Confused by the messy melee this week involving South Park, Isaac Hayes, Scientology, and Tom Cruise?
There are many burning questions: Did Comedy Central yank this week’s scheduled rerun of the Cruise- and Scientology-spoofing ”Trapped in the Closet” episode in deference to Hayes or under pressure from fellow Scientologist Cruise? Did Cruise threaten not to publicize Paramount’s summer tentpole movie Mission: Impossible 3 if Comedy Central (like Paramount, a division of Viacom) aired the episode again?
We don’t know, but maybe this timeline will help you untangle the events and decide for yourself:
Nov. 16, 2005 The ”Trapped in the Closet” episode airs for the first time. In anticipation of the episode, Radar Online asks whether the episode poses any problems for Viacom or Cruise. Reps for Paramount and Cruise decline to comment, but Comedy Central spokesman Tony Fox says Trey Parker and Matt Stone ”are free and have been free to satirize anybody and anything they want to. They’ve made fun of MTV, they’ve made fun of Viacom, they’ve made fun of Comedy Central, and we’ve never interfered with them.”
Jan. 4, 2006 The Onion’s A.V. Club publishes an interview with Hayes, in which he disputes Parker and Stone’s take on Scientology, but defends their right to lampoon any target. ”I understand what they’re doing,” he says, laughing.
Jan. 20 ”Trapped” is yanked from England’s Paramount channel; U.K. tabloid The Sun claims the decision was made out of fear of litigation from Cruise.
Early 2006 Comedy Central schedules South Park‘s Season 10 premiere for March 22.
March 13 Hayes announces he’s quitting the show, citing what he calls its religious bigotry. He does not mention ”Trapped.”
March 13 Stone responds to Hayes’ departure, telling the Associated Press:”This is 100 percent having to do with his faith of Scientology… Hehas no problem — and he’s cashed plenty of checks — with our showmaking fun of Christians.”
March 15 Comedy Central pulls a scheduled rerun of the”Trapped” episode in favor of ”Chef’s Chocolate Salty Balls.” Theshift is so abrupt that the Comedy Central website still lists ”Trapped” as the scheduled episode two days later.
March 16 Blog Hollywood, Interrupted claims Tom Cruise pressured Comedy Central to yank the episode by threatening not to promote M:I 3.
March 16 A Cruise rep denies to Variety that the actor said any such thing about M:I 3;no word, however, on whether Cruise leaned on Comedy Central. Parkerand Stone respond to the schedule change in a statement: ”So,Scientology, you may have won THIS battle, but the million-year war forearth has just begun!”
March 17 Comedy Central tells New York Post’s Page Sixit made the change in homage to Hayes: ”In light of the events ofearlier this week, we wanted to give Chef an appropriate tribute byairing two episodes he is most known for.” Page Six speculates that”Trapped” may never air again and may be excluded from the Season 9DVD.
There you go: the "facts." Do with them what you will.