TV URBAN LEGEND: "South Park" wasn't allowed to kill off Sally Struthers in an early episode of the series.
While there are certainly a lot of other differences between "The Simpsons" and "South Park," a notable one is how each show treats celebrities. "The Simpsons" courts celebrities to appear in cameos, to the point that producers build entire episodes around certain guest stars. In fact, as I wrote in an old TV Legends Revealed, when one comedy icon wouldn't appear on the show if they poked fun at him, "The Simpsons" staff rewrote his scenes to meet his conditions.
"South Park," on the other hand, routinely turns down celebrities who request to do voice roles (or else have them do silly voices, as when George Clooney played Stan's gay dog, with all of his lines simply being "woof" or "bark"). Creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone will often be a lot more vicious toward celebrities than "The Simpsons" writers would ever dare. Their show has even killed its share of celebrities, with the most famous perhaps being Barbara Streisand, who had transformed herself into an evil giant mechanical dinosaur (luckily, Robert Smith from The Cure showed up to save the day and help kill Streisand after Leonard Maltin and Sidney Poitier were unable to stop her). However, while the Mecha-Streisand episode aired during Season 1, it was only after “South Park” had become a bit of a cultural phenomenon, and Parker and Stone had gained more leeway from Comedy Central. Early on, they had less freedom, which led to them not being able to kill a celebrity in an early episode. Read on to see how it all went down!
As I wrote in a TV Legend a couple of months ago, in the early days of "South Park," Parker and Stone were still figuring out what they wanted the show to be. Comedy Central executives were similarly unsure about what the show would become. That came to a head in the eighth episode, when executives wouldn't allow Parker and Stone to end it as they’d originally intended.
In “South Park’s” first Thanksgiving episode, "Starvin' Marvin," the boys try to donate to the African charity the Christian Children's Fund (the one with the famous commercials featuring former "All in the Family" star Sally Struthers). However, instead of receiving the free sports watch they sought for signing up, they discover that an Ethiopian child has been sent to South Park. When the FBI shows up to return the child, dubbed “Starvin’ Marvin,” back to Africa, he tricks them into taking Eric Cartman in his place.
Once in Africa, Cartman discovers that Sally Struthers, who’s there on location filming commercials for the Christian Children’s Fund, has been hoarding food. He reveals her food supply, and the villages take control.
The inspiration for the episode came from Parker and Stone watching one of Struthers' commercials and noting the humor (to them, at least) of an overweight woman speaking for starving children in Africa. Parker and Stone claim they were told that Struthers had been a fan of the show until they made fun of her, and that she took the mockery quite hard. I don't know if that's true, but I’m just noting that was the impression they had in 2003 when they recorded their audio commentary for the episode.
When asked about her in an interview in 1998, Parker replied:
Oh, she's alright. Sally Struthers isn't really a bad person, she's just a ripe person for jokes. Dude, she sets herself up for it. It's like, 'Just do voiceovers,’ you know? Because she's fat. Because she's enormously fat and she's standing in front of a bunch of really skinny, starving people going, 'Look at these poor kids'. You're going, Dude, 'Give them some of your pie.'
In the end, Marvin is returned to Africa and Cartman is returned home. On his way to the plane, however, he walks past a tied-up Sally Struthers. Originally, Parker and Stone wanted to have her be dead, with the African village living off of her body, but Comedy Central wouldn’t allow it.
As noted, though, by the time the episode debuted in November 1997, “South Park” had become a sensation (Christmas 1997 saw tons of “South Park” merchandise), so Comedy Central likely was feeling more generous four episodes later, as Parker and Stone were permitted to kill Streisand, and a number of celebrities have been bumped off since. Struthers, by the way, has returned a few times since, including at one point getting so fat that she has basically becomes Jabba the Hutt.
The legend is...
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