‘South Park’: How ‘Beavis and Butt-Head’ Drove Trey Parker and Matt Stone Away From MTV

The classic MTV show Beavis and Butt-Head was the next step in televised animation for grown-ups. The Simpsons introduced the concept of a dysfunctional animated family and earned its share of political condemnation for it. Beavis and Butt-Head had teenage antiheroes declare what was cool and what sucks. South Park came next and showed grade schoolers swearing, but thanks to Beavis and Butt-Head, South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone went to Comedy Central.

'South Park': Mr. Hankey and Kyle sit on the stoop, after 'Beavis and Butt-Head' scared the show off MTV
L-R: Mr. Hankey and Kyle | Comedy Central

Former MTV and Comedy Central executive Doug Herzog hosts the Basic podcast with Jen Chaney. When they interviewed Mike Judge on June 22 about creating Beavis and Butt-Head for MTV, Herzog revealed that it was Judge’s show that convinced the South Park creators to go with Comedy Central. 

‘South Park’ saw how MTV handled ‘Beavis and Butt-Head’ controversy

Beavis and Butt-Head faced controversy in its first season. A fire-related tragedy was blamed on the show, so MTV decided to remove all references to fire from the existing and future episodes. Judge thought that was going too far (especially after learning the victims of the fire didn’t get cable). Herzog was President of MTV Productions when Beavis and Butt-Head launched, but became President of Comedy Central in 1995.

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“In its own weird way, all of that controversy around Beavis is part of the reason South Park ended up on Comedy Central,” Herzog said on Basic. “I was at Comedy Central at this point. We were bidding against MTV. I convinced the guys, ‘Look what Mike Judge just went through.’ I said, ‘It’s a teen audience and they’re not going to let you do the show you want to do there.’ That convinced them to come to Comedy Central because we would have an ‘adult audience.’”

Former MTV President Doug Herzog thinks MTV over-reacted to the fire controversy

When he was at MTV, Herzog could not prevail upon MTV to take a more measured approach to the Beavis and Butt-Head controversy. Comedy Central would ultimately ask Parker and Stone to pull South Park episodes, too.

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“MTV always unfortunately overreacted to these things to the point where they would take the word fire out, instead of kind of holding their ground a little bit,” Herzog said. “Something I learned to do a little better when I got to Comedy Central. Whether it was heavy metal or Beavis and Butt-Head, everything, they always took it to heart and took it a little farther than they had to. Specifically with Beavis and Butt-Head. Certain things needed to be changed and were changed. I don’t know that this was one of them.”

‘Beavis and Butt-Head’ creator Mike Judge remembers being Public Enemy #1

Judge himself remembered being the scapegoat not only for one tragedy, but for everything wrong with television. Although Beavis and Butt-Head ran until 1997, MTV did not stand by him in the beginning.

David Felton used to say just one letter from one person could cause the entire network to react and take something off. This was around that time where I guess there wasn’t a lot of news going on in the world. The wall had come down. For some reason, it was that year, ‘93 where everyone was like there’s too much violence on TV. They had no statistics. They would just do anecdotal stuff. It just became a thing and Beavis and Butt-Head was the worst show ever. I remember Connie Chung, before it had ever gone on the air, at the end of some bit she said, ‘And MTV has gone so far as to name a show Beavis and Butt-Head.’ Like this is just the worst, TV has hit rock bottom. It was definitely a magnet for all that stuff.

Mike Judge, Basic podcast, 6/22/22

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