Comedy Central is finally respecting Cartman's authoritay.
One week after South Park's controversial "Trapped in the Closet" episode garnered an Emmy nomination, and nearly four months after it was abruptly pulled from rotation on the cable net, Comedy Central has finally acquiesced and will allow the Scientology-skewering episode back on the air.
And clearly not a moment too soon.
"If they hadn't put this episode back on the air, we'd have had serious issues, and we wouldn't be doing anything else with them," cocreator Matt Stone tells Variety.
The episode reportedly ruffled some high-powered feathers upon its first airing. In addition to an accurate, if cartoon-depicted, primer on Scientology, the show featured a literally closeted Tom Cruise who refuses to come out, only to be joined in his hiding by fellow Scientologist John Travolta and R&B man R. Kelly, whose operatic ballad provided the show's title.
While Comedy Central failed to publicly disclose its reasons for yanking the program (which is also credited for leading Scientologist Isaac Hayes to jump ship as the longtime voice of Chef), creators Stone and Trey Parker didn't shy away from broadcasting what they claimed was the network-sanctioned reason.
As the conspiracy theory goes, the Cruise's camp had a hand in deep-sixing the episode, with the litigious actor reportedly threatening to pull out of promotional duties for Mission: Impossible III. (Viacom is the parent company for both Comedy Central and Paramount, the studio that was releasing Cruise's film.)
Cruise's reps vehemently denied such allegations, but the South Park brain trust stuck by its guns.
"I only know what we were told, that people involved with M:I:III wanted the episode off the air and that is why Comedy Central had to do it," Stone says in Variety. "I don't know why else it would have been pulled."
Now, Cruise's saturation-level publicity tour is over (and proved fairly ineffective, with the sequel grossing a disappointing $133 million domestically) and he is apparently in hiding with his new baby.
As it is, Comedy Central's decision to reintroduce the episode to its rerun schedule seems as arbitrary an action as yanking it in the first place. But the move is putting the network back into the good graces of Stone and Parker, who have said that their relationship with the network has been tenuous since the spring.
"It's true we are not as big as Tom Cruise, but we've done two movies for Viacom and 10 years of South Park episodes, and this has been our home," Stone tells Variety.
Stone explains that the episode's removal was nearly the final straw for the duo, who had been censored by the network on three separate occasions.
"We've been through a trifecta of annoyances," Stone says. "The 'Bloody Mary' episode angered Catholics. And we had a big fight when we wanted to show Muhammad."
Last year, the network declined to rerun the "Bloody Mary" episode after the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights attacked Parker and Stone and protested the program that featured a menstruating statue of the Virgin Mary.
In April, Comedy Central intervened on another episode before another religious group could take umbrage.
"Cartoon Wars," an episode dealing with the worldwide violence ensuing from a Danish newspaper's publication of cartoons depicting the Islamic prophet, was broadcast with a title card reading "Comedy Central has refused to broadcast an image of Mohammed on their network."
At the time, the network defended the decision to censor the show to ward off the possibility of violent reactions.
"The mantra has always been everything is fair game," Stone tells Variety. "I love [network president] Doug Herzog, but I think he's dead wrong and made a totally cowardly decision."
South Park's "Trapped in the Closet" returns to Comedy Central's airwaves July 19.