Clamor outside 'South Park' closet

Times Staff Writer

Closetgate is heating up! Paramount has joined Tom Cruise's public relations rep in denying reports that the movie star strong-armed the studio into spiking a "South Park" episode that ridicules him and Scientology. According to the site Hollywood Interrupted, Comedy Central yanked a scheduled repeat this week of "Trapped in the Closet," a now-notorious "South Park" episode that first aired in November, after Cruise threatened to halt his promotional activities on behalf of Paramount's "Mission: Impossible III," which opens May 5. Viacom is also alleged to have ordered "South Park" producers and co-creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker not to discuss the incident (although the pair reportedly issued a joking statement that seemed to lend credence to the notion that some arm-twisting occurred). Paramount and Comedy Central are Viacom properties.

"Trapped in the Closet," which satirizes Scientology and also pokes fun at questions regarding Cruise's sexuality, may have claimed one casualty already. Earlier this week, soul singer and Scientologist Isaac Hayes, who has voiced the character of Chef since 1997, asked to be released from his "South Park" contract, presumably because of the "Trapped" episode. Stone said he would grant Hayes' request.

Midday Friday, Paramount spokeswoman Nancy Kirkpatrick said that Cruise "hasn't ever threatened not to support" the publicity campaign for "Mission: Impossible III."

Cruise rep Paul Bloch said the actor "had nothing to do with any programming" on Comedy Central. "At no time did Tom Cruise say he would not do publicity" for "M:I III."

OK, but one problem: No one at Viacom has publicly offered a satisfactory explanation of why the repeat, scheduled for Wednesday night, was pulled. A Comedy Central rep said he could not comment but referred to a statement issued Thursday to the New York Post saying the episode was pulled because "we wanted to give Chef an appropriate tribute by airing two episodes he is most known for."

That's a transparently ridiculous claim. If the network wanted to give Chef an appropriately disrespectful "South Park"-style send-off, it would have re-broadcast as scheduled the episode that prompted him to quit in a huff, not suddenly knocked over tables and chairs in a mad rush to memorialize the "episodes he is most known for."

If we weren't looking forward to Season 10 of "South Park" before, we certainly are now. For Stone and Parker, Closetgate will be the gift that keeps on giving.

Flap shuts 'Idol' prediction site

Are the producers of Fox's "American Idol" trying to squelch a website that might predict the show's outcome?

Dialidol.com has been generating buzz among "Idol" fans due to its supposedly uncanny ability to predict which singers will get voted off in any given week. The site purports to do this with an autodialing program it provides to phone-in voters and then analyzes which contestants' numbers yield the most busy signals, presumably signifying the highest call volume. The contestant whose line is most available is deemed the least popular and therefore the most likely to be voted off.

"Idol" producer FremantleMedia is apparently not amused. Late Wednesday, the content of Dialidol was removed and replaced with a notice from webmaster Jim Hellriegel, who wrote that the producers had sent the site "a cease and desist letter yesterday claiming that Dialidol infringes on copyrights they own." The webmaster calls the site a "David" fighting the Fremantle "Goliath."

In a brief interview Friday morning, Ohio resident Hellriegel said he believed Fremantle was using the copyright infringement claim as a pretext for shutting down the dial-in service, which could threaten the suspense, and therefore the ratings, for the "results" shows.

The producers, meanwhile, aren't talking.

"Fremantle has no comment on this," Eric Green, a spokesman for the producers, said in an e-mail.

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