South Park began in 1992 when Parker and Stone, then film students at the University of Colorado, created an animated short called Jesus vs. Frosty. The crudely-made film featured prototypical versions of the kids of South Park, including a character resembling Cartman but called 'Kenny' and an unnamed character that resembles Kenny bringing a murderous snowman to life with a magic hat.
Executives at FOX saw the movie, and in 1995, executive Brian Graden commissioned Parker and Stone to create a second short film to send to friends as a video Christmas card. Titled The Spirit of Christmas, it closely resembled the style of the later series, and featured a martial arts duel and subsequent truce between Jesus and Santa Claus (two characters who have since been recurring characters in the series) over the true meaning of Christmas. This video was later featured in the episode "A Very Crappy Christmas" in which Stan, Kyle, Cartman, Kenny, Mr. Hankey and his family 'save' Christmas. The video was a hit and was quickly shared, both by underground duplication and over the burgeoning Internet. This led to talks to create a series, first with FOX, then with Comedy Central, where the series premiered on August 13, 1997. A clip of the short can actually be seen in the opening sequence for the series contained within a billboard. The first short can also be seen during the opening sequence on an old television.
The satirical disclaimer that begins most episodesThe show's provocative, frequently offensive, and adult-oriented material quickly drew protest from various spokespersons, and South Park merchandise (especially T-shirts) were banned from a number of public schools, day care centers, and other public places. This occurrence is similar in a manner to the prohibition of Bart Simpson T-shirts in the early 1990s, after The Simpsons was accused of contributing to juvenile delinquency. Comedy Central defended South Park by noting that the show is given a "Mature Audiences" TV rating (TV-MA) and is not meant for children to watch. They also pointed out that it only airs the show during night-time hours and never during the day, when children may be more likely to see the show. In fact, at least for the earlier part of the show's run, trailers for the series did not run until after 7 PM.
In February 1998, one episode of South Park posed the question of who Eric Cartman's father was. The episode ended with the announcement that it would be revealed in four weeks' time. A month later, the airing of an episode about Terrance and Phillip (two fictional Canadian comedians who the main characters idolize) in place of the anticipated episode prompted outrage, and caused Comedy Central to push the true season premiere up earlier than expected. It was apparently a well-planted April Fools gag, meant to poke fun at season-ending cliffhangers. The joke was repeated in "Cartoon Wars Part II", which begins by teasing audiences about Comedy Central refusing to air the episode, and then cutting into an introduction featuring Terrance and Phillip in a short film involving Muhammad (who is not shown). Alternatively, the joke was taken in an opposite direction at the end of "Professor Chaos", where three questions were posed, supposedly to be answered in the following episode, except that they were answered immediately, following which, the credits ran.
In 1999, the full-length animated feature film South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut was released to generally enthusiastic reviews. The film managed to satirize both itself and the anticipated reaction that it engendered from moral conservatives. It also presented a twisted but seemingly sincere tribute to the film musical with a number of songs, including "Uncle Fucka," and "Blame Canada". The latter was nominated for an Oscar and was performed by Robin Williams during the awards show. It has been speculated that "Blame Canada" was chosen from other Oscar-worthy songs in the movie because it was the only one that could be performed on live TV with its lyrics relatively intact (as the song contains only two examples of profanity). While it is true that "Up There" (by Satan) contains no swear words at all, it would most likely have created far more controversy on religious grounds, given its sympathetic portrayal of Satan and his justification of evil in the lyrics. Phil Collins won the Oscar, however, with his song "You'll Be In My Heart" from Disney's Tarzan, which prompted a number of Phil Collins jokes in a subsequent South Park episode. The film also got into the Guinness Book of World Records for most obscenities in an animated movie, with a count of 399.
On November 11, 1999, shortly after the U.S. theatrical release of South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, actress Mary Kay Bergman, who had provided all of the female voices on the animated series South Park and in the full-length movie, committed suicide in her suburban Los Angeles home. After her death, it was revealed that she suffered from a severe form of clinical depression. Her husband, Dino Andrade, founded the Mary Kay Bergman Memorial Fund, at the Suicide Prevention Center of Greater Los Angeles, in an effort to help and educate people with the same type of depression that his wife suffered.
In the episode "It Hits the Fan", South Park broke the swearing record by using the word 'shit' a total of 162 times, uncensored. The 22-minute episode averages one 'shit' every eight seconds, and there was a counter throughout the episode displaying the number of times it was said. A song by Mr. Garrison that consisted of, 'Hey, there, shitty shitty fag fag, shitty shitty fag fag, how do you do?' (sung to the tune of the title song from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang), repeated for four verses, provides an example of how 'shit' was so abundantly used. This was meant as a satire of an episode of Chicago Hope, released shortly before this episode, where one of the main characters said the phrase 'shit happens' without being censored, and the American public discussed this for weeks. An additional gag in this episode allowed homosexual or bisexual characters to use the word 'fag' freely, while heterosexual characters were bleeped when attempting to use the same word. (This episode suggested that Stan's uncle Jimbo was actually gay, as he was able to say 'fag' without being bleeped).
On September 9, 2005, Comedy Central struck a deal with Parker and Stone for three more seasons of the show. The network has committed to three more seasons of South Park over the next three years, 42 episodes (including those of the second half of Season 9), which means that the show will run until at least 2009. Parker and Stone will continue to write, direct, and edit every episode of the show. The order brings the series total to 182 episodes. The ninth season ended in early December. Slightly less "Questionable" versions of South Park episodes, with the TV-14 rating, began broadcasting in syndication on September 19, 2005 on various local channels around the US.