Succeeding in Television By Kind Of, Sort Of Trying: The South Park Model



South Park triumphantly returns to Comedy Central for season 17 this Wednesday, and the promo above teases (terrifyingly) the cast of pop culture characters set to be massacred this go-round: George Zimmerman, Edward Snowden, and–of course–Miley Cyrus. Creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone have slaved away for over a decade now to earn their enviable place in pop culture, that of the loudest whoopee cushion with license to say and do just about anything it wants (explosive fart sounds included). But the duo are not only comedic geniuses, as Justin Lambert nicely points out over at Words That Begin With You. They are also masters of content distribution. South Park follows a cardinal rule of content availability–poop jokes and all–from which so many more television creators and execs can learn from.

Screw You Guys, I’m Going Home Entertainment

The press release for season 17 alone displays the exceptionally wide net Matt and Trey cast; new episodes will be available on XBOX Live, iTunes, Sony Entertainment Network, Amazon Instant Video, Vudu, and Samsung Media Hub–not to mention original TV airings. Every past episode of the series is already available for streaming–free streaming–via the official website “I don’t even know where or how people watch our show,” Matt Stone confessed to David Carr of The New York Times last January. Parker and Stone combat that uncertainty, an uncertainty that feeds into online media itself, by releasing their show through every channel under the sun.

“We Just Are Sort Of Offensive People” – Trey Parker, 6 Days to Air

Parker and Stone’s “whatever works” method of bringing Cartman’s farts to fans’ ears marries perfectly with how those farts are recorded in the first place. Each South Park episode is written, created, and delivered to the network in just six days as chronicled in the quick but fascinating documentary 6 Days to Air. The show is a slapdash, work-all-night operation. Compare to The Simpsons or Family Guy‘s 8-10 month turnaround per episode. Parker and Stone even share a two day depression before each due date where they bemoan the current episode as the worst ever (“HumancentiPad”, the episode created during 6 Days to Air, is in fact one of their best). All the blood, sweat, and feces thrown into the series is offset by a “f*** it, that’s the best we can do right now” charm, the same charm that fuels Parker and Stone’s lackadaisical but all-encompassing release of their demented babies out into the world.

Whateva, I Do What I Want

But the show’s sloppy, skin-of-their-teeth production has a dependable bottom line. South Park is a multi-million dollar industry. The media reported last January that Parker and Stone are launching their own production company, snarkily titled Important Studios, to the tune of $300 million. Furthermore, as Carr for The New York Times mentions, the creators negotiated a 50-50 split on all digital revenue with Comedy Central. But still, at the end of the day, Trey voices nearly all side characters in his same speaking voice, most likely in the interest of time. And all those dramatic musical cues never change every episode. This show is Matt and Trey’s livelihood, but they also know it’s just South Park. Their humble relationship with their content has only worked in their favor.

“If you tell good stories, the platforms are sort of besides the point,” Matt Stone told Carr. And Carr is right when he says, “If you tell stories that people want to hear, the audience will find you.” But it goes a step further than that. You must make yourself available. With a quality (i.e. hilarious) product, the strategy should be as simple as South Park makes it: if the platform is there, use it.

SP Fans: How and when do you watch the show? Is Miley getting the Paris Hilton/Britney Spears treatment? Leave your comments on the blog below!

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