing to risk what we have now, then we just believe in free speech, but won't defend it.

The Fox suit decides to stand up for free speech and show the episode. But at the point at which "South Park" viewers should have seen Muhammad handing a football helmet to one of the toons of "Family Guy," the screen went black and on that was the message:

"Comedy Central has refused to broadcast an image of Muhammad on their network."

Yesterday the network said in a prepared statement when called by The TV Column, "In light of recent world events we feel we made the right decision." A Comedy Central spokesman declined to elaborate.

In Wednesday's "South Park," after the "Family Guy" episode airs, al-Qaeda responds with its own cartoon. It involves the president of the United States, the American flag, Jesus and pooping.

In an interview with the Associated Press, William Donohue of the conservative Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights -- who totally didn't get the point -- went after Parker and Stone over the Jesus bit, but not Comedy Central.

"Like little whores, they'll sit there and grab the bucks. They'll sit there and they'll whine and they'll take their shot at Jesus," he said.

Stone and Parker did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

It's the second time in recent weeks that Comedy Central has lost its nerve over this show.

Last month, the network yanked a rerun of an episode that poked fun at Scientology and its most prominent celebrity member, Tom Cruise.

Several days before it was scheduled to air, Isaac Hayes asked to be let out of his contract providing the voice of Chef on the edgy animated series, because he had just noticed that the cartoon series about four precocious potty-mouthed fourth graders in South Park, Colo., makes fun of religious groups.

Stone and Parker fired back in interviews, saying the surprise resignation of Hayes, who had voiced Chef since 1997, had 100 percent to do with Hayes being a Scientologist and the upcoming episode rerun.

A couple of days later, when viewers tuned in to see "Trapped in the Closet," it wasn't there.

Comedy Central said the next day it had decided to pull the episode because "in light of the events of earlier this week, we wanted to give Chef an appropriate tribute by airing two episodes he is most known for."

This, naturally, led to rampant speculation that the episode had been pulled, and Hayes had resigned, because someone speaking for Tom Cruise had let Viacom -- which owns both Comedy Central and Paramount Pictures -- know he was unhappy the episode was about to be rerun. Cruise at the time was out promoting Paramount's upcoming expensive flick "Mission: Impossible III."

That wasn't the first time Comedy Central got squeamish over an episode of "South Park" that addressed religion. Last year the basic cable network yanked the rerun of an episode called "Bloody Mary," featuring a menstruating Virgin Mary statue, when Donohue's faction objected.

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