Just a few short years ago, many speculated that South Park would soon be singing its last profane song and poking fun at its final social issue. Now, with the show secure to continue airing through at least 2016, viewers can be sure that there will be plenty more of the little mountain town and its deranged inhabitants for years to come.
However, there are signs that the show may be ramping down slightly to accommodate its creators' busy lives. Starting with the series' seventeenth outing, South Park will only feature ten episodes per season – though with the added bonus of doing away with the customary mid-season break.
In an interview with The New York Times, South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone shared that their signature cartoon will air a new season of 10 episodes uninterrupted this autumn. The reason for the change is far simpler than these sorts of television shakeups tend to be. Stone explained:
"Why did we do seven and seven to begin with? ...We just sort of made that up. And we are switching to 10 for the same reason. It just sounded like a good number, and we won't break up the year so we can more easily do other stuff."
The two creators acknowledged that four fewer episodes and no season split will allow them to concentrate entirely on South Park for one intense portion of the year and leave the rest open to other creative endeavors. This is unsurprising given Parker and Stone's recent mega-success with the stage musical The Book of Mormon. With production of South Park blocked off for ten specific weeks a year, the duo will have plenty of room to oversee the globe-spanning comedy-musical and to pursue any other new projects.
Part of the decision to shorten and compress South Park's upcoming seasons was the acknowledgment of new viewership paradigms that are slowly supplanting the old wisdom on how one should produce and schedule a season of television. Of this, Stone said:
"There is no appointment viewing anymore... In our first season, you had to show up on Wednesday nights at 10 p.m. on the Comedy Channel to catch the show. Now, I don't even know where or how people watch our show. We sort of don't really care about ratings. It's more important to come up with work that will add to the library in a way that we're proud of and will make people want to catch the show wherever they want to."
Stone and Parker's candor in the matter is certainly refreshing, but one has to wonder whether fans will accept the trade-off of fewer total episodes for a more compressed South Park experience. The show's production has always flown by the seat of its pants, famously pumping out episodes from script draft to finished product a week or less. As of season 17, that spirit will be concentrated into a single, intense run at a time.
Will South Park aficionados adapt to a two-month long ration of new episodes every autumn, or will they demand a return to a season spread more evenly over the year? At the very least, the results of this new programming approach will be fascinating (and, hopefully, hilarious) to watch.
New episodes of South Park will return to delight and offend on September 25, 2013.