Comedy Central censors 'South Park'

6:27 PM PST 04/22/2010 by James Hibberd, AP

References to the Prophet Muhammad are obscured, bleeped

Trey Parker and Matt Stone have generated so much controversy with their latest envelop-pushing "South Park" stunt, they've managed to get the name of a religious leader treated like an obscene profanity.

After last week's episode of the Comedy Central series sparked a threat from a radical Islamic website, the network has cracked down on "South Park" during Wednesday's continuation of the show's story line.

Numerous visual and verbal references to the Prophet Muhammad were obscured or bleeped, as was a speech from a character preaching about the perils of falling victim to "intimidation and fear" that did not even mention the Islamic spiritual leader.

"In the 14 years we've been doing 'South Park,' we have never done a show that we couldn't stand behind," Parker and Stone said. "We delivered our version of the show to Comedy Central, and they made a determination to alter the episode. It wasn't some meta-joke on our part."

Problems began after last week's 200th episode, which mocked the one "celebrity" that the series has largely been unable to depict. The episode showed the Prophet Muhammad hidden from view in a bear costume, mocking the idea that he's off limits. A U.S.-based website, RevolutionMuslim.com, then warned Parker and Stone they could end up like Theo Van Gogh -- the Dutch filmmaker who was killed by Muslim extremists in 2004 for producing a film critical of the treatment of women in Islam -- and posted the address of the show's production office. The site has since been shut down.

Wednesday's "South Park" continued the Muhammad story line, but with a key difference: Comedy Central bleeped all instances of the words "Prophet Muhammad," making the episode practically incomprehensible, especially to anybody who missed the previous week. The character of Muhammad was covered by a large block labeled "censored."

The content also wasn't made available on the South Park Studios website. Instead, a message stated: "We do not have network approval to stream our original version of the show. We will bring you a version of (Episode) 201 as soon as we can."

The censorship is unusual because the show generally is allowed considerable leeway, especially for a basic cable series; one 2001 episode featured the uncensored word "shit" 168 times. Censoring content generally is done only when it's judged to violate community standards.

Parker and Stone are notorious for working on episodes up to the last minute, so it is possible they will continue to explore the subject next week. But in a statement, the duo pledged to switch topics.

"We'll be back next week with a whole new show about something completely different, and we'll see what happens to it," they said.

Got tips on TV industry news? Contact Hollywood Reporter TV Editor James Hibberd at james.hibberd@thr.com
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