During the Golden Age of Television, showing a toilet was one of the more risqué things that shows could do. Skip forward a few decades, and there’s South Park, using an animated piece of feces to celebrate Christmas, and even that ended up being fairly tame compared to future shenanigans that creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone would give audiences. But the show almost didn’t have a future, thanks to one particularly disastrous focus group.
The mildly sordid origins of Comedy Central’s most long-lasting scripted hit are chronicled in a recent EW oral history. It was a long and winding road from the duo’s Spirit of Christmas short films to their official network pilot, the wild and crazy “Cartman Gets an Anal Probe.” Here’s how show producer Brian Graden explained that episode’s first foray into public view.
I can’t imagine how an episode where a child dies (for the first of many, many times) and another child gets kidnapped by aliens could possibly bring about any negative feelings in 1997. To be fair, though, these are probably the same people that wanted to crucify Fox execs for Bart Simpson saying “damn” and “hell.” Focus groups are usually the worst ways to perceive audience enjoyment anyway, as exampled time and again with both TV shows and movies. (And consumer products and video games and…you get the point.)
The Comedy Central President at the time, Doug Herzog, asked Parker and Stone to change the pilot’s ending. For most shows, that would just mean another day or two of shooting, but because South Park was still being physically animated by hand with construction paper, that meant another week of sleepless nights for the visionary pair. But it worked like a charm, and Comedy Central largely ignored the focus group scores and ordered it to series. Here’s where Herzog’s mind was at the time.
And although the show has been in trouble with Christians, Scientologists, Mormons, celebrities, and just about every race on the planet, it’s still on the air, 18 seasons later. And that’s nothing to cry about.
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Nick is a Cajun Country native, and is often asked why he doesn't sound like that's the case. His love for his wife and daughters is almost equaled by his love of gasp-for-breath laughter and gasp-for-breath horror. A lifetime spent in the vicinity of a television screen led to his current dream job, as well as his knowledge of too many TV themes and ad jingles.