Could a CBS fall pilot be the next flashpoint in Hollywood’s growing conflict with Scientology?
With Comedy Central’s “South Park” in a fracas involving celebrity Scientologists Tom Cruise and Isaac Hayes, CBS is scheduled to wrap shooting late this week on “Orpheus,” a drama by writer and executive producer Nicholas Meyer (“Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan”) about an organization that bears a striking resemblance to L. Ron Hubbard‘s Church of Scientology.
According to a copy of the script, “Orpheus” concerns Guy (Nicholas D’Agosto), a young would-be lawyer whose whirlwind romance with small-town siren Sue Ellen (Mena Suvari) sidetracks him into a shadowy, menacing group called “Grand Design,” or GD. GD attracts new believers with a bestselling quasi-philosophical book akin to Hubbard’s “Dianetics” and, like Scientology, uses a complicated ranking system for followers. GD-ers even boast of their exploits on behalf of victims of Hurricane Katrina, recalling similar missions publicized by Scientologists.
Asked about the similarities with Scientology, Lauri Metrose, a spokeswoman for CBS Paramount Network Television, replied in an e-mail, “You are reading an early draft and there have been (as with any pilot) many changes big and small. The cult is an amalgamation of all cults throughout history.” The draft that Channel Island obtained is dated Jan. 20, 2006.
A spokesman for the Church of Scientology did not return a phone call seeking comment.
Viacom, which until recently was CBS’ corporate parent (CBS is now a division of CBS Corp.), has been on a collision course with Scientology lately. The media giant’s Comedy Central last week yanked a scheduled repeat of a “South Park” episode that mercilessly lampooned Cruise and Scientology, reportedly after Cruise threatened to stop publicity activities for Paramount’s upcoming “Mission: Impossible 3.” (Reps for Cruise and Paramount have said that the star had made no such threats.)
Viacom pulled the same episode, “Trapped in the Closet,” from the Paramount Comedy 1 network in Britain earlier this year, reportedly after Cruise threatened to sue.
Earlier this month, Hayes, a Scientologist who had voiced the character of Chef on “South Park” since 1997, asked to be released from his contract, saying that the series espouses “inappropriate ridicule of religious communities.”