I doubt most readers have been to South Park, Colorado, though many of us are probably familiar with it. Or, at least, as it’s been portrayed in the Trey Parker and Matt Stone animated series of the same name. Since airing in 1997, “South Park” has won over viewers with its distinct satire, collaborative production and often controversial storylines.
Even after 24 years on the air, the animated series has stayed relevant by mocking the prevailing pop cultural landscape, throwing jabs at political parties, egomaniacs, celebrities and idiotic trends without sacrificing its core cast of characters. The hilarious writing of Parker, Stone and their collaborators have cemented the antics of Cartman, Stan, Kyle, Kenny and even Randy Marsh into over two decades of public consciousness. Already with 24 seasons under its belt, the series’s prestige within the cartoon genre, adult-oriented or otherwise, places it only behind the beloved “Simpsons” and its 32+ seasons. However, the impressive television run of “South Park” doesn’t appear to be ending anytime soon.
When news broke on Aug. 5 of an extension between showrunners and CBS, fans couldn’t have anticipated the terms. The $900 million deal bound “South Park” to television screens through 2027, guaranteeing 30 seasons for the show and a whopping 14 original “South Park” movies for CBS’s Paramount+ streaming service. The idea of another six seasons in South Park was collectively celebrated, but even more fans were shocked by Paramount’s unprecedented 14-movie order.
Previously, “South Park” had released a movie a mere two years into its television run back in 1999, titled “South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut,” that garnered a surprisingly warm reception from audiences and critics alike. However, in 2011, the “South Park” website responded to rumors of a sequel rather cryptically: “the first South Park movie was so potent, we’re all still recovering from the blow. Unfortunately, at the current moment, there are no plans for a second South Park movie. But you never know what the future may bring, crazier things have happened…” A decade later, it appears that the future has brought not one, but 14 of those crazy things.
If history is any indicator, the showrunners won’t have any issues coming up with compelling comedy for another six seasons. But what about the 14 movies? Well, co-creator Matt Stone anticipates no problems in that regard, stating, “There are ‘South Park’ episodes that are high concept enough where if you wanted to make a movie, you could. We wanna scratch both itches. We feel like we can.” Clearly, the showrunners are confident in their show’s premise and proven ability to adapt with the times. There is even some precedent for these feelings given the show’s output to Comedy Central earlier this year. The only two episodes of Season 24 to premiere up to this point, “The Pandemic Special” and “South ParQ Vaccination Special,” each ran close to an hour. Combine the two, and a movie could’ve easily come out of it.
When mixed with its trademark characters, “South Park” plotlines’ timeliness has allowed the writers to wittily comment on the world around them for two decades. Now, the potential 28 hours of “South Park” movies on Paramount+ have empowered the writers to soon flesh out longer commentaries on topics worthy of that extra time.
However, the deal isn’t only beneficial to “South Park” creators and staff, as the series’s track record makes even an immense contract appear lucrative for ViacomCBS. In 2019, viewers were reported as watching 30 billion minutes of “South Park” on linear TV alone. This figure increased by 36% compared to 2018, proving the show’s still-growing appeal without even accounting for streaming numbers.
Over two decades past its pilot and rapid ascent to the summit of television sitcoms, “South Park” still sits atop the ratings game. The show was even a major selling point for HBO Max when promoting its streaming service and undoubtedly contributed to a rise in subscribers due to its longstanding reputation and steadily growing fanbase. Not only can Paramount+ claim these rewards for itself under their new deal, but they can offer subscribers exclusive access to a potentially groundbreaking 14 movies.
The adult cartoon’s unapologetic parodies and distinct raunchiness can’t be easily replicated elsewhere, especially to an audience as large. For that reason alone, the deal caters to CBS and Paramount+ higher-ups. “South Park” is still a considerable force in the television industry. By captivating audiences without the production planning, large staff, scheduling and many complications that can come with live-action programs, cartoons remain a relatively safe investment for networks. This concept remains especially true for a proven commodity like “South Park” and CBS, whose competitors likely motivated the deal.
The network’s greatest rivals, Turner Broadcasting and NBCUniversal, advertise their Animation Domination and Adult Swim programs heavily each week. From “Family Guy” and the aforementioned “Simpsons” to “Rick and Morty,” both networks cater to a large population of adult audiences and offer established animated comedies. With them in mind, CBS, Comedy Central and Paramount+ likely needed to maintain their stake in the market, if not a discernible edge. The contract not only accomplishes that by prolonging a beloved series through 2027, but also strengthens Paramount+’s original movie selection, something that’s grown more important to streaming since the pandemic.
From its humble beginnings as vulgar paper-cutouts in absurd situations, “South Park” has blossomed into a cultural staple and earned the contract it deserves. Beloved by teenagers and middle-aged adults alike, the antics of elementary school kids in a small Colorado town will continue to work wonderfully as a vessel to mock pop culture well through its 30th anniversary. Additionally, the deal also marks a heartwarming moment for creators Parker and Stone. It’s hard to imagine that their cartoon would become the powerhouse today back in 1997, but now the creators have the runtime and financial validation to warrant their undying dedication to the series. In the words of Stone himself, the pair finally has “f— you money.”