Whatever the success of the "South Park" movie, its fans will continue to see new episodes of the half-hour animated series on Comedy Central for at least the next two years. With about 36 shows already completed, series creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone say they're at about the halfway mark.
"When the show took off we committed to 72," says Parker. "I don't see us going beyond that. For better or for worse, we write every single episode. We haven't farmed it out at all because the intention is to never lose control."
Since its debut almost two years ago, "South Park" ratings have been in decline from a high of an 8.2 share (6.2 million viewers), to the current 3.5 share (2.9 million viewers), generated by the recent debut of new episodes. Parker and Stone worked feverishly to generate new episodes to run concurrently with the release of the feature film.
Tony Fox, Comedy Central's senior vice president of communications, says the declining ratings have to be put in perspective.
"Everyone likes to cover the latest pop culture phenomenon and then kick them on the way down," says Fox. "Some of the stories [about declining ratings] were initiated by the major networks who are tired of getting the snot beat out of them.
"When we launched and we were drawing in the high sixes, we knew it was the nature of a fad," says Fox. "But we're still in the top five or 10 rated series on cable."
The raunchy "South Park" has become a valuable lead-in for other new shows on Comedy Central. "We use 'South Park' like NBC used 'Seinfeld' " says Fox. The recent debut of "The Man Show" followed on the heels of the first new "South Park" episode and registered a 2.8 share, an 80% spillover from "South Park," much of it in the valuable age-18-to-34 male demographic.
Beyond that, says Fox, "South Park" is responsible for adding 10 million subscribers to the channel last year and $400 million in licensing and merchandising. Videocassettes of selected episodes have sold 4 million units to date.