South Park triumphs over Scientology
Some months ago Comedy Central pulled the South Park episode on Scientology and Tom Cruise. The rumour was that Cruise, a prominent member of the bizarre cult, threatened the studio, which owned Comedy Central. He said he would not participate in any publicity for the film unless the episode was pulled from airing. But this was just a rumour.
Your blogger can confirm it straight from the horse's mouth -- so to speak. I had occassion, in my other life, to spend some time recently with Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the creators of the series. They certainly have no love for Tom Cruise, not that I blame them one bit. And what they said confirmed the rumours. They said they received a phone call from Comedy Central telling them the episode had been cancelled. They said they were specifically told that Cruise made the threats in question. And they were told to tell no one what had happened. But they said in spite of saying nothing the news was all over the internet within 24 hours.
Not only was the news on the internet but it didn't long for people to find downloadable versions of the episode in question. I confess I have a copy of it myself and found it hilarious. But I have permission -- sort of. Parker and Stone also talked about people downloading their episodes and were quite adamant that they love it. They said they have no problem with episodes making the rounds on the internet. They said that one major reason they produce the series is because they want people to see it.
So the rumour that wacko Cruise intervened for his cult to stop the show is apparently true. And here is where it gets good. The studio so threatened has dumped Cruise. Once the darling of Hollywood the star is no longer considered box office magic. His demands are excessive and the returns on having him are relatively small. His last two films did not earn well considering the investment. And the studios had agreed to contracts which gave Cruise disproportionately high percentages of the profits. He was earning more from the films than the people who financed them.
He has also alienated his audience with his cult activities. On one film he demanded that the studio provide a tent where Scientologists could work on getting crew members involved into the cult. He went public with attacks on Brooke Shields for taking anti-depressants after the birth of her daughter. Shields dismissed Cruise saying she doesn't take advice from people who believe in aliens -- referring to the bizarre beliefs of Scientology, a religion created by by a SciFi author. And the chairman of Viacom, Sumner Redstone, made it quite clear he was terminating the contract because Cruise's "recent conduct has not been acceptable to Paramount."
Actors can't get away with bizarre behaviour and make demands provided the benefits they give the company exceed the costs. But when an actor costs a lot and then cuts profits because of his wacko actions the studio sees their profits declining. The studios invest millions into a film and can't let the religious beliefs of the star undercut their ability to earn a return especially if the star is costing them more than he is worth. So Loony Tom lost his contract. The studio was only following the dictates of the customers who have been avoiding Cruise films in higher and higher numbers. Ultimately the consumer is king in the market.
And now for the irony. Paramount has signed deals with Trey Parket and Matt Stone to make two live action films for them. They are moving up with a bullet. So the duo, who were targets for the wrath of Cruise and the Scientologists, are rather happy and said they would like to fake some credit for the Cruise demotion.
Martha Fischer at Cinematical says she was never a Parker/Stone fan until she "saw This Film Is Not Yet Rated, in which Stone briefly appears. It was really the first time I'd seen him not on for the cameras and the public, and he struck me as both perceptive and intelligent, qualities I hadn't previous known he had." I think she is correct. Over the last couple of days there were times that the duo seemed serious and interesting. But they seemed to feel the need to be, as Fischer put it, "on for the cameras and the public". At other points when they were serious they got quite interesting. But when "on" they were mildly amusing. I think they overdid the amusement myself. True they are entertainers but they didn't need to be constantly performing and they have more to offer the public than just a cartoon. There are comedian who think anytime people are watching they have to be funny. Not true. The same for cartoonists.
And since Trey and Matt said they don't mind downloads of their show above is the episode on Cruise and Scientology. It's funny stuff.