You can understand why Paramount executives--reportedly thisclose to signing a deal that would put a movie version of South Park in theaters in the summer of 1999--are concerned.

After all, if Wednesday's episode resolving the "Who's Cartman's Father?" cliffhanger could feature stuff like a hermaphrodite impregnating people at drunken barn dances and local townsfolk teaming up to cannibalize down-on-his-luck actor Eric Roberts, how tasteless could the movie get?

Despite alleged pressure from Paramount officials to keep the movie toned down, however, South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone have reportedly won their battle to keep the 'toon's R-rated spirit alive.

"They really wanted to be able to go beyond the South Park television show," says Comedy Central spokesman Tony Fox to TV Guide. "They really fought hard for and won the right to make an R-rated movie."

So, how can South Park get any racier than talking human waste and flaming flatulence? Well, as Fox points out, "If you've seen The Spirit of Christmas, you know what's possible with these guys."

The Spirit of Christmas was, of course, the '96 just-for-our-friends short that put South Park, Parker and Stone on the Rolodex of every player in Hollywood. The expletive- and racial-slur-filled 'toon pitted Jesus Christ against Santa Claus in a vicious wrestling match.

In any event, Paramount may not have to worry about selling South Park, with or without an R-rating. According to Comedy Central, Wednesday night's episode earned the net an 8.2 rating--the highest Nielsen numbers this year for any kind of basic-cable programming.

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