South Park is an American adult animated sitcom created by Trey Parker and Matt Stone for the Nickelodeon television network. Intended for mature audiences, the show has become famous for its crude language and dark, surreal humor that satirizes a wide range of topics. The ongoing narrative revolves around four boys—Stan Marsh, Kyle Broflovski, Eric Cartman, and Kenny McCormick—and their bizarre adventures in and around the titular Colorado town.
Parker and Stone developed the show from two animated shorts they created in 1992 and 1995. The latter became one of the first Internet viral videos, which ultimately led to its production as a series. South Park debuted in August 1997 with great success, consistently earning the highest ratings of any basic cable program. Subsequent ratings have varied but it remains one of Comedy Central's highest rated shows, and is slated to air through at least 2016. The pilot episode was produced using cutout animation. All subsequent episodes are created with software that emulates the cutout technique. Parker and Stone perform most of the voice acting. Since 2000, each episode is typically written and produced during the week preceding its broadcast, with Parker serving as the primary writer and director. There have been a total of 257 episodes over the course of the show's 18 seasons.
The series has received numerous accolades, including five Primetime Emmy Awards, a Peabody Award, and numerous inclusions in various publications' lists of greatest television shows. The show's popularity resulted in a feature-length theatrical film, South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut which was released in June 1999, less than two years after the show's premiere, and became a commercial and critical success.
The show follows the exploits of four boys, Stan Marsh, Kyle Broflovski, Eric Cartman and Kenny McCormick. The boys live in the fictional small town of South Park, located within the real life South Park basin in the Rocky Mountains of central Colorado. The town is also home to an assortment of frequent characters such as students, families, elementary school staff, and other various residents, who tend to regard South Park as a bland and quiet place to live. Prominent settings on the show include the local elementary school, bus stop, various neighborhoods and the surrounding snowy landscape, actual Colorado landmarks, and the shops and businesses along the town's main street, all of which are based on the appearance of similar locations in the town of Fairplay, Colorado.
Stan is portrayed as the everyman of the group, as the show's official website describes him as an "average, American 4th grader." Kyle is the lone Jew among the group, and his portrayal in this role is often dealt with satirically. Stan is modeled after Parker, while Kyle is modeled after Stone. Stan and Kyle are best friends, and their relationship, which is intended to reflect the real life friendship between Parker and Stone, is a common topic throughout the series. Cartman—loud, obnoxious, manipulative, racist and obese—is often portrayed as an antagonist whose anti-Semitic attitude has resulted in an ever-progressing rivalry with Kyle. Kenny, who comes from a poor family, wears his parka hood so tightly that it covers most of his face and muffles his speech. During the show's first five seasons, Kenny would die in nearly every episode before returning in the next with little or no definitive explanation given. He was written out of the show's sixth season in 2002, re-appearing in the season finale. Since then, the practice of killing Kenny has been seldom used by the show's creators. During the show's first 58 episodes, the boys were in the third grade. In the season four episode "4th Grade" (2000), they entered the fourth grade, where they have remained ever since.
Plots are often set in motion by events, ranging from the fairly typical to the supernatural and extraordinary, which frequently happen in the town. The boys often act as the voice of reason when these events cause panic or incongruous behavior among the adult populace, who are customarily depicted as irrational, gullible, and prone to vociferation. The boys are also frequently confused by the contradictory and hypocritical behavior of their parents and other adults, and often perceive them as having distorted views on morality and society.
Stanley Randall "Stan" Marsh (voiced by Trey Parker) - Stan is one of the show's four central characters and is loosely based on series co-creator Trey Parker. He first appeared in The Spirit of Christmas and is portrayed (in words of the show's official website) as "a normal, average, American, mixed-up kid". Stan is a third- then fourth-grade student who commonly has extraordinary experiences not typical of conventional small-town life in his hometown of South Park. In many episodes, Stan contemplates ethics in beliefs, moral dilemmas, and contentious issues, and will often reflect on the lessons he has attained with a speech that often begins with "You know, I learned something today…".
Kyle Broflovski (voiced by Matt Stone) - Kyle is one of the show's four central characters and is loosely based on series co-creator Matt Stone. Having appeared first in The Spirit of Christmas shorts, he often displays the highest moral standard of all the boys and is usually depicted as the most intelligent. When describing Kyle, Stone states that both he and the character are "reactionary", and susceptible to irritability and impatience. In some instances, Kyle is the only child in his class to not initially indulge in a fad or fall victim to a ploy. This has resulted in both his eagerness to fit in, and his resentment and frustration. Kyle is distinctive as one of the few Jewish children on the show, and because of this, he often feels like an outsider amongst the core group of characters. His portrayal in this role is often dealt with satirically, and has elicited both praise and criticism from Jewish viewers.
Eric Theodore Cartman (voiced by Trey Parker) - Cartman first appeared in the 1992 short series "Jesus vs Frosty." Cartman has been portrayed as aggressive, prejudiced and emotionally unstable since his character's inception. These traits are significantly augmented in later seasons as his character evolves, and he begins to exhibit psychopathic and extremely manipulative behavior. He is depicted as highly intelligent, able to execute morally appalling plans and business ideas with success. Among the show's main child characters, Cartman is distinguished as "the fat kid", for which he is continuously insulted and ridiculed. Cartman is frequently portrayed as a villain whose actions set in motion the events serving as the main plot of an episode. Other children and classmates are alienated by Cartman's insensitive, racist, homophobic, anti-semitic, misogynistic, lazy, self-righteous, and wildly insecure behavior. Cartman often makes anti-semitic insults towards Kyle, constantly teases Kenny for being poor, particularly manipulates and mistreats Butters Stotch and displays an extreme disdain for hippies.
Kenneth "Kenny" McCormick (voiced by Matt Stone) - Kenny is one of the shows' main characters who debuted in the 1992 short. He is friends with Stan and Kyle, while maintaining a friendship with Eric Cartman solely out of pity. Kenny is regularly teased for living in poverty, particularly by Cartman. Prior to season six, Kenny died in almost every episode, with only a few exceptions. The nature of the deaths were often gruesome and portrayed in a comically absurd fashion, and usually followed by Stan and Kyle respectively yelling "Oh my God! They killed Kenny!" and "You bastard(s)!". In the episode "Kenny Dies", Kenny dies after developing a terminal muscular disease, while Parker and Stone claimed that Kenny would not be returning in subsequent episodes and insisted they grew tired of upholding the tradition of having Kenny die in each episode. For most of season six, his place is taken by Butters Stotch and Tweek Tweak. Nevertheless, Kenny returned from the year-long absence in the season six finale "Red Sleigh Down", and has remained a starring character ever since. His character no longer dies each week, and has only been killed occasionally in episodes following his return. Kenny's superhero alter ego, Mysterion, first appeared in the season 13 episode "The Coon".
Soon after meeting in film class at the University of Colorado at Boulder in 1992, Parker and Stone created an animated short entitled The Spirit of Christmas. The film was created by animating construction paper cutouts with stop motion, and features prototypes of the main characters of South Park, including a character resembling Cartman but named "Kenny", an unnamed character resembling what is today Kenny, and two near-identical unnamed characters who resemble Stan and Kyle. Brian Graden, Fox network executive and mutual friend, commissioned Parker and Stone to create a second short film as a video Christmas card. Created in 1995, the second The Spirit of Christmas short resembled the style of the later series more closely. To differentiate between the two homonymous shorts, the first short is often referred to as Jesus vs. Frosty, and the second short as Jesus vs. Santa. Graden sent copies of the video to several of his friends, and from there it was copied and distributed, including on the Internet, where it became one of the first viral videos.
As Jesus vs. Santa became more popular, Parker and Stone began talks of developing the short into a television series. Fox refused to pick up the series, not wanting to air a show that included the character Mr. Hankey, a talking piece of feces. The two then entered negotiations with both MTV and Comedy Central. Parker preferred the show be produced by Comedy Central, fearing that MTV would turn it into a kids show. When Comedy Central executive Doug Herzog watched the short, he commissioned for it to be developed into a series.
Parker and Stone assembled a small staff and spent three months creating the pilot episode "Cartman Gets an Anal Probe". South Park was in danger of being canceled before it even aired when the show tested poorly with test audiences, particularly with women. However, the shorts were still gaining more popularity over the Internet, and Comedy Central agreed to order a run of six episodes. South Park debuted with "Cartman Gets an Anal Probe" on August 13, 1997.
Parker and Stone voice most of the male South Park characters. Mary Kay Bergman voiced the majority of the female characters until her suicide on November 11, 1999. Mona Marshall and Eliza Schneider succeeded Bergman, with Schneider leaving the show after its seventh season (2003). She was replaced by April Stewart, who, along with Marshall, continues to voice most of the female characters. Bergman was originally listed in the credits under the alias Shannen Cassidy to protect her reputation as the voice of several Disney and other kid-friendly characters. Stewart was originally credited under the name Gracie Lazar, while Schneider was sometimes credited under her rock opera performance pseudonym Blue Girl.
Celebrities who are depicted on the show are usually impersonated, though some celebrities do their own voices for the show. Celebrities who have voiced themselves include Michael Buffer, Brent Musburger, Jay Leno, Robert Smith, and the bands Radiohead and Korn. Comedy team Cheech & Chong voiced characters representing their likenesses for the season four (2000) episode "Cherokee Hair Tampons", which was the duo's first collaborative effort in 20 years. Malcolm McDowell appears in live-action sequences as the narrator of the season four episode "Pip".
Jennifer Aniston, Richard Belzer, Natasha Henstridge, Norman Lear, and Peter Serafinowicz have guest starred as other speaking characters. During South Park's earliest seasons, several high-profile celebrities inquired about guest-starring on the show. As a joke, Parker and Stone responded by offering low-profile, non-speaking roles, most of which were accepted; George Clooney provided the barks for Stan's dog Sparky in the season one (1997) episode "Big Gay Al's Big Gay Boat Ride", Leno provided the meows for Cartman's cat in the season one finale "Cartman's Mom Is a Dirty Slut", and Henry Winkler voiced the various growls and grunts of a kid-eating monster in the season two (1998) episode "City on the Edge of Forever". Jerry Seinfeld offered to lend his voice for the Thanksgiving episode "Starvin' Marvin", but declined to appear when he was only offered a role as "Turkey #2".
South Park has a total of 257 episodes spread over 18 seasons which began airing in August 1997. In 2015, the series was picked up for 3 additional seasons keeping it on Comedy Central through 2019.
In 1999, less than two years after the series first aired, a feature-length film was released. The film, a musical comedy, was directed by Parker, who co-wrote the script with Stone and Pam Brady. The film was generally well received by critics, and earned a combined US$83.1 million at the domestic and foreign box office. The film satirizes the controversy surrounding the show itself and gained a spot in the 2001 edition of Guinness World Records for "Most Swearing in an Animated Film". The song "Blame Canada" from the film's soundtrack earned song co-writers Parker and Marc Shaiman an Academy Award nomination for Best Music, Original Song.
Parker and Stone said in a 2008 interview that a theatrically released sequel would most likely be what concludes the series. In 2011, when asked on the official South Park website whether a sequel would be made, they said "the first South Park movie was so potent, we're all still recovering from the blow. Unfortunately, at the current moment, there are no plans for a second South Park movie. But you never know what the future may bring, crazier things have happened..." In 2013, Warner Bros. Entertainment relinquished to Paramount Pictures its rights to co-finance a potential future South Park film during their negotiations to co-finance the Christopher Nolan science fiction film Interstellar. Previous efforts to create a second South Park film were complicated due to both studios retaining certain rights to the property.
Except for the pilot episode, which was produced using cutout animation, all episodes of South Park are created with the use of software. As opposed to the pilot, which took three months to complete, and other animated sitcoms, which are traditionally hand-drawn by companies in South Korea in a process that takes roughly eight-to-nine months, individual episodes of South Park take significantly less time to produce. Using computers as an animation method, the show's production staff were able to generate an episode in about three weeks during the first seasons. Now, with a staff of about 70 people, episodes are typically completed in one week, with some in as little as three to four days. Nearly the entire production of an episode is accomplished within one set of offices, which were originally at a complex in Westwood, Los Angeles, California, and are now part of South Park Studios in Culver City, California. Parker and Stone have been the show's executive producers throughout its entire history, while Anne Garefino has served as South Park's co-executive producer since the latter part of the first season. 20th Century Fox Senior Production Executive Debbie Liebling also served as an executive producer during the show's first five seasons, coordinating the show's production efforts between South Park Studios and Comedy Central's headquarters in New York City.
Scripts are not written before a season begins. Production of an episode begins on a Thursday, with the show's writing consultants brainstorming with Parker and Stone. Former staff writers include Pam Brady, who has since written scripts for the films Hot Rod and Hamlet 2, and Nancy Pimental, who served as co-host of Win Ben Stein's Money and wrote the film The Sweetest Thing after her tenure with the show during its first three seasons. Television producer and writer Norman Lear, an idol of both Parker and Stone, served as a guest writing consultant for the season seven (2003) episodes "Cancelled" and "I'm a Little Bit Country". During the 12th and 13th seasons, Saturday Night Live actor and writer Bill Hader served as a creative consultant and co-producer.
After exchanging ideas, Parker will write a script, and from there the entire team of animators, editors, technicians, and sound engineers will each typically work 100–120 hours in the ensuing week. Since the show's fourth season (2000), Parker has assumed most of the show's directorial duties, while Stone relinquished his share of the directing to focus on handling the coordination and business aspects of the production. On Wednesday, a completed episode is sent to Comedy Central's headquarters via satellite uplink, sometimes in just a few hours before its air time of 10 PM Eastern Time.
Parker and Stone state that subjecting themselves to a one-week deadline creates more spontaneity amongst themselves in the creative process, which they feel results in a funnier show. The schedule also allows South Park to both stay more topical and respond more quickly to specific current events than other satiric animated shows. One of the earliest examples of this was in the season four (2000) episode "Quintuplets 2000", which references the United States Border Patrol's raid of a house during the Elian Gonzalez affair, an event which occurred only four days before the episode originally aired. The season nine (2005) episode "Best Friends Forever" references the Terri Schiavo case, and originally aired in the midst of the controversy and less than 12 hours before she died. A scene in the season seven (2003) finale "It's Christmas in Canada" references the discovery of dictator Saddam Hussein in a "spider hole" and his subsequent capture, which happened a mere three days prior to the episode airing. The season 12 (2008) episode "About Last Night..." revolves around Barack Obama's victory in the 2008 presidential election, and aired less than 24 hours after Obama was declared the winner, using segments of dialogue from Obama's real victory speech.
On October 16, 2013, the show failed to meet their production deadline for the first time ever, after a power outage on October 15 at the production studio prevented the episode, season 17's "Goth Kids 3: Dawn of the Posers", from being finished in time. The episode was rescheduled to air a week later on October 23, 2013.
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