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TV's favorite foul-mouth kids are celebrating an anniversary

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

TV's favorite foul-mouthed kids are celebrating an anniversary.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SOUTH PARK THEME")

PRIMUS: (Singing) I'm going down to South Park, going to have myself a time.

MARTINEZ: Stan, Kyle, Cartman and Kenny have been entertaining and offending for 25 years. "South Park" premiered in 1997, but the characters first came to life five years earlier in a student film.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE SPIRIT OF CHRISTMAS")

TREY PARKER: (As Stan Marsh) Don't put the magic hat on the snowman.

MATT STONE: (As Kyle Broflovski) Why?

PARKER: (As Stan) 'Cause if you do, he's going to come to life.

STONE: (As Kyle) Cool.

PARKER: (As Stan) No, it's not cool. My sister put a hat on a snowman, and it tried to kill her.

MARTINEZ: University of Colorado classmates Trey Parker and Matt Stone produced a crudely animated film called "The Spirit Of Christmas," the story of a demented snowman that comes to life.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE SPIRIT OF CHRISTMAS")

STONE: (As Kyle) Oh, my God. Frosty killed Kenny.

MARTINEZ: Parker and Stone's work caught the attention of a young television producer named Brian Graden.

BRIAN GRADEN: Within, like, 10 minutes, I realized that their humor had the same gestalt as mine and my buddies growing up.

MARTINEZ: So Graden began looking for ways to get Parker and Stone's films in front of television executives.

FRADEN: By the third or fourth year of knowing them, we were still looking ways for them to be able to pay their rent. And so, almost as a throwaway, I said, would you guys want to do my Christmas card this year?

MARTINEZ: Graden gave Parker and Stone 2,000 bucks to rework "The Spirit Of Christmas." Graden planned to put it on VHS and give it out to friends.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE SPIRIT OF CHRISTMAS")

PARKER: (As Stan) Here we are, Jesus - South Park Mall. Who are you looking for?

STONE: (As Jesus) Him.

PARKER: (As Santa) Ho, ho, ho. We meet again, Jesus.

STONE: (As Jesus) You have blemished the meaning of Christmas for the last time, Kringle.

MARTINEZ: The revamped "Spirit Of Christmas" featured a fight to the death between Jesus Christ and Santa Claus.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE SPIRIT OF CHRISTMAS")

STONE: (As Jesus) I'm here to put an end to your blasphemy.

PARKER: (As Santa) This time we finish it. There can be only one.

TREY PARKER AND MATT STONE: (As boys) Go Santa. Go Jesus.

MARTINEZ: Christ versus Claus - how do you pick one? In a time before viral videos, "The Spirit Of Christmas" went viral. Graden's friends made copies for their friends who made copies for their friends and so on.

FRADEN: People would start saying to me, hey, you have to see this Christmas card, and they would pop it in. And I realized that all of these people were showing me my Christmas card, having no idea where it came from. That's when I began to realize that they had taken off.

MARTINEZ: So at this point, what are you thinking? Is this something I can monetize? Is this something that I can make into more than just that little private joke?

FRADEN: Well, you know, we had soft-pitched this idea to Fox and to others, but we hadn't gotten any kind of heated reaction. So there was no part of me that got cocky early, thinking, this is going to be big. And I can tell you to this day, those first ratings blindsided all three of us.

MARTINEZ: Brian, I remember watching Season No. 1, and I think it really was one of those draw a line in the comedy sand for a lot of people. Some people couldn't cross it, Brian. Some people did. And the people that did found out more about themselves.

FRADEN: I think that is really well put. I think that's correct. And, you know, the other thing that I really had an awareness of is that these guys would over time have something to say because they had a great satirical sense. They were great observers of the world. So I probably always thought of it as something more than just a foul-mouthed cartoon.

MARTINEZ: And is that why you think the show has survived for a quarter of a century, because Trey Parker and Matt Stone have something to say, even though it's wrapped up in cute cartoons with foul mouths? But I mean, there is something there beyond that, it seems.

FRADEN: Absolutely. It's funny, I was just hanging out with some friends this week, and their 16-year-old kid was marveling at "South Park." And then I thought about the fact that you weren't even born until 10 years into the run, and yet it has appealed to you. That I could have never dreamed of, and I think that is precisely for the reason that you cited, because the guys have something really clever to say about the world in virtually every episode.

MARTINEZ: That's Brian Graden, the developer and first executive producer of "South Park." The show turns 25 tomorrow.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRIMUS SONG, "SOUTH PARK THEME") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.