SCIENTOLOGY COMES TO SOUTH PARK

South Park is the highest-rated show on Comedy Central thanks to its willingness to slaughter sacred cows, but sources say even show creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone are a bit nervous about the blowback from tonight’s episode. Entitled “Trapped in the Closet,” the duo set their crudely animated sights on Scientology and Tom Cruise—topics previously deemed “off limits” due to the actor’s close ties to Comedy Central’s sister company, Paramount Pictures, we’re told.

According to a source who has read an early draft of the script, it begins with Stan visiting a Church office only to be hailed as a savior by the leaders of Scientology because of his off-the-chart results on an E-meter test. A group of Hollywood A-listers quickly gather outside Stan’s house, we’re told, with Tom Cruise somehow ending up stuck in a closet—leading a news crew stationed at the scene to report that Cruise’s fans fervently want the actor to “just come out.”

In the end, R&B star R. Kelly—whose multi-song summer opus gave the episode its name—swoops in to save the day. (We suspect Chef will be sitting this one out. A rep for Isaac Hayes, who supplies the voice of South Park’s horny cook and who happens to be a Scientologist, said her client hadn’t heard about the plot and that she didn’t “think Chef was even in it.”)

The unwanted cartoon cameo comes at an awkward time for Cruise. The actor recently canned his career-wrecking publisister Lee Anne DeVette, and has been trying to restore his image with help from Rogers & Cowan spin-masters Paul Bloch and Arnold Robinson. Comedy Central’s parent company, Viacom—which also owns Paramount—might not be too keen either about seeing its studio’s big-money Mission Impossible 3 star ridiculed yet again just when America had seemingly moved on from its obsession with his sexuality and Scientology ties.

Asked about the South Park episode, Robinson said, “We have no knowledge of it, so we don’t have any opinion about it at all.” Paramount spokeswoman Nancy Kirkpatrick also declined to comment, saying, “I don’t know anything about it…. I can’t make that judgement.”

Comedy Central spokesman Tony Fox explained that he didn’t know any details of the show because, “these guys literally write and rewrite the episode almost right up to the moment it airs.” Asked whether taking potshots at Cruise and Scientology was a wise move, Fox said the network has Stone and Parker’s back: “If you know South Park, they are free and have been free to satirize anybody and anything they want to. They’ve made fun of MTV, they’ve made fun of Viacom, they’ve made fun of Comedy Central, and we’ve never interfered with them.”