Faster than you can say alien anal probe, South Park's cracking the mainstream.
Those scatological paper cutouts--Cartman, Stan, Kyle and the gang--could be heading to a station near you as Comedy Central's irreverent 'toon has been cleared by distributor Tribune Entertainment for syndication in 85 percent of the country.
However, when the reruns launch in fall 2005, longtime fans of the South Park crew may notice a few changes afoot.
For one, despite the fact South Park has traditionally been a huge late-night draw thanks to its often outrageous humor centering around such topics as Cartman's butt, Mr. Hankey the Christmas Poo and Big Gay Al's Big Day Out, distributors had to agree to tone down the raunchiness and R-rated language to comply with broadcast standards.
"They're definitely going to have to clean it up a little bit, but I don't know how much Comedy Central's involved in that," said Comedy Central spokeswoman Lisa Chader.
To meet FCC requirements, the three syndicators jointly distributing South Park--Tribune Entertainment, Debmar Studios and Mercury Entertainment--are setting up a content review board that will give executives from station groups a chance to review and approve boundary-pushing episodes for broadcast.
It won't be a walk in the park, especially in the post-Boobgate climate.
While cleaning up foul language won't be a problem, since the characters are all animated and the 'toons' lips really don't need to be synched, some whole storylines might wind up on the cutting-room floor.
At first blush, there appears to be about two dozen plots that are too edgy for a daytime run.
For example, censors might be nervous about last season's "The Passion of the Jew," in which cocreators Trey Parker and Matt Stone take aim at all the hoopla surrounding Mel Gibson's controversial Jesus epic, The Passion of the Christ.
Or what will become of the show's season-five premiere episode, in which the expletive "s--t" is uttered a whopping 162 times without bleeping? And how will South Park's classic Jesus versus Satan pay-per-view bouts play in smaller markets like Peoria?
Such over-the-top satire may bring in the highly coveted 18- to 34-year-old demo for Comedy Central (new episodes typically average four million viewers a week, according to the cable channel), but that doesn't mean it will translate for syndication.
"As a company, we are very sensitive to the current climate, but we are monitoring things closely," Craig Allison, station manager for Scripps Howard's KHSB and KMCI in Kansas City, Missouri, told Broadcasting & Cable magazine.
Neither Parker nor Stone was available for comment. They're currently finishing up postproduction on Team America: World Police, a big-screen spoof that will use marionettes to lampoon the war on terrorism, mindless action movies and celebrities.
Among top-market stations carrying the syndicated version of the series are Los Angeles' KCAL, Chicago's WCIU, Philadelphia's WPSG, San Francisco's KBHK, as well as smaller UPN affiliates whose programming schedule runs the gamut from The Simpsons reruns to repeats of That '70s Show and Friends.
Meanwhile as South Park continues its eighth poop-filled season, Paramount Home Entertainment is planning to release the DVD version of "The Passion of the Jew" episode Aug. 31, the same day Fox's DVD for Gibson's The Passion of the Christ hits video stores. The South Park disc will also feature two more religious-themed episodes: Christian Rock Hard, in which Cartman forms a Christian rock band; and Red Hot Catholic Love, a send-up of the Catholic Church child-molestation scandal that was initially banned on Australian television.
And there's more good news for fans.
Parker and Stone have reupped with Comedy Central to continue churning out more episodes of South Park until at least 2006.