Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about TV and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the TV urban legends featured so far.
TV URBAN LEGEND: “South Park” was originally going to be an “X-Files”-style show.
Trey Parker and Matt Stone came to the attention of Comedy Central due to their famous “Spirit of Christmas” video shorts from 1992 and 1995, starring the characters who would later become famous in “South Park” (Stan, Kenny and Cartman). However, after they got a deal to create an ongoing television series, Parker and Stone were faced with a difficult task – how do you turn a short video into a full television series? They essentially had to create a TV series from scratch. As a result, their earliest “South Park” episodes had a lot of uncertainty in them, as their approach to the series often changed as they developed the idea. It was very much like the problems that Matt Groening and the producers of “The Simpsons” had in adapting their short “Simpsons” video segments on “The Tracey Ullman Show” into a full series. In the case of “The Simpsons,” this caused Groening and crew to come up with all sorts of weird ideas for the series that never came to fruition, most famously (as featured in this old TV Legends Revealed), having Homer Simpson turn out to secretly be Krusty the Clown. In the case of Parker and Stone and “South Park,” the most notable change was that originally the series was going to be a lot like “The X-Files!”
The very first episode of “South Park” was called “Cartman Gets an Anal Probe,” and it detailed just that, alien “visitors” coming to South Park, Colorado and inserting an anal probe into third-grader Eric Cartman (as well as other residents of the town). The aliens abduct Ike, the younger brother of Cartman’s classmate, Kyle, forcing Cartman, Kyle, Stan and Kenny band together to rescue Ike. Eventually, the boys use the anal probe that the visitors left in Cartman’s ass to lure them back to Earth in time to rescue Ike.
The hook of the series was that it always seems like small towns in Colorado are the ones who report the most UFO sightings, Big Foot sightings, stuff like that. In fact, as Parker has noted in a number of interviews, the actual county in Colorado, Park County, that has a South Park in it, is specifically known for UFO sightings. Here he is talking to Judd Handler:
Judd: How about all of South Park’s UFO sightings?
Trey: That’s actually true. South Park County has a high rate of sightings. It’s pretty eerie up there in the mountains at night alone. There’s a high plateau right in the middle of the mountains, and there’s this perfectly circular area. Kind of like a little UFO landing pad.
So Parker and Stone wanted to explore that notion by saying that the reason they have the most reports of crazy happenings is because all of that stuff is actually happening to the people of South Park. They ARE being visited by UFOs, they ARE being visited by Big Foot, etc.
While the aliens depart at the end of the first episode, originally they were not supposed to fully leave, and were going to stick around and influence the plot of the series going forward. This was in keeping with Parker and Stone’s fascination with the idea of aliens walking among us, something that was a part of their pre-South Park film, “Cannibal!: The Musical,” as well (alien visitors are hidden throughout that movie). However, when coupled with their view that this was a town where things like Big Foot or the Chupacabra really did exist, Parker and Stone felt that the series was going to be too similar to Fox’s famous series, “The X-Files,” about two FBI agents (played by David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson) who investigate paranormal activity and deal with a vast alien conspiracy. So they decided against including the alien conspiracy angle. A remnant of that angle, though, remained by having alien visitors appear in the background of episodes for pretty much the rest of the show’s run (as detailed in this old TV Legends Revealed).
“X-Files” star David Duchovny actually ended up appearing in a number of future episodes of the series.
The legend is…
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