Season 2-5.5a: Joel (eventually) on Comedy Central – Part 1
By the time season 2 premiered at 7 PM on 9/15/90 with Rocketship X-M (201) the press had fallen in love with the little cow town puppet show known as MST3K. Critics across the country were praising it for its wit and originality. Between August and December 1990 glowing reviews were printed in USA Today, TV Guide, Time, People, NY Times, LA Times, Detroit Free Press, Philadelphia Inquirer as well as other publications.
Right from the start season 2 presented better production values and upgraded sets. The SOL now featured hundreds of objects attached to its walls. Fans could have fun picking out items like Hungry Hungry Hippos, potty seats and the Millenium Falcon. Tom Servo's new voice was provided by Kevin and Frank was written into the show as Dr. Forresters new assistant Frank, replacing Dr. Erhardt, who was now missing. Also, two mole people, Jerry and Sylvia, were introduced as helpers for the evil scientists in Deep 13. They were named after Gerry and Sylvia Anderson whos super marionation movies were used to launch MST3K back on KTMA (K01 and K02).
A window for visitors to the SOL to appear in quickly evolved from a simple window shade to a more sophisticated iris effect called the hexfield view screen. Mike made his first of many cameos when he appeared in the hexfield during Rocketship X-M (201) as Valeria, a character from season 1s Robot Holocaust (110).
Mike Nelson was also officially named head writer heading into season two. With the help of Mikes musical abilities and sometimes featuring Kevins wonderful singing voice music became an ever increasing feature of the show, including such early hits as Creepy Girl and The Godzilla Genealogy Bop.
Finally, two simple sentences were introduced that became hallmarks of the show. Every show opened with a screen stating "TURN DOWN YOUR LIGHTS (Where applicable)" and ended with the legendary "Keep Circulating the Tapes". This was sort of the same strategy used by the Grateful Dead to spread the word and attract new fans. Of course who cares about those nasty copyright laws?
Season 2 featured a serial, The Phantom Creeps starring Bela Lugosi and would also start presenting educational shorts starting with X Marks The Spot shown during King Dinosaur (210). The shorts were obtained from the huge New York film archive of Rick Prelinger. Jim Mallon made his on screen debut as a "Great White Hunter" appearing in the hexfield with Mike during Jungle Goddess (203). Servo even sported a new crew cut for a few episodes.
At the end of Rocket Attack USA the Brains included a short clip from the film that would become known as the stinger.
In the Fall of 1990 Joel, Jim and the rest of the cast appeared on The Higgins Boys and Gruber show. They reminded us that Best Brains had actually prepared the pilot for that show too and that both were picked up by the Comedy Channel at the same time.
In November 90, the one year anniversary of MST on The Comedy Channel, the fan club had reached 3000 and the executives at HBO realized they had one of the hottest shows on television. Michael Fuchs, the President of HBO, and other Comedy Channel big wigs traveled to Eden Prairie to meet with the cast and crew at their studio. There wouldnt need to be any anxious waiting for a contract when this season ended because the powers at HBO were there to offer a three-year, 24 episode per season deal.
Also, in the fall of 1990 the Eden Prairie studio was visited by the folks from Entertainment Tonight (during the taping of The Godzilla Genealogy Bop). Not only was MST3K a featured story on ET but Joel and the bots briefly riffed John Tesh, in silhouette of course.
It was announced on 12/18/90 that Ha! (Viacom/ Showtime) and The Comedy Channel (Time Warner/ HBO) had settled their pending lawsuits and decided to merge to form a single network called Comedy TV. The two channels would continue to operate separately until sometime in early 1991.
Joel was taped performing at the St. Paul Winter Carnival, which was held from 1/25/91 to 2/3/91 and was hosted by Kevin Neland. The show also included some behind the scenes shots of Joel and the other comedians who performed.
Season 2 wrapped up on 2/2/91 with Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster (213). A month later a special Fall/ Winter 90-91 double issue of The Satellite News was mailed to fans announcing the third season and offering some new 8x10 fan photos of the cast.
Effective 4/1/91 the merger between HA! and the Comedy Channel took place resulting in one 24-hour comedy station called Comedy TV (also known as CTV or even The Comedy Network). On 6/1/91 that name was quickly changed to Comedy Central due to trademark problems raised by the Canadian TV network.
It was also reported in Apr 91 that HBO was showing some interest in an MST3K movie, but that wouldnt come to fruition for some time.
Cave Dwellers (301) kicked off the third season on Saturday 6/1/91 at 10 AM and 7 PM. Fans noticed the pace and scope of riffs was continuing to increase. Back during KTMA days there were about 150 jokes per show. That jumped to around 250-350 in season 1 and by now up to nearly 700-750. Season 3 began a much more comfortable time for the Brains. With a long-term contract in hand and a proven product they were able to focus on the shows and the quality of the riffing. The Brains would also pull a total of nine movies used during the KTMA years back out of the vault and give them an updated treatment.
Starting with season 3 Best Brains began preparing short promos for each episode. The 30 second spots would feature Joel and the bots talking about the upcoming show. These promos would be made for each episode through season 7.
There were two additions to the Best Brains writer staff this season. Bridget Jones came from Sauk Rapids, MN and had been a model, department store buyer and salesperson prior to trying standup comedy. It was traveling the Midwest comedy circuit that she met Frank and Mike. Even though she was married to Mike since 1989 she still had to audition prior to joining the writing staff. Bridget would work as a home writer until the beginning of the 4th season (402). She made her first on screen appearance along side Mike as Helen and Kenny in Gamera vs. Zigra (316).
The other addition was Paul Chaplin, who was born Paul Shersten in the suburbs of Chicago. He received a Masters degree from Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs and went into public service in St. Paul, MN. He started doing standup at an open mike night at the Comedy Gallery, where he initially bombed. He learned his lesson though and eventually was also able to get an audition for Best Brains. He was given a short tape from Daddy-O to take home and riff on. He passed the audition and received his first on screen credit in Daddy-O (307). He wrote for episodes 307 through 312 before permanently joining the staff for Being From Another Planet (405), when he also made his first on screen appearance as a holo-clown.
The cast were starting to make more appearances on other Comedy Central shows promoting MST. Joel appeared on Night After Night with Alan Havey in June 91 and Joel and Trace were on Short Attention Span Theater in July of 91. The host of SAST was Jon Stewart who had been on for almost 90 days at that time.
Also, that summer a local Minneapolis news show called Good Company aired a feature on MST3K. Field reporter Gary Lumpkin visited the studio during the filming of Gamera vs. Gaos (308).
In August the Fall 1991 issue of The Satellite News came out. It mentions the fan club has increased to 7000 members. Another indicator of the shows popularity was that in the fall, during the taping of Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (321), Comedy Central sent a crew to the studio to begin filming a documentary about the show. (Some of the footage was used in a few short clips shown during the 1991 Turkey Day marathon, but most would be used to make the This Is MST3K special shown in November 1992. Even more footage would be added to the Scrapbook video sold by Best Brains in 1995.) We also learn that Miles OKeefe (301) and Emilio Estevez have already confessed to being fans of the show.
On 8/23/91 Satellite of Love News #1, the first on-line newsletter, was posted on the internet. This and other on-line communities would be home for some of the most avid fans and great repositories of MST related knowledge. They quickly began to create the first episode guides and a database of answers to frequently asked questions.
During November 91 an article in the Washington Post mentions Joel was developing an idea for HBO Downtown Productions called the Mr. Elk and Mr. Seal Show.
Also in November 91 Comedy Central sent out a mailing saying that a 1 AM Friday showing was added to bring the weekly airings to four. The bigger news was that MST3K had been nominated for a Cable ACE Award for Best Comedy Series. Comedy Central also wanted to nominate Joel for Best Actor in a Comedy Series, but he declined saying that what he did wasnt really acting.
The biggest news was that on Thanksgiving Day 11/28/91 there would be a 30-hour marathon to celebrate the shows third anniversary. The marathon would start at midnight Wednesday and would feature "bumpers" between the movies specifically prepared by the Brains for the day. These bumpers would feature a running story of Dr. Forrester trying to take over the world while TVs Frank entertained Thanksgiving Day dinner guests. The guests included the Mole Men, Plant Guy (Kevin Murphy from 309) and Mike Nelson as Jack Perkins, first seen in Fugitive Alien (310) back in August 91. Perkins was host of A&Es Time Machine at the time. There were also many little promos starring Joel and the bots that aired through the marathon, including a wonderful Thanksgiving hymn and a series of messages presented by Crow that were strangely all turkey fact #12.
As the year drew to a close some of the shows most memorable episodes aired including War Of The Colossal Beast (319) which also featured the short Mr. B Natural and Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (321) and the wonderful song A Patrick Swayze Christmas.
The fan club neared 10,000 as the new year began. Even though MST lost the Cable ACE to Dream On on 1/12/92 discussions were being held with Brandon Tartikoff and Paramount Pictures for a movie version of the show. After reviewing a 200 page proposed contract the Brains turned down the offer because they couldnt get complete creative control.
Master Ninja II (324) ended season 3 on 1/25/92, not Death of a Ninja 2 as stated in some of the mailings sent out by BBI.
In a case of ominous foreshadowing an article was published 2/22/92 in the New Orleans Times-Picayune in which Mike comments that they have the routine of preparing and taping episodes down so well that they could even continue if Joel decided to leave. Was he trying to warn us?
In April 92 Comedy Central agreed, informally, that they would no longer show season 1 episodes. The Brains had always considered those shows a work in progress and fans were able to see the noticeable differences with that first network season, such as Toms voice, the set, the quality and quantity of riffs. This decision was good news for the Brains, but disappointed legions of fans who would not get an opportunity to see them for a number of years.
An Ingmar Bergman-esque promo was filmed for a special April 15 weekday showing of MST. A black and white cross between Persona and The Seventh Seal was used to announce the special tax day airing.
In late spring the Summer 92 (4.1) issue of the Satellite News came out. It was made up of entertaining stories and a lengthy article covering the Cable ACE award events.