Mr. Hankey made the cut. So did Chef's famed chocolate salty balls. But when Comedy Central's South Park goes into syndication on Sept. 19, don't expect to see all your favorite naughty bits. Distributor Mort Marcus says he has been "nip-tucking" the raunchy 'toon for broadcast, albeit with a little help. "We set up what I call a station board — kind of like a board of directors — and they represent a large cut of our broadcast stations," he explains. "What we do is whenever there is anything that is even a remote issue — and this has been going on for a year, as we have well over 100 episodes [to edit] — we address the board by showing them the clip to see if it's OK and then we offer suggestions for what we think we should cut. And then the station board says yes or no."
It's a process that has never been done with any other series entering syndication. (Leave it to South Park to break all kinds of ground.) Even so, fans shouldn't fret that the construction-paper cutout tykes they have grown to love over the years will have their potty-mouthed predilections cut off: "We've been careful the show stays funny," promises Marcus. After all, South Park cocreators Trey Parker and Matt Stone have the final say before any edit gets made. "At the end of the day, every single cut, no matter what we do, is run by Matt and Trey, so that creatively the program holds up. To tell you the truth, I wonder if anyone can even tell what's been cut."
So what exactly is being left on the editing-room floor? There has been no sweeping rule, really. Visuals of Kenny's shrinking hemorrhoid are now MIA. The Lord's name has been excised from any "-damned" expletives. Perhaps more telling is what will be left in the broadcast-network-friendly episodes (which will air later in the evening than the uncut originals do), like Cartman's many and varied vocalized prejudices. "Have you gone back and watched All in the Family and compared Archie Bunker to Cartman?" Marcus asks. "I don't think Cartman says anything that Archie didn't. [And] if Cartman ever does, it always has a moral ending and it is very smartly written.
"The show actually is not prejudiced," he continues. "They deal with issues, religion and race, whatever it may be, but it is always, always with an ending that is right down the middle with an 'Aren't we sort of crazy to think these things are a problem?' moral."
All told, Marcus says that only "a few... maybe 5 percent" of the episodes poised for syndication won't be run at all, primarily because the necessary edits didn't pass muster with Stone and Parker. But the eligible pool in question is a little over a year behind what's premiering on Comedy Central, so such particularly sticky wickets, like the Mel Gibson movie-mocking "Passion of the Jew" episode, have yet to come under scrutiny. "I'm assuming that we can air [that one]," Marcus shrugs, "but I have yet to actually watch it." — Additional reporting by Matt Webb Mitovich