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The 1999 Chicago Hope Episode That Paved The Way For South Park's It Hits The Fan

The television landscape was a much different place back in 2001, and no show pushed the envelope more than "South Park." Season 5 of the satirical series came out of the gate swinging with the very first episode of the season "It Hits the Fan," which marked the first time characters on the show would be allowed to say "s***" without it being censored by Comedy Central. 

To say this episode was groundbreaking is not to be overstated. Instead of being satisfied with the big moment of saying a no-no word on TV, the creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker decided to take things a step further and have the word said 162 times throughout the episode. 

Within the episode, residents of "South Park" learn the word "s***" is an actual cursed word as it brings about the apocalypse when the residents use the word freely in everyday conversation. This is brought about by an episode of the in-world show "Cop Drama" being allowed to use the "S" word on TV. 

"Cop Drama" is in reference to "NYPD Blue." That show pushed the boundaries of what language could be used and what kind of nudity could be shown on a network television program; however, it was actually the CBS show "Chicago Hope" that paved the way for dirty language to not be censored on TV.

Mark Harmon was the first to say the word on network TV

"South Park" may have made "s***" okay to say on Comedy Central, but it wasn't the first show to use the curse word on television. While "South Park" may have its "s***" related episode centered around a show called "Cop Drama,"it was a 1999 episode of the CBS medical drama "Chicago Hope" that shattered that TV taboo.

In Season 6, Episode 4 of the David E. Kelley produced drama entitled "Vigilance and Care," Dr. Jack McNeil (Mark Harmon) answered a superior who questioned why a surgery went wrong by saying "s*** happens." In that moment, Harmon made TV history.

"It's a painful story that ends up with [Harmon] being unable to make his point clear," Executive Producer Michael Pressman said to the New York Post. "It's a full embodiment of what the episode is about, and there really wasn't a better way to say it." According to an ENews story, CBS claimed the producers believed this line captured the artistic honesty of that moment. 

"We wanted to support their creative vision," CBS said in a statement, "but clearly this is not something that will happen on a weekly basis." 

While it's true "Chicago Hope" did not use this word in every episode following "Vigilance and Care," it did lead to "NYPD Blue" pushing more boundaries. In turn, it led to "South Park" being able to say the word 162 times in an episode. More recently, viewers can hear that word and more like it in cable shows like "The Walking Dead" and "American Horror Story" on a weekly basis, normalizing this sort of language on the small screen.

"No one cares anymore," Matt Stone said at the time of "It Hits the Fan" as reported by AV Club. "The standards are almost gone."