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Comedy Central Cooks Up a Cover

March 20, 2006 12:00 AM

Is Comedy Central losing its sense of humor? "South Park" creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone roasted Scientology in a November episode on the network, prompting recording artist (and Scientologist) Isaac Hayes last week to quit his role as Chef on the show. On his way out the door, Mr. Hayes slammed "South Park" for being disrespectful of religion. Mr. Parker and Mr. Stone said the show has mocked various religions for a decade and Mr. Hayes took offense only when it was Scientology's turn. Amid the rancor, Comedy Central backed off its plan to re-air the episode last Wednesday. Industry bloggers such as Defamer.com painted the move as the result of a power play by couch-jumping Scientologist Tom Cruise (Comedy Central is owned by Viacom, whose properties also include Paramount Pictures, which is releasing Mr. Cruise's "Mission Impossible: 3"). But in a bit of PR eloquence that spins so fast it's practically a blur, Comedy Central described the decision not to re-air the offending episode and to substitute others that feature Chef heavily as an impromptu tribute to Mr. Hayes' character: "In light of the events of earlier this week, we wanted to give Chef an appropriate tribute," the statement read. Asked if the network will ever re-air the Scientology episode, a representative replied, "I can't go there." The episode is not the first "South Park" half-hour to be pulled by the network. Another recent religion-themed episode, "Bloody Mary," was not re-aired during the 2005 holiday season after a flurry of protests by Catholic organizations. -James Hibberd

Getting Stern With Moonves

Hundred-million-dollar breach-of-contract lawsuits are usually no laughing matter, but Warner Bros. Chairman and CEO Barry Meyer couldn't help poking fun at his former colleague and new business partner, CBS Corp. President and CEO Leslie Moonves, during last Wednesday's pre-upfront presentation for their new network, The CW. Mr. Meyer broached the subject of CBS's suit against radio shock jock Howard Stern, who left the company's radio division for Sirius Satellite Radio in December. In response to the suit, Mr. Stern has been attacking Mr. Moonves personally, going so far as to call him "a bully" on CBS's own "Late Show With David Letterman" last Monday. "I had a Howard Stern joke … I probably had 10 Howard Stern jokes," Mr. Meyer joked, with a laughing Mr. Moonves standing beside him at the presentation. "It was too easy, so we're going to have a little contest at the end-everyone can put their Howard Stern joke in a little hat at the back, and we'll pick out the best one and go from there." Mr. Moonves didn't seem to mind, maybe because the suit has already benefited CBS. Thanks to Mr. Stern's appearance, "Late Show's" ratings were up last Monday.

-Christopher Lisotta

Bringing Down the House

Sometimes, selling advertising can be like selling real estate. To close a big deal with Century 21, CNN account executive Ashley Olsen went to a meeting dressed like a real estate agent, complete with jacket and badge. The presentation also included a 4-by-8 blueprint of a house in which different rooms described CNN assets and services that could be used to deliver the Century 21 message. It must have worked: Recently CNN announced a year-long deal making Century 21 the exclusive real estate sponsor of "Open House." While location, location and location are the three most important things in real estate, Century 21 bought billboards on cable, spots in streaming video and banners on the Web. The multiplatform deal also lets Century 21 use selected real estate-related articles from CNNMoney.com on its own Internet and intranet sites. -Jon Lafayette