(Welcome to The Quarantine Stream, a new series where the /Film team shares what they’ve been watching while social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.)
The Movie: 6 Days to Air: The Making of South Park
Where You Can Stream It: HBO Max
The Pitch: Most animated TV shows take months to create. South Park, one of TV’s longest-running animated sitcoms borne from a crude viral videotape, gets it done in just six days. Go behind the scenes to see how creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker and the rest of their team manage to write, perform and animate an episode of the series in less than a week.
Why It’s Essential Viewing: The production timeline for scripted television is fast-paced and nerve-wracking. That’s to be expected when you have to deliver anywhere a dozen or two episodes of entertainment per season, whether it’s a half-hour comedy series or an hour-long drama. But imagine trying to create an entire episode of scripted television in less than a week. That’s what South Park creators, writers, executive producers and stars Trey Parker and Matt Stone have been doing for years, and the documentary 6 Days to Air takes a look behind the scenes at the making of a single episode, the legacy of the raunchy comedy series, and the rush to get the show on Comedy Central in time.
There are only two scripted television shows that are produced in a single week. Saturday Night Live creates an entire live sketch comedy episode with a little over an hour of scripted content, but they only do this in two or three week stretches (though they did just finish a historic consecutive six-week run). As for South Park, they create their half-hour comedy series episodes (or roughly 22 minutes per episode) in less than a week. During the time 6 Days to Air was filmed, they were making seven episodes for seven weeks in a row. Starting with the 17th season, they’ve been making 10 episodes for 10 weeks in a row.
6 Days to Air chronicles an episode of South Park, specifically “HumancentiPad” from the 15th season, from the inception of the episode’s premise through writing, animation, voice recording, editing, and everything in between. Across the 42-minute runtime (which could have been much longer and been even more fascinating), there’s a countdown always showing how much time is left, reminding you how amazing it is that this show can come together so quickly.
Somehow, through this fast-paced work environment, most people don’t seem to be worried. Even the writers room seems so laid back, cracking jokes at breakneck speed. Maybe it’s just because they’re used to it by now. That’s not to say crew members don’t have their own share of stress, especially producer Anne Garefino, who has the difficult task of getting all of South Park‘s vulgar humor across the desk of the network’s Standards and Practices division. It’s the kind of job most viewers will never think about unless they’re the ones complaining to the Federal Communications Commission about what makes it to air.
In addition to the fascinating making of South Park, there’s also a little bit of history of the show. You get to flashback all the way to 1994 when the show was still just a dream from the minds of two filthy-minded comedy writers trying to animate with construction paper cutouts. With the show being 23 years old now, the rest really is history, as many know how controversial the show was and how quickly it skyrocketed in popularity.
As captivating as 6 Days to Air is, I wish that this was a feature length documentary that dove into more of the nitty-gritty of the series. Since this is produced by Comedy Central, it probably doesn’t show some of the more dramatic and unsavory sides of making a show like this, but it still offers some fascinating insight into how an animated series can be made fast enough to make topical pop culture references that aren’t out of date by the time the show hits your screen.
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