March 17, 2006

“South Park” battle over Scientology heats up

By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Actor Tom Cruise threatened to
boycott promotion of his upcoming Paramount Pictures film
unless a sister cable TV network pulled a "South Park" rerun
lampooning the Church of Scientology, industry sources said on

Representatives for Paramount and Cruise, a prominent
Scientologist, denied he made any such threats or had anything
to do with the Comedy Central network canceling plans to air a
repeat of the "South Park" episode titled "Trapped in the
Closet," on Wednesday.

Trey Parker and Matt Stone, creators of the crudely
animated cartoon hit, issued a quirky statement, filled with
references to Scientology and the science-fiction writings of
church founder L. Ron Hubbard, suggesting Scientology was
behind the scheduling change.

"So, Scientology, you have won THIS battle, but the
million-year war for Earth has just begun," the pair wrote.

"Temporarily anozinizing our episode will NOT stop us from
keeping Thetans forever trapped in your pitiful man-bodies.
Curses and drat! You have obstructed us for now, but your
feeble bid to save humanity will fail! Hail Xenu!!!"

Instead of the Tom Cruise episode, the network aired reruns
of two "South Park" episodes featuring the character Chef,
voiced by veteran soul singer Isaac Hayes, also a
Scientologist, who quit the show earlier this week.

Comedy Central, which like Paramount is owned by Viacom
Inc., declined comment on the rerun switch, other than to say:
"In light of the events of earlier this week, we wanted to give
Chef an appropriate tribute by airing two episodes he is most
known for."


Two industry sources familiar with the situation told
Reuters Comedy Central pulled the "Trapped in the Closet"
episode from its "South Park" rerun rotation after Cruise
threatened to cease promotion of his upcoming Paramount film,
"Mission: Impossible III."

Cruise spokesman Paul Bloch said neither the actor nor his
representatives "had anything to do" with the scheduling of
"South Park" reruns and that Cruise had never said to anyone he
would refuse to promote his film. Paramount spokeswoman Janet
Hill denied any knowledge of such a threat.

"South Park," heading into its 10th season next week as one
of Comedy Central's biggest hits, centers on the antics of four
foul-mouthed fourth-graders in a small Colorado town.

Outlandish religious satire has been a mainstay of the show
since its debut in 1997, poking fun at Catholics, Jews,
Mormons, Buddhists and Muslims. One early episode featured a
martial-arts duel between Jesus and Santa Claus over the true
meaning of Christmas.

While Hayes cited the show's ridicule of religion generally
as his reason for leaving the series, Stone said in a statement
on Monday the soul singer was specifically upset about the
"Trapped in the Closet" episode, which first aired last fall.

In it, the character named Stan scores so high on a
Scientology test that church followers think he is the next L.
Ron Hubbard. Cruise is depicted locking himself in Stan's
closet and then refusing repeated requests by various
characters to "come out of the closet," including John
Travolta, who eventually joins Cruise in the closet.