When Comedy Central's South Park serves up its tenth-season premiere Wednesday night, expect a heaping plate of trouble.
Because episodes are often produced in just six days, creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker had time to create a show skewering the character of Chef, who was voiced for the past decade by Isaac Hayes. Hayes, a Scientologist, quit last week, citing what he called the show's "intolerance and bigotry" toward religion.
Though Hayes did not single out a particular episode of the show, Stone, in interviews, blamed the soul singer's sudden departure on a recent installment that poked fun at Scientology.
According to a statement released by Comedy Central, the season premiere will mark "the triumphant homecoming" of ladies' man and school cook James "Chef" McElroy.
The statement continues: "The town is jolted out of a case of the doldrums when Chef suddenly reappears. While Stan, Kyle, Kenny and Cartman are thrilled to have their old friend back, they notice that something about Chef seems different."
Network spokesman Tony Fox said he expects Stone and Parker to incorporate the recent controversy into the show. "Knowing these guys as I do, I can't imagine that they're not going to do just that," he told Reuters. There has been no word on whose voice will supply Chef's dialogue.
Last Wednesday, Comedy Central abruptly yanked a scheduled rerun of an episode called "Trapped in the Closet," prompting speculation that the Church of Scientology – and member Tom Cruise – forced the change. Cruise's handlers have reportedly denied the star's involvement in the scheduling switch.