This Day in History: August 13th

This Day In History: August 13, 1997

southpark-e1283929735479Once upon a time, way back in 1992, there were two young students at the University of Colorado named Trey Parker and Matt Stone. They collaborated on a crudely done short film called “Jesus vs. Frosty” which caught the eye of FOX exec Brian Graden in 1995. He hired the two lads to create another animated short that he could send to friends as a video Christmas greeting.

Parker and Stone came up with another film called “Jesus vs. Santa” (I’m sensing a theme here) that featured a martial arts battle between the Christmas rivals, followed by a subsequent mutual meeting of the minds over the true meaning of the holiday. This video was shared widely on the Internet and led to the creation of a series on Comedy Central.

The pilot episode of South Park, “Cartman Gets an Anal Probe” aired on August 13, 1997, and quickly earned the highest rating of any basic cable program. The show, which chronicles the adventures of four third-graders named Stan (based on Parker), Kyle (based on Stone), Cartman and Kenny was an instant hit especially with younger audiences, and South Park viewing parties became popular on college campuses all over the country. You couldn’t go anywhere without hearing the now infamous Stan and Kyle lament from the first few seasons: “Oh my God! They killed Kenny!” “You bastards!”

The first season of South Park struck a level of vulgarity – and originality – that made the controversy surrounding the early days of the Simpsons positively pale in comparison. The Orlando Sentinel described the show as “sophomoric, gross, and unfunny,” and while many would readily agree with the first two assessments, by the time the series aired its eighth episode its viewership and ratings had tripled. South Park was already the most popular series in Comedy Central’s history at that point, and is credited with being a huge reason for the channel’s success.

South Park has been over-the-top from the get-go, but they don’t play favorites when picking targets for their biting and often extremely clever satire. Trey Parker and Matt Stone describe themselves as “equal opportunity offenders,” and usually poke fun at a topic from all angles during an episode as opposed to championing one side of an issue. Conservatives and liberals are made to look equally as asinine – and hilarious.

Of course, not everyone finds South Park’s smashing of taboos and shock humor as charming and refreshing as others. The conservative watchdog group Parents Television Council consistently complains about the show’s supposed tastelessness… which some may argue is a very subjective term.

The 18th season of South Park is scheduled to begin in the fall of 2014 and the series is slated to run at least through 2016. In 2007, it was included in Time magazine’s list of the “100 Best TV Shows of All Time,” and they named it “America’s best source of rapid-fire satire for the past decade.”

Looks like Matt and Trey got a good return on their initial investment of some construction paper to put together that original cartoon, not to mention using it as a platform to branch out into areas such as theater with their nine time Tony Award winning The Book of Mormon.

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Bonus Facts:

  • Trey Parker’s dad’s name is Randy Parker and, like Randy Marsh, he’s a geologist.    Sharon Parker is an insurance broker, unlike Sharon Marsh, who is a receptionist at Tom’s Rhinoplasty.  In addition to that, Shelley Marsh on South Park is also named after Trey Parker’s older sister Shelley.
  • Matt Stone’s mother, Sheila Stone, is also Jewish, much like Sheila Broflovski.  The last name Broflovoski is derived from Sheila Stone’s maiden name, Broslovski, which was later changed to Belasco when her family immigrated to the United States.  Stone’s father, Gerald Whitney Stone, is an economics professor, unlike Gerald Broflovski, who is a lawyer. Stone also has a sister named Rachel, but creating a character for her in the Broflovski South Park family was ruled out because they felt Stan and Kyle were already too much alike.  Instead, they gave Kyle an adopted younger brother, Ike.
  • Matt Stone holds a dual major degree in mathematics and film from the University of Colorado at Boulder.  Trey Parker majored in music at Berklee College of Music and later at the University of Colorado.
  • Although South Park often satirizes religion, Parker, on Nightline, stated he believes in God and finds the idea of atheism ridiculous: “Basically … out of all the ridiculous religion stories which are greatly, wonderfully ridiculous — the silliest one I’ve ever heard is, ‘Yeah … there’s this big giant universe and it’s expanding, it’s all gonna collapse on itself and we’re all just here just ’cause … just ’cause’. That, to me, is the most ridiculous explanation ever.”
  • On politics, Matt Stone stated: “I hate conservatives, but I really f-cking hate liberals.”
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