KTMA: Testing out the premise
The show premiered on Thanksgiving Day11/24/88 at 6:00 PM as part of a special day of science fiction broadcasts on KTMA. Moviesstarted at 2 PM, then MST3K at 6 and 8 and Elvira was on at 10 and midnight.
The first episode was Invaders From TheDeep (K01) followed at 8:00 PM by Revenge Of The Mysterons From Mars (K02). Both wereGerry Anderson super marionation-vision productions, a creepy combination of sci-fi andmarionettes. The first showing brought in a Nielson rating of 0.8, or about 4000households, but none of the creators knew if anyone "got" the joke.
The third episode, which was alreadytaped, would air just three days later and would include an innovation that showed greatforethought. When Star Force: Fugitive Alien II (K03), aired at 6:00 PM Sunday, 11/27/88 atelephone answering machine had been set up and the number was announced for viewers tocall in. And call they did. The entire tape was filled in an hour with mixed, butgenerally positive comments about the show.
On 12/4/88 the fourth show, Gamera vs.Barugon (K04), aired beginning a string of five consecutive Gamera movies. Not only wasJoel sporting a new short haircut, but also a few of the telephone messages were shared.Luckily for MST fans, some early viewers began recording episodes starting with this one.
Even though cast members wouldoccasionally have to be written out of the script due to other commitments the show wasbeginning to hit its stride. We should remember that Jim and Kevin were technically theonly KTMA employees. Joel was paid a whopping $100 per show and Trace and Josh, who eachworked about a day and a half per episode, got $25 each. They still relied on theirstand-up jobs to pay the bills.
The show received its first press whenan article by Dave Matheny was printed in the 12/19/88 issue of the Minneapolis Star &Tribune.
Over the next few weeks theshow continued to develop. In Gamera vs. Gaos (K06) Servo got a new dynamic voice andimmediately started going by the name Tom Servo. Perhaps the biggest change was theon screen introduction of the mad scientists that launched Joel into space. That wouldoccur in the seventh show, Gamera vs. Zigra (K07) that was shown in a special NewYears Eve airing. The evening of 12/31/88 began at 10:00 PM with Scott HansensFreeze-Dried Comedy Special followed at 11:00 PM by the hour long TV23s 23rdAnnual New Years Eve Extravaganza Golden Jubilee. This third melon drop againfeatured Kevin as Bob Bagadonuts and also Josh as terrorist Ahmnon Lebowitz andCzechoslorabian comedian Smoid Vistaqi.
At midnight, immediately following themelon drop, MST was shown. In this seventh show we finally meet Trace as Dr. ClaytonForrester and Josh as Dr. Lawrence Erhardt. There is also a short clip of Joshs performance fromearlier in the evening.
The name Dr. Clayton Forrester was based on the character portrayed by Gene Barry in the 1953 George Pal adaptation of the H. G. Wells novel War of the Worlds. The name Dr. Lawrence Erhardt was a take off on Werner Erhard who founded the est self empowerment movement in the late 1970's. (est stands for Erhard Seminars Training.) Therefore, the MST mads appropriately sprung from 1950's monster movies and cult leaders.
During this time Joel was stillperforming at The Comedy Gallery and commercials for him as well as Travel Agency adsstarring Kevin were shown. The popularity of the show also resulted in Josh and Tracestarring as the mads in a commercial for the local Pizza N Pasta.
By the time Fugitive Alien (K12) wasaired on 2/5/89 a fan club was announced and a couple weeks later Joel began readingletters sent into the show by viewers. The viewer support helped convince the powers atKTMA to extend the run of the show and eventually 8 more episodes were produced. On3/12/89, during the final segment of Superdome (K15), Joel showed the new fan club certificate, membershipcard and the first issue of The Satellite News. (Note: because the newsletter states itwas formerly known as The Binding Polymer some fans, who did not catch the joke, searchedin vain for years for earlier issues.) The 1000th fan club member, Ms. GidgetHowell, even won a demon dog hat personally modeled by Joel during The Last Chase (K20).
Away from the show, Joel taped a pilot,with co-host Sue Scott, for Seriously Weird Magazine at KSTP-TV, channel 5 studios on3/25/89. It was recorded in front of a live audience in two separate shows at 1 PM and 7PM. The producers, including Scott Hansen, were hoping this would be the first comedyseries syndicated by Hubbard Broadcasting.
In April, anticipating a change may berequired, the Brains sent out a 7-minute pitch tape to other stations. 5/28/89 saw the 21stand last episode aired on KTMA even though the fan club had climbed to 1,131. At the endof Legend of the Dinosaurs (K21) Joel explained they were going on hiatus. Little did theyknow, although they may have suspected, KTMA would file for bankruptcy two months laterand they would be left without a home.
An interesting side note: on 5/15-28/89,right about the time the run at KTMA was wrapping up, a comedy competition was held inMinneapolis. Not only did Josh and Trace participate, but also two other stand up comic/food service regulars named Mike Nelson and Frank Conniff.
On June 5 and 6, 1989 MST Live! wasperformed at the Comedy Gallery to around 600 lucky fans. The show was hosted by Jim andincluded a viewing of the original pilot and stand up performances by Joel, Josh and Tracefollowed by a question and answer session. There were also some props from the show ondisplay.
Soon after that show issue 1.2 of TheSatellite News was mailed out requesting that fans write to KTMA supporting the show, butof course that would turn out to be unnecessary.
Negotiations had already started withHBO, who was launching a new 24-hour a day comedy station, The Comedy Channel, in thefall. Everyone felt secure enough that a contract would be signed that in July 89 Jim andKevin quit their KTMA jobs and along with Joel, Trace and Josh formed Best Brains, Inc(BBI), which was officially incorporated on 7/14/89. After all, the shows growing cult following and Joels proven audience appealwere well known. Besides, the vice president of The Comedy Channel was Stu Smiley who hadknown Joel during his stand-up days, when Stu worked for Showtime. The one show stoppercould have been Joel and Jims demand that the show be produced in Minnesota. Theyinsisted that they could only maintain the control and integrity of the show they wantedby keeping it away from New York City or Los Angeles. The HBO executives finally agreed tothis demand.
They built a studio in a 7,500 squarefoot warehouse, sublet from Traces brother Bryan, in an Eden Prairie industrialpark. By September the deal for 13 episodes was signed and production of the new showsbegan in October.
That same month another young comedian,and acquaintance of Josh, by the name of Mike Nelson was added to the writing staff,initially to do some typing. Mike grew up in Illinois and Wisconsin and had attended theUniversity of Wisconsin River Falls and toiled in a dairy cheese factory before workingthe Midwest comedy circuit for a few years. He was also just returning from his honeymoonwith his new bride, comedienne Bridget Jones. He said goodbye to his blossoming career atTGI Fridays and began his life with the Brains.
On 10/21/89 Joel was taped as heperformed onstage at the KCTA-TV Land O Loons III showcase (aired 12/6/89).
In the 11/11/89 issue of TV Guide theshow received its first national press. Unfortunately, it was a luke warm review of Joeland MST3K along with some of the other shows to be presented on The Comedy Channel, whichofficially debuted 11/15/89. It wouldnt be long before the critics changed theirminds.