the pulse

They put their money where their 'South' is

The most politically incorrect guys in a town jam-packed with docile conformists just landed the most savvy production deal in television history, which perhaps should tell us something not just about Matt Stone and Trey Parker but about the rewards that can come to those who carry the courage of their creative convictions.

You may have heard about it Monday. Stone and Parker, the twisted duo who have been all things (creators, producers, writers, voices) to "South Park" since the brilliantly warped toon debuted on Comedy Central 10 years ago, scored an unprecedented arrangement with the network that will keep them not only ridiculously wealthy but on the vanguard of Hollywood dealmaking as well. Seriously.

A three-year extension of "South Park" taking the show through a staggering 15th season doesn't even scratch the surface of the agreement. They're also setting up a digital studio for the "South Park" franchise that gives Stone and Parker unprecedented multimedia control across platforms that haven't even been created. It shows they've got a smart lawyer behind them, among other things.

But that isn't even the biggest news, which is that they'll be splitting "South Park" ad revenue with Comedy Central 50-50. The silence in the industry since the story broke this week has been deafening, and this point is no doubt why: These crazy (like a fox) dudes are being cut in on the real action, illustrating that it is they, the talent, who are calling the shots here rather than vice versa.

And here we all thought they were just a couple of class cutups gone quasi-straight. Instead, Stone and Parker are literal pioneers in the uncharted world of producers that have near-complete artistic and financial control over their own creation. There is simply nothing with which to compare it in the annals of original programming. They've turned the relationship around so they're the de facto co-owners rather than piddling workers-for-hire.

That big "Gulp!" sound we're hearing from various corners of the studio and network worlds speaks to the quaking fear that it's all over now, that an uncrossable line has been breached and the inmates are all poised to seize control of the asylum. You don't allow the help to feed at the golden trough and survive to tell the tale.

But I'm here to assure them all that they needn't worry. The plain truth is that Stone and Parker (gasp) deserve this. They have somehow kept a gimmick of an animated series fresh through an entire decade. "South Park" is still Comedy Central's highest-rated series, and it has made hundreds of millions for Viacom in DVDs, licensing and broadcast syndication fees. It remains a huge cash cow, and without the creators there to milk it, the dairy goes under.

Comedy Central had every incentive to want to keep two of the greatest innovators in the business of laughs, and they had to open up the vault to accomplish it. But it doesn't mean a stream of similar deals are inevitable. These guys are unique, have a 10-year track record, remain young and immensely clever and are, in short, guaranteed money in the bank.

The network, thus, did not only the smart thing but the only thing it could have done to keep an invaluable resource in-house. And from the perspective of Stone and Parker, they earn another estimated $75 million to work at a place that gives them greater freedom than they could find anywhere else.

Imagine it: Two sides finding there's plenty of gold in the goose's eggs and agree to share. World peace suddenly seems possible.
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