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'South Park' Awaits Election Outcome

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NEW YORK (AP) — Trey Parker and Matt Stone are having a party Tuesday night to watch election returns, and not because they have a deep interest in tax policy or Social Security reform.

The winner of the presidential election between George W. Bush and Al Gore will be the lead character of their new sitcom.

The ``South Park'' creators have signed a deal with Comedy Central to produce ``Family First,'' which they describe as a subversive comedy series about the life of the next president. It's scheduled to debut on Feb. 28.

Picture Al and Tipper Gore, or George and Laura Bush, as a sitcom couple who leave the West Wing at the end of the day for the typical sitcom living room with chairs and a couch.

Maybe Al, like Dick Van Dyke, will trip over an ottoman. Or George and his family will ride into Washington like the Beverly Hillbillies. Hilarity ensues.

Get the picture? No? Well, there's a lot up in the air about ``Family First'' three months before it goes on the air, starting with the obvious — who's going to be the first family. But Parker and Stone have always liked to work without a net.

``I'm really curious to see what this show looks like — a sitcom by two people who really hate sitcoms,'' Stone said.

``It could implode upon itself,'' Parker admitted.

The hyperactive duo envisions a dual parody, both of the beleaguered situation comedy genre and the life of the next president, which they believe few Americans can relate to.

``There's a hunger out there to know what they're like,'' Stone said, ``and we're going to fill it in.''

One potential story line: the president and his honored guests gather for a state dinner, and the chef doesn't show up.

Every week, the ribald comedy of ``South Park'' suggests the skewed senses of humor Parker and Stone can bring to the project.

``I'm interested in the way George W. Bush scrunches his face up sometimes. His face is fascinating to me,'' Stone said. ``Gore's face ... He looks like a guy in drag who just got out of drag.''

The new series won't be a cartoon like ``South Park.'' It will have real actors, and the two men are looking for sitcom veterans to help them put it together. They even went to Amazon.com to order three books on how to write situation comedies, and visited the sets of ``Will & Grace'' and ``Everybody Loves Raymond'' to see how it's done.

Parker and Stone tend to work like college students when producing ``South Park'' episodes, pulling all-nighters to barely meet deadlines.

When they decide a line of dialogue needs punching up, they go into the next room and instantly edit it in. They actually sent some critics a tape of this month's ``South Park'' season premiere a few weeks before it airs (Wednesday, Nov. 8), unusual since they rarely get it done so far in advance. Parker sheepishly admitted that they've since gone back and changed it.

Working with real actors provides no such luxury, and the very idea is a little terrifying.

``I just don't like working with people,'' Parker said, only half-jokingly. ``Working with cardboard cutouts is great.''

They decided to keep one comfortable working arrangement. Parker and Stone pitched their concept to other television networks, and said NBC was particularly interested. But after friends told them they would likely sacrifice creative freedom at a broadcast network, they decided to stick with Comedy Central.

Parker and Stone also believed that working with Comedy Central would make it easier to continue with ``South Park,'' which they are under contract to produce for three more years.

It's been a nerve-racking few months preparing for ``Family First.'' In September, when Gore was riding high in the polls, Parker and Stone were collecting material expecting the series to be about him. Bush's comeback caused some brief panic, but lately they're feeling comfortable there will be enough material no matter who wins Tuesday night.

There were, however, limits to their preparation: they turned off the first debate after 20 minutes, bored stiff.

While both men say they're more conservative than most of the people they meet in Hollywood — who simply assume everyone they know is voting for Gore — they're not even going to take the time to influence who will be the stars of their next series by voting.

``I don't think I'm going to,'' Stone said. ``No blood on my hands.''

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On the Net:

http://www.comedycentral.com/southpark/

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Elsewhere in television ...

TRADING PLACES: The syndicated ``Queen Latifah'' talk show is conducting an experiment to challenge Americans' feelings about race. At the show's invitation, a 19-year-old white teen-ager moved in with a black family in California for two weeks and a 20-year-old black man from Greensboro, N.C., moved in with a white family in Florida. Everyone is recording their impressions in video and written diaries. ``You have to take baby steps with racism, and we hope these shows will take us down the road of change,'' Latifah said. Programs on Nov. 9 and Nov. 16 will focus on the experiment, and viewers can also keep up through the show's Web site, http://www.latifahshow.com.

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EDITOR'S NOTE — David Bauder can be reached at dbauder``at``ap.org
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