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    "The Closet," the Controversy--and Cruise

    Wednesday night on South Park, Robert Redford got zinged, and Chef urged one and all to "suck on my chocolate salty balls."

    The controversial part was what didn't air: A closet.

    "Trapped in the Closet," a South Park episode featuring a literally closeted Tom Cruise and a primer on Scientology, was abruptly pulled from Comedy Central's schedule, and replaced with a nearly eight-year-old chestnut spoofing the Sundance Film Festival.

    The network wouldn't confirm or comment Friday on why "Trapped in the Closet" was shelved in favor of the 1998 episode "Chef's Chocolate Salty Balls."

    Cruise's rep, however, did comment: "This has nothing to do with us," publicist Arnold Robinson said Friday.

    Cruise, a Scientologist who has staunchly defended his religion and an avowed heterosexual who has successfully sued people and publications that have suggested he is in the metaphorical closet, was pegged as the culprit in the South Park switcheroo in a report Thursday on HollywoodInterrupted.com.

    The blog reported that the star "threatened" to sit out the publicity cycle for Mission: Impossible 3--presumably meaning no interviews, no photo-ops, no Oprah couch--if "Trapped in a Closet" aired again on Comedy Central.

    M:I-3 is due to be released in May by Paramount, which is the corporate sibling of Comedy Central, which is, like Paramount, owned by Viacom.

    Specifically responding to Cruise's reputed corporate power play, rep Robinson said: "That is not true."

    This is not the first time Cruise has been linked to the closing of "Closet." In January, Britain's Sun reported the episode would "never" air in the United Kingdom because TV executives there were "scared [Cruise] will sue." (The episode apparently aired without incident in Canada a few days later.)

    This also isn't the first time Comedy Central has been accused of caving. Last December, a Catholic rights' group took credit for the network pulling reruns of South Park's Virgin Mary-skewering ninth season finale, "Bloody Mary."

    South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, meanwhile, have weighed in on the latest controversy--with fighting words.

    "So, Scientology, you may have won THIS battle, but the million-year war for earth has just begun!" the self-described "servants of the dark lord Xenu" said in a statement Thursday that does not mention Cruise. "Temporarily anozinizing our episode will NOT stop us from keeping Thetans forever trapped in your pitiful man-bodies."

    Earlier this week, Parker and Stone publicly parted ways with Isaac Hayes, the longtime voice of Chef, after the "Shaft" legend complained South Park had gone too far in satirizing religion. The duo said Hayes, a Scientologist, never complained about the show until it took on Scientologists.

    "Trapped in the Closet" first aired last Nov. 16. In it, a cartoon version of Cruise enters a closet, and doesn't come out for quite a while. Cruise is eventually joined in the closet by fellow Scientologist John Travolta and R&B singer R. Kelly, who wrote the soap opera of a song that shares its name with the episode title.

    Also in the episode, South Park tyke Stan is recruited to join the Church of Scientology, and, in the process, gets an earful about "frozen alien bodies," Hawaiian volcanoes and the "evil lord Xenu."

    "Guys, you got it [Scientology] all wrong," Hayes said he told Parker and Stone in a January interview with The A.V. Club. "We're not like that."

    Comedy Central would not say if "Trapped in the Closet" will reair at a later date, or if it will be included in South Park's syndication package.

    Video clips from the episode, including the bits with Cruise and the closet, and Stan and the Scientologists, can be found on the Comedy Central Website.

    In a bit of timing that is said to be coincidental and not at all related to the "Closet" controversy, South Park begins its 10th season next Wednesday.

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