How ‘South Park’ Creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone Came up With Timely Terry Schiavo Episode in 90 Minutes
South Park became notorious for incorporating current events in its weekly shows. Trey Parker and Matt Stone make every South Park episode in six days. On that schedule, they can address events of the moment within a week. One of their most poignant and well-timed episodes was “Best Friends Forever.” South Park satirized the Terry Schiavo debate the week her feeding tube was removed.
Terry Schiavo was in a persistent vegetative state. Her husband, Michael said Terry would not have wanted her life prolonged but her parents disputed it. After a legal battle, Michael won the right to remove Terry’s feeding tube in March 2005. She died on March 31. “Best Friends Forever” aired March 30.
‘South Park’ dropped what they were doing to address Terry Schiavo
In a 2005 interview promoting the DVD release of Team America: World Police, Trey Parker said they were working on another episode on Thursday, March 24. They ended up doing “Erection Day” on April 20, but Parker thought the Schiavo news was too big to ignore.
“I came to the table and said, ‘This thing is huge. We have this idea, the Jimmy thing, to fall back on. But let’s spend an hour and a half of this meeting, see if we can’t come up with a sweet idea for the Terry Schiavo thing,’” Parker said. “It just sort of all came out. Within an hour and a half, we were like, This is a great idea. We’ve got to do this.’”
Matt Stone added in the same interview that they won’t just jump on current events for the sake of doing it.
“You could really do that every week but we try to just do it when it’s really big,” Stone said.
How Trey Parker and Matt Stone made Kenny the Terry Schiavo of ‘South Park’
In the episode, Kenny gets a PSP, also a relatively new, current gaming device. He becomes obsessed with the game Heaven and Hell. While crossing the street still playing the game, a car runs Kenny over. In Heaven, it turns out they really need Kenny to lead the battle against Hell. That’s when Kenny is pulled back to Earth. His body remains alive on a feeding tube.
You have to make an episode that is viewable in five years too. As much as we try to make it timely, we also try to make a story that if you didn’t know who Terry Schiavo was, it would be a cool episode to watch. The real timely stuff is more the Letterman/Leno, that’s more their territory. We try to just take something that’s going on and make this whole thing. I think that’s kind of what makes those things impressive is like, ‘Wow, that looks like something that could come out anytime and it just happens to do with this week.’ It’s not just like Terry Shiavo jokes like Late Night in an animated form.Matt Stone, Team America: World Police roundtable interview, 2005
In the end, the battle between Heaven and Hell happens off screen.
“It was pretty brutal,” Parker said. “We went out to the animators, the lead animators like, ‘We’re going to do the battle between Heaven and Hell.’ And they’re like, ‘What?’”
Trey Parker and Matt Stone got praise for its Terry Schiavo episode
Parker and Stone were used to getting pushback from the celebrities they mocked on South Park. They would continue to poke bears like Tom Cruise in a Scientology satire. However, they said “Best Friends Forever” was one time when they earned respect.
“We got positive response from that because of the timeliness,” Stone said. “I think we’ve kind of marked our territory. When we go back and look at the first season, which got us on the cover of Newsweek, all this stuff was like, ‘Oh my God, it’s the end of civilization, here comes South Park.’ And now those episodes are so tame by comparison.”