For fans of animated comedy series South Park, this time of year is usually one which is anticipated due to learning the date that the first half of the new ‘season’ starts, generally beginning at some point in the upcoming March.
However, the announcement made this weekend on the official ‘South Park Studios’ website takes on a slightly different tone, revealing that the show is implementing a new season format and will instead air a shortened run starting on 25 September.
While a year of South Park is generally split into 2 ‘half-seasons’ of 7 episodes (each produced within a week of each other) leading to a total of 14, season 17 will be the first to run a reduced format in which a single 10-week run occurs beginning each September (the time of year when the second ‘half-season’ usually begins), and presumably finishing in November.
The decision to change the show this year is said to have been made for a number of reasons, including writer fatigue and scheduling, but most likely the fact that South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone will be in London (England) at the West End launch of their musical The Book of Mormon for much of the spring.
Another reason given, though, was the fact that Parker and Stone do not see maintaining TV ratings as being as important as when South Park began airing in 1997, claiming that new media such as online streaming and downloads is an equally-important viewing method to them as long as people are watching the show, as Stone explained in an interview with the New York Times: “There is no appointment viewing anymore. In our first season, you had to show up on Wednesday nights at 10 p.m. on the comedy channel [Comedy Central] to catch the show. Now, I don’t even know where or how people watch our show. We sort of don’t really care about ratings. It’s more important to come up with work that will add to the library in a way that we’re proud of and will make people want to catch the show wherever they want to. We’ve been doing it long enough to figure out that content will ride on top of whatever wave comes along.
…Nobody even cared about DVD rights when we got started. There was nothing there. But we started with shows on half-inch tape and people bought them, and then it was DVDs, and then the Web, now iPads and Netflix. Each time, it worked out.”
He added of the decision to change to 10 episodes rather than two batches of 7: “Why did we do seven and seven to begin with? We just sort of made that up. And we are switching to ten for the same reason. It just sounded like a good number, and we [now] won’t break up the year so we can more easily do other stuff. We have always owned our stuff or acted like we do. Owning your own stuff means that you control not only the content, but the life you are living while you are producing it. And then, if things go well, you can be part of the upside.”
Parker summarised the idea by comparing the show’s production to running ‘like a rock band’, stating: “Now instead of putting out two albums a year, we are only going to do one, which is more manageable and ensures that it will be something we are proud of.”
Viacom International are responsible for both Comedy Central and the distribution of South Park content on DVD (through Paramount), as their president Doug Herzog took the news of episode reduction in surprisingly good grace, noting: “South Park has yet to meet a platform it hasn’t been able to conquer. We’re happy to take as many or as few as they can produce. Frankly, I’m surprised it took them this long to get to a schedule like this.”
Stone also pointed out that it is far from the end of South Park (which is currently contracted to run through to a 20th season (now set to be a line-up of 40 new episodes to add to the current total of 237)), and that the restructuring is merely a way to keep up their creativity, summarising: “We want to keep South Park going for a long time to come, and given what is going on in television, I don’t think it matters as much how many episodes you have.”
The decision puts the prize project of the Important Studios founders on a more direct schedule similar to Fox’s Animation Domination line-up (albeit with a much shorter run), but while it frees up a two-month obligation of the creator’s calendars, is one 10-week bout of non-stop episode production easier than two 7-week sets? Whatever the case, it appears that the new South Park RPG video game (South Park: The Stick of Truth), barring legal issues with new publishers Ubisoft, will almost certainly be released before the show itself returns…