Season 8-10a: Mike on the Sci Fi Channel – Part 1
The period of anxious waiting ended on 6/24/96 when the Sci-Fi Channel (SFC) announced they had picked up MST3K for 13 episodes to begin airing February 1997. There was an option for an additional 9 shows. Movies would be selected specifically from the SFCs film vault and no Comedy Central era episodes would be aired. Even with these few restrictions MST fans were jubilant.
The celebration was dampened when just a month later on 7/24/96 Trace announced he would be leaving BBI to seek other career opportunities in Los Angeles.
Over the summer of 96 Frank was working with Joel on his latest project Statical Planets, featuring Static-a-Matic. Joel was stretching the boundaries again by creating a show with no real sets, but instead had environments that were projected using a process he called Hodgson Backscreen 90. Frank was featured as King Francis as well as playing the Frank Army, 3000 strong. Joel played a character named Icon Harvester.
BBI resumed production in August 96 to prepare the first new SFC episodes. A mere four days before production began the roll of Crow was handed to Bill Corbett. Originally from Bay Ridge (Brooklyn), NY, Bill attended the exclusive, all-male college preparatory Xaverian High School in Bay Ridge and received a Bachelor of Arts and a Masters Degree from the Yale drama school. After writing some off-Broadway plays he moved to Minneapolis on a Jerome Fellowship from the Playwright's Center. He also tried his hand at stand-up and there became acquainted with some of the BBI writing staff. His play The Big Slam had been produced in Minneapolis in 1995 and Bill had worked as a contributing writer near the end of season 6 (621-624).
From August 8-11 Mike, Bridget and Mary Jo appeared at GEN CON game fair in Milwaukee, WI. On 8/11 they showed three shorts, had a questions and answer session and signed autographs.
Josh was also keeping busy writing for the new UPN sitcom, Malcolm and Eddie, that premiered on 8/26/96. The show starred Malcolm Jamal-Warner (TVs Theo Huxtable) and stand-up comedian Eddie Griffin. Josh's other job on Later came to an end on 10/7/96 when Greg Kinnear left the show.
As Labor Day weekend approached fans made their way toward Minneapolis for the Conventio Con Expo Fest-A-Rama 2: Electric Bugaloo, to be held at the Minneapolis Convention Center. The convention kicked off Friday, August 30, 1996 with a keynote address that included all the cast, a short speech by Barry "Queen of Outer Space" Schulman from the SFC and a touching video retrospective for Trace set to Frank Sinatras song My Way. The evening also included a first time showing of the short Assignment: Venezuela that was being prepared for the CD-ROM. Although it wasnt said that evening the general belief was that the CD-ROM plans would be dropped with the exit of Trace, since he was spearheading the program.
The next morning, 8/31/96, featured a question and answer session with the entire writing staff, including Trace and Bill, who was not introduced at this time as the new Crow. Trace mentioned he was in discussions with Event Comics on a project called Here Come The Big People. That afternoon saw a lengthy autograph session.
There had initially been a plan for another live MSTing, but that idea was scrapped with Traces announcement. One unconfirmed rumor is that an Airport movie was going to be riffed. Instead MST3K: The Movie Extravaganza event that evening began with a lively version of the theme song performed by Dave Alvin from the Blasters. Some behind the scenes photos were shown along with the cut storm shelter sequence and original ending. A question and answer session was followed by a live viewing of MST3K: TM.
Throughout the weekend there were once again viewing rooms showing old episodes, two props rooms comprising the Museum of Mystery Science and Technologies, Gypsys Basement selling merchandise and tours of BBI studios. This time the tours featured video presentations by Mike and Kevin on the Satellite of Love and in Deep 13 and then Mary Jo and Paul in the writing room.
Sunday, 9/1/96 started with some fans going on a Shop Ahoy shopping spree with Mary Jo and Bridget at the Mall of America while others were able to challenge Mike to a game of Doom. Although most combatants were unceremoniously dispatched, Mike did taste cruel defeat at the hands of one very young MSTie named Rusty.
That afternoon saw the celebrity panel featuring Kim Catrall, Russell Johnson (TVs Professor) and This Island Earths Cal Meacham, Rex Reason. The lively discussion was followed by an autograph session and later that evening by a costume ball.
The 2300 attendees fell short of the expected 4000, partially due to the announcement of Trace leaving and the cancellation of the live show. Fans didnt know it at the time, but this would be Julie Walkers last official act as Info Club Poobah. She would be missed by many fans, but it wouldnt be long before assistant Poobah Barb Tebben agreed to step up to Julies vacant position.
On 9/1/96 syndication ended. Due to the syndicators poor financial position and the SFCs request for exclusive airing rights BBI agreed to stop. Also in September Comedy Central moved the 5 PM Saturday show to 10 AM.
Sabrina the Teenage Witch, starring Melissa Joan Hart, debuted on ABC at 8:30 PM Friday, 9/26/96. Frank was a member of the writing staff and would appear in a number of episodes. Joel was credited as a magic consultant and created some impressive effects during the first season.
10/1/96 saw the release of MST3K: TM for video rentals and on 10/8/96 the laserdisc letterbox edition went on sale.
The Holiday 96 Issue (8.2) of the Satellite News came out in October and officially introduced Barb as the new Info Club Poobah. Fans noticed that there was no mention of a Turkey Day marathon, but were unaware that this would be the last newsletter mailed out to fan club members by BBI.
On 10/11/96 episode #3 of Sabrina, The True Adventures of Rudy Kazootie, aired and featured an appearance by Frank as the adult-sized cranky baby, Big Rudy.
Beginning on 10/31/96 the SFCs official website, the Sci-Fi Dominion, kicked off a feature called Caption This where people could view screen grabs taken directly from the SFC broadcast and post their own riffs for others to enjoy.
Kevin Murphy attended BBIs first on-line chat on the SFC Dominion on 11/4/96. He had a few bits of information about the upcoming season including that one show would be The Land Unknown, although that title was never filmed due to rights issues.
On 11/16/96 MST3K continued the tradition of losing the Cable ACE award for Best Comedy Series. They were paid a tribute by legendary rock guitarist Roger McGuinn when he asked to use the shadowrama on the cover of his Live From Mars CD released on 11-19-96. He even thanked Mike, Kevin and Jim and Tom Servo wrote the liner notes. (Kevin actually penned the notes.)
Joel was featured on the cover of the November 96 issue of GENII, a magicians magazine. A large article featured some hand-drawn instructions for magic tricks and an interesting collage of Joels life in magic and ventriloquy.
Rhino released Pod People and The Brain That Wouldnt Die on video during November even though they were originally scheduled for release on 10/1/96.
As December 96 wore on Comedy Central changed the schedule one more time to 7 AM Saturday and 2 AM Sunday. A rumored farewell marathon never materialized. On 12/30/96 Angels Revenge was the final show broadcast on Comedy Central. On the same day the Sci-Fi Dominion opened the MST3K Bulletin Board.
On 1/9/97 Joel received the Ernie Kovacs Award for his creativity and innovation in television at the Dallas Video Festival. He demonstrated his new Static-a-Matic process and showed the trailer for his film project Statical Planets.
Troma Video Universe (later Troma Team Video) re-released Blood Hook for retail sales on 1/13/97.
To help get viewers in the mood for the start of the new MST season the SFC presented MST3K: The Home Game on 1/25/97 at 4 PM and 11 PM. They broadcast The Day the World Ended and viewers could enter their own riffs on-line, which would scroll across the bottom of the screen. There were also some BBI produced segments about the show and the studio.
On 1/26/97 Mike and Mary Jo appeared on Sci-Fi Vortex with host Roger Lodge and screenwriter Eric Wallace, who made sure his opinions were heard.
Finally on 2/1/97 Revenge of the Creature (801) launched the SFC era. The crew of the SOL returns to the ship from the edge of the universe only to find Crow had been living there right along. Crow seems some how different, but even stranger is the fact that the SOL is now circling a planet run by apes in the year 2525. Mike and the bots get acquainted with Professor Bobo (Kevin) and the other simians that occupy what was affectionately referred to by the cast as Deep Ape. The apes worship the Lawgiver, who turns out to be none other than Pearl Forrester who had been cryogenically frozen after disposing of her son Clayton. We also get to meet a civilization of microscopic creatures called Nanites that have infested the ship.
To help celebrate the new season the Brains started posting a monthly message known as Website Introductions on the Sci-Fi Dominion. This would later evolve into the Say What? section in May 98.
Viewers immediately noticed that the SFC logo was positioned directly over Crow in the theater segments. After the SFC was made aware of what a big problem this had caused at Comedy Central they moved it after a few weeks, although they had to perfect the method. Of course they also had to learn not to talk over the closing credits and not to scroll messages across the screen too.
The first four episodes would take place in Deep Ape and would present the shows first ever guest star, Minnesota Vikings running back and long time MSTie Robert Smith as Howard a mute, human slave given to Pearl. Mike helped dispose of the ape planet in episode 804, The Deadly Mantis, by assisting the repair of a thermo-nuclear device.
Thanks to the subsequent explosion, the SOL, followed closely by Pearl and Bobo in the widowmaker, is hurtled through space and ends up circling another planet this time occupied by the observers, a civilization so advanced they dont need bodies. They do, however, use bodies to carry around their super intelligent brains.
The writers developed the observers by combining a number of science fiction based characters, but if you watch and listen to the Errand of Mercy episode of the original Star Trek I think you will agree that the Organians are a major contributors. For example, the Organians tell Kirk that "they are as amoebas" and that they have no need for bodies, but appear in human form so they can be understood by the crew.
The disembodied brains called "the providers" in The Gamesters of Triskelion episode of Star Trek are another obvious source. This episode is also the source of the fight to the death between Pearl and Bobo in one episode.
There was also a character named "Observer" who operated the view screen on the space ship in This Island Earth. He was the "Normal View!" guy.
The Thing That Couldnt Die (805) did not feature a stinger at the end of the credits for the first time since early in season 2. This would continue for the next few episodes until 808 when Mike has the Nanites provide a # 7 which destroys the observers planet, Observer (Bill) manages to escape with Pearl and Bobo. Again hurtled through space the show ends with a shot of Bobo face down on a new planet. Actual stingers would return for good with the next episode.
The show had been doing better than expected ratings-wise so on 3/18/97 the SFC announced they were ordering 9 more episodes to bring the season 8 total to 22 shows.
Also on 3/18/97 the Disney direct-to-video movie Honey, We Shrunk Ourselves hit the stores. The film was co-written by Joel.
On 4/8/97 MST3K: TM began retail video sales.
Back on the show, in I was a Teenage Werewolf (809) we learn that Bobo had landed on what was referred to as the camping planet. Six episodes took place there including one with zucchini throw pillows and a couple with some space children named Buddy (Mike), Darlene (Bridget) and Scooter (Paul). After getting the space children home Pearl and company were attacked by killer robots during Riding With Death (814). Mikes over zealous baking soda bomb managed to destroy one more planet.
When May 97 arrived fans began to anticipate receiving the next issue of the Satellite News in the mail. Instead it was announced that two long-time MSTies had been selected to take over updating the newsletter on-line. The two selected were Chris Cornell, fan club member # 48 who had given MST3K some of its first positive press when he wrote for the Philadelphia Inquirer, and Brian Henry, a computer programmer and creator of the MSTie-News. They were both well known to other MSTies as Sampo and Erhardt. The on-line Satellite News was officially launched on 5/5/97.
Frank made another brief guest appearance on Sabrina episode #24 on 5/16/97. In the season finale, entitled Troll Bride, Frank played Prince Randy. Frank had penned an episode for HBO's new series Perversions of Science called Transformation Complete. The series debuted in June 97. Frank was also finishing his book TV Recovery and was even writing for a new Disney show called Twisted Fairy Tales.
The Lost World: Juraissic Park opened in theaters on 5/23. When the video came out (11/4/97), sharp-eyed fans noticed that in the scene where a dinosaur destroys a Blockbuster Video Store one of the shelves is lined with copies of MST3K: The Movie VHS tapes.
The SFC switched the air times to 5 PM and 11 PM Saturdays in May. On 6/6/97 we saw the cable premiere of MST3K: TM when it began airing on Cinemax.
On 6/12/97 Joel officially announced he was ending his Static-O-Matic movie project, but was moving on to other adventures. Joel had helped punch up the script for the Disney movie George of the Jungle that premiered 7/16/97. Frank appeared on Make Me Laugh twice over the summer of 1997, first on 6/25 then again on 7/21. On 7/14/97 Servo and Mike appeared on Talk Soup hosted by John Henson on E!
MST3K was doing well and the SFC announced on 7/15/97 that they had ordered 13 episodes plus an option for 9 more for season 9. In July the SFC sent a crew to Eden Prairie to film a special about the show to air later in the summer. The cast also began posting updates to the Amazing Colossal Episode Guide for the new SFC episodes.
As the summer rolled on BBI decided to start up the studio tours that were once very popular, but had been stopped in late 1994 when the future was uncertain at Comedy Central. Meanwhile, on 7/18/97 at the San Diego ComicCon, a film by Kevin Rubio had its premiere. TROOPS was a clever spoof of Star Wars and COPS that featured a brief, but important, appearance by Tom Servo as a stolen droid.
Josh joined America's Funniest Home Videos (AFHV) in 1997 as head writer for the post-Bob Saget era with Daisey Fuentes and John Fugelsang. One of his first decisions was to hire Trace for the writing staff. Trace would remain on the show for the next few seasons.
On 8/15/97 a new special, The Making of MST3K, premiered at 6:00 PM as part of the SFCs Extra-Sensory Summer. The special was interesting in that Mike and the bots actually riffed their own show.
Agent for h.a.r.m. (815) debuted on 8/2/97 and featured Mike on trial as the destroyer of worlds. Not only did it include a rare on screen appearance by Brad Keely, but also was the official hand-off of the voice of Gypsy from Jim to Patrick Brantseg.
On 8/12/97 Rhino released The Unearthly and Eegah! on home video.
Prince of Space (816) found the SOL in a wormhole. We were not only treated to seeing Mike as a puppet, but also the only host segment filmed au natural, in a lovely sylvan glen.
Mike and the bots starred in another special that debuted at 6:30 PM on 9/2/97, MST3Ks First Annual Summer Blockbuster Review.
Starting 9/6/97 the SOL exited the wormhole and landed in Roman times for episodes 817-820. Pearl and Brain Guy cleverly disguised themselves as Apearlo and Brainguyus when they meet Callipygeas (Kevin) and his wife Flavia (Bridget). They also find out that the gladiator known as the Mad Goth is none other than Bobo. We also eventually learn that the real reason Rome burned was because Bobo knocked over a lantern when he tried to steal a wheel of cheese.
Event Comics published Traces Here Come the Big People in September. There were two different versions of the cover for issue #1, one by Geoff Darrow and another by Amanda Conner.
On 10/5/97 Joel appeared at a benefit for Scott Hansen, who had suffered a back problem and had been bed ridden since April. The benefit was held at the Treasure Island Casino in Redwing, MN and among others featured Jeff Cesario, Larry Miller and Lizz Winstead.
Rhino released Red Zone Cuba, The Atomic Brain and I Accuse My Parents for home video on 10/21/97. The tapes were also sold in a convenient 3-pack.
No fan of MST had been more dedicated to Joel than Lisa "Agent J" Jenkins. However, on 11/3/97, Joel found it necessary to issue a cease and desist order to her when he felt his privacy was being invaded and Lisa was embellishing the extent of their association on her website. Lisa quickly responded to Joels request and removed the material in question from her site.
Joel was involved at the time with the launch of Robot Wars, a show that would eventually spawn many imitators.
About the same time a new episode of VH1's series Pop-Up Video featured the song The Most Beautiful Girl in the World by Prince. After mentioning that Prince was born in Minnesota they pop-up the fact the MST3K was born in Minnesota in May of 1988. They were close I guess.
Mike and the bots once again appeared on Talk Soup Weekend wrap-up on 11/14-15/97. That evening they lost the Cable ACE award for one final time. That is because this was the last time the awards were given out. Although they never won an ACE they had been nominated every year from 1992 to 1997.
Trace attended a comic book signing at The Golden Apple Comic Book Mega-Store in Los Angeles on 11/22/97. It was announced a few days later that Trace would send autographed copies out to fans for a small fee.
Jim Henson Televison announced on 11/24/97 that they had entered into a first look agreement to develop television projects with Joel.
On November 27-28 there was a Turkey Day mini-marathon on the SFC. The Making of MST3K special aired at 7:30 AM on 11/27/97 followed by episodes at 8AM, 10 AM, noon, 2 PM and 4 PM. There was a break in the marathon from 6 PM midnight for other movies then two more episodes at midnight and 2 AM. Unfortunately, there were no original BBI produced bumpers or promos used.
Season 8 wrapped up with the SOL drifting in Deep Space once again. The last two episodes, Time Chasers (821) and Overdrawn at the Memory Bank (822), aired 11/22/97 and 12/6/97. Even though the year was ending on a high note, fans were disappointed when the SFC began using the notorious squeeze-back technique during the closing credits to advertise other shows. Public outcry soon caused a reversal of this decision.