BY JOHN KIESEWETTER
The Cincinnati Enquirer
They would be the foulest talking kids on television, if it weren't for Jerry Springer.
They're the third-graders Cartman, Kenny, Kyle and Stan, the lewd and crude gang from cable's South Park adult cartoon. The show returns for a second season today (10 p.m., Comedy Central).
They're a pop culture sensation -- and a huge hit with grade-school kids -- yet to me they're as repugnant as the real people on Springer. Maybe somebody can tell me why.
Why is South Park cable's most popular show? Send your comments to: We Love South Park, c/o John Kiesewetter, Cincinnati Enquirer, 312 Elm St., Cincinnati, 45202. Or fax: 768-8330. Include your name, age, address and daytime phone number.
"We get paired with Jerry Springer all the time, which is both a compliment and an insult," says Trey Parker, 28, co-creator of cable's No. 1 series since April.
"You can draw some parallels and say, "I guess the people are violent, and they swear,' but I think that's about where it all ends. I mean, we have a story."
Didn't I mention the South Park story lines? How could I forget about Cartman's anal probe, or the singing piece of poop? Or how Kenny gets killed in nearly every episode since last August's premiere. This is funny?
Everybody's fair game
"To us, you have to offend everybody. You can't draw any line," says Matt Stone, 26, who created the clip-art cartoon with his Colorado college buddy.
"Almost anything that's being done that's original is going to be called bad taste. It always has been," chimes in Mr. Parker during a conference call.
"We hugely have to ignore everyone we (ticked) off, and just hope that we're (ticking) off everyone equally."
Not even school administrators seem to be ticked off about the gross cartoon, which has been called "Peanuts on acid."
If you haven't heard about outrageous South Park, ask some kids. When I spoke to seventh-graders recently, all they wanted to talk about was the cartoon rated TV-MA. ("Mature Audiences only. Unsuitable for children under 17 . . . with mature themes, profane language, graphic violence and explicit sexual content.")
Do we need any more proof that parents are ignoring the new TV content ratings?
And how many more kids will want to watch this summer, after seeing South Park T-shirts, compact discs, home videos and other merchandise? They'll want to stay up late to catch all 18 new shows starting with tonight's "Ike's Wee-Wee" episode about circumcision. (Six new shows will be followed by six reruns, followed by six more new shows and six repeats.)
Attracting a very young audience doesn't bother the South Park creators, who are also cashing in with a South Park feature film, computer and video games, and two more Comedy Central seasons. They'd rather have kids watching their show than parked in front of grisly reality video shows or mindless sitcoms.
"Cops and America's Worst Burn Victims Caught on Tape and all this stuff are so much worse for them to see," Mr. Parker says.
"I'd rather have a little dirty-mouthed kid with a brain that works," Mr. Stone says, "instead of a kid that doesn't know any bad language, who has watched Full House and turned into a catatonic retard."
I'm no Full House fan, but it's clear to me which show my kids should watch. And who knows how much further South will go?
"We can always get worse," Mr. Stone boasts. "We didn't go into making a show consciously saying, "Let's be more offensive than the last thing.' It's kind of a natural progression."
Hey, don't blame us, they say.
"It's like the American public is picking up on things further and further out," Mr. Stone says. "Those (things) are rising to the surface because that's where the interest lies."
Yep, they're just giving America what America wants -- the same defense used by Jerry Springer and WEBN-FM's crude late-night Bubba the Love Sponge.
Yet Jerry's kids are despised, and the South Park kids are cool. Isn't this all the same kind of crap?
John Kiesewetter is Enquirer TV/radio critic. Write him at 312 Elm St., Cincinnati, 45202.