South Park stays put

Creativity, not money, kept South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker at Comedy Central. Baring its teeth to network television, Comedy Central has corralled the pair into a three-year, multimillion dollar development and production deal.

The agreement (B & C, May 1) keeps doomed character Kenny alive for at least 30 more episodes over three seasons and provides ammunition for a new live-action series in 2001.

Stone and Parker will get a stake in South Park syndication, which they speculate won't come for a couple of years.

Last Monday's official announcement obliterated rumors about Stone and Parker's jumping ship to NBC.

Explaining their flirtation, Parker said, "NBC knew about the new show's idea, and they loved it. But we're spoiled brats, and if somebody tells us that we can't do something, we want to do it times 20. And the only place we can do that is Comedy Central."

Comedy Central President and CEO Larry Divney remained mum on the financial details. "I don't think we overpaid them, but we have paid more than we have before. [Stone and Parker] have known all along that I've wanted them; it probably wasn't the strongest negotiation position to be in."

South Park's numbers have fallen off sharply since its debut days (it typically pulls 2's and 3's, down from 8's), but, even so, last week's 2.9 rating grabbed six times more viewers than the Comedy Central network average.

As for the new series, Stone and Parker promise only that it won't star themselves and will be a 180-degree turn from South Park. This time, they want to nab prime acting and writing talent.

"Part of the joke about South Park is that it's kind of crappy,'' said Parker. For the new show, "We told Comedy Central that they'd have to step up because this is probably going to be their most expensive show."