Season 5.5-7a: Mike on Comedy Central – Part 1
Season 5 (continued)
As Mikes premier had been approaching Comedy Central found out about a Halloween party being held at Debbie Tobins home in Edina, MN. Debbie had worked at BBI for a time and was an active member of the on-line community. The party was to feature a few dozen Prodigy and AOL MSTies dressed up as their favorite MST related characters. Since Comedy Central had not been able to get bumpers made by BBI they asked if they could tape promos at the party. On 10/30/93 they placed a huge inflated Comedy Central logo in Debbies front yard and started taping. They also catered the party with a complete Thanksgiving dinner that was unfortunately ruined by the bright lights by the time the filming was completed.
As the filming stopped that evening at 6 PM the MSTieween 93 folks, as well as MSTies across the country turned on Comedy Central to watch The Brain That Wouldn't Die (513). In Mikes first episode at the helm of the SOL we were treated to a new intro, theme song and door sequence. Fans also immediately noticed a different dynamic between the bots and their human companion. Where as Joel had created the bots and was a somewhat fatherly figure, Mike was a rookie who had to rely on the bots to show him the ropes. The opposite can be said for Mikes rapport with the mads. Joel was effectively their slave who never really challenged their authority. Mike on the other hand openly defied them, even though the results were still the same.
This episode also introduced us to perhaps Mary Jos funniest MST incarnation, Jan in the pan. Of course MSTies would be seeing more of Mary Jo later (cause Jan was just a head ya see. Never mind.)
Almost immediately on-line discussions began to focus entirely on who was the better host, Mike or Joel. Friendly, yet fervent, discussions soon developed into the Great Joel vs. Mike Flame War of 1993. The two sides were basically those willing to accept the change and those fiercely loyal to Joel. The issue could never be settled, of course, and eventually the fans had to decide for them selves to continue to support the new version of the show or simply enjoy their tapes of the Joel episodes. In hindsight there must have been many that liked Mike since the fan club continued to grow at a record pace.
Another addition at Best Brains around Halloween was Minnesota native, Barb Tebben. Sent to BBI by a temporary agency to do computer entry, the self-proclaimed sci-fi enthusiast was hired and would eventually begin assisting Julie Walker with the information club.
The Holiday 93 Issue (5.2) of The Satellite News came out about the same time and featured a lengthy article by Jef Maynard describing how Mikes doorway sequence was assembled.
Finally, at 6 PM 11/24/93, the 30-hour Turkey Day Marathon began with The Magic Voyage of Sinbad (505). The bumpers filmed a few weeks earlier were a scream to the MSTies who participated, but were generally a disappointment to most fans of the show who were hoping to see more of Mike and the bots. Susan Schneider of Jackson, NJ, the winner of the Pick the Wisecrack Contest, was also featured in a few promos. The marathon concluded with Teenage Strangler (514) that began at midnight 11/25/93.
On 11/29/93 a new facet of MST3K history debuted. The MST3K Hour first aired at 7 AM and repeated at 6 PM with Cave Dwellers (301) neatly divided into two 1-hour installments that were hosted by Mike Nelson, in his now famous Jack Perkins persona. BBI had originally resisted this treatment of their show, but finally agreed since it would allow Comedy Central programmers to add some MST airtime and would also eventually open the door for syndication possibilities. Sadly, in order to fit into the one hour time slot and still leave time for the Jack Perkins segments up to seven minutes were trimmed from some episodes.
As December progressed there were some other changes in the show. The biggest for many fans was that The Outlaw (519) featured the last invention exchange. Mike had carried on the tradition for a while, but after all Joel was the real Gizmocrat and when he left he took the concept of the Gizmonic Institute with him. Even the familiar Gizmonic logo on the mad scientists lab coats had been changed to a Deep 13 logo in Mikes first episode.
The movie negotiations seemed to be close to a conclusion, but would actually carry on for over a year. Also, in December, Catalina Caper (204) aired for the last time. The rights had run out and were now too pricey to extend. The best news at this time was that BBI had signed up for another 24-episode season, their sixth.
A special Christmas double feature was shown on 12/24/93 with a repeat of Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (321) and the premiere of the unusual Mexican offering Santa Claus (521). The newer Santa Claus gave Patrick a chance to show up on screen for the first time as part of a Nelson family (not THE Nelson Family), along with Mary Jo and Timothy Scott. Paul Chaplin also presented his most memorable character, Pitch.
At the end of 1993 Comedy Central finally stopped the practice of placing a station logo in the lower right hand corner of the screen during MST. They had been doing this during host segments since mid- 1992 and although this wouldnt detract from most shows, in MST3K it was directly over Crow during the theater segments when the logo was left on "by mistake." The logo would pop up a few times in early 1994, but very infrequently.
The Info Club had reached 35,000 by January 1994. We learned that Steven Spielberg was a fan who enjoyed watching the show with his kids. BBI was also in the process of expanding the studio by adding some additional office space. The MST Hour switched to 9 AM and 8 PM on January 3rd. A few weeks later MST continued the now annual event of losing the Cable ACE award, but this time in three different categories, Best Comedy Series, Best Writing in a Comedy Series and Best Art Direction in a Comedy Series. Comedy Central's special This Is MST3K was nominated for best Musical or Comedy Special, but it also lost.
Alien From LA (516) was shown on MTV on 1/23/94 as part of their MTV Comedy Weekend. They had the forethought to place their logo in the bottom left-hand corner of the screen.
The final episode of Season 5, 12 to the Moon (524), aired on 2/5/94 along with the short Design For Dreaming. Bridget gave a lively performance as Nuveena the girl of the future from the short.
In early February Comedy Central introduced another distraction by adding a running crawl, called "News Bites" across the screen during the show that featured advertisements, programming notes and even jokes. MSTies were incensed and a heated letter writing and phone campaign convinced Comedy Central to stop both annoyances by early March 94.
Trashed gameshow debuts on MTV on 2/14. Hosted by Chris Hardwick and featuring effects by Joel. The show aired 50 episodes and ended on 7/23/94. Higgins Boys & Gruber were writers for the show.
Later with Greg Kinnear debuted on 2/28/94 with Josh as a member of the writing staff. He would be promoted to head writer for the second season.
By the Spring of 94 the negotiations with Universal had ground to a halt. Just when it seemed a contract was close the studio had second thoughts. BBI sent out a postcard to all of the members of the info club suggesting letters be mailed to Universal Studios head Casey Silver requesting that they complete the deal. Thousands of letters would be sent, but there would still be months of anxious waiting.
Internet fans would be happy when fellow MSTie Julie Walker, formerly of Microsoft, joined the BBI staff in February 94 as marketing director. Juliewa was officially introduced to the newsgroups on 3/16/94.
Comedy Central ran a 10 1/2 hour MST marathon of every Gamera episode called Candid Gamera on 3/27/94.
More big news was announced on 3/31/94 when the 1993 George Foster Peabody award for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Writing for a Variety or Music Program was awarded to MST3K by the University of Georgia based foundation. After receiving the award on 5/17/94 at a ceremony hosted by Ed Bradley at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City it would be proudly displayed at BBI studios in a frame built by Jef Maynard that featured little gold shriners around the border.
Issue 6.1, Spring 94, of The Satellite News was mailed out in April. The big announcement was that there would be the first ever MST3K ConventioCon Expo Fest-A-Rama to be held in Bloomington, MN on September 16-17, 1994.
The Free Cheese College Tour was conducted from 3/31 to 4/19/94 with viewings of The Outlaw held at a number of schools. Members of the cast attended shows aired at the University of Minnesota and NYU.
Late April brought more concerns to MSTies. Since early February 1994 the only episodes aired were from seasons 4 and 5. Then it was learned from a Comedy Central insider that the channel was planning on trimming five to seven minutes from some of the season 2 and 3 episodes that originally ran a little long. They also had not contacted Best Brains to let them know they were going to cut part of the shows. Again faithful fans let their feelings be heard and by 7/5/94 Comedy Central backed down from the plan. They instead eventually decided to advertise that shows immediately following the midnight MST3K broadcasts would begin 2-ish.
On 5/10/94 Mike and Jef Maynard made an appearance on Focus On U, a student run news show at the University of Wisconsin - River Falls. The show was hosted by Melanie Waldoch and Jon Fuith, who repeatedly brought up that Mike had attended, but not graduated from the school.
On 5/16/94 Comedy Central moved the MST Hour to the less accessible 4 PM time slot.
In June a couple fun, new promos were made to promote the American Red Cross.
Girls Town (601) kicked off season 6 on 7/16/94. In Deep 13 Dr. Forrester introduced us to the Umbilicus (or Umbilicon, or Umbiliport), a 270-mile tether attached to Gypsy that would serve as a physical link between the mads and the SOL.
Julie Walker was acknowledged as the Info Club Coordinator in the credits for Colossus and the Headhunters (605), but would gain her more familiar title of Info Club Poobah by High School Big Shot (618). There was also a complete make over of Deep 13 for Bloodlust (607) in preparation for a visit by Dr. Forresters mother Pearl, played gleefully by Mary Jo.
To help promote the convention, Comedy Central started the Go To Where the Cheese is Made Contest in August. The winner was Teresa Lee Combs of Thayer, IN. Of course Comedy Central announced this using a crawl across the bottom of the screen on 8/26/94, during a broadcast of Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (321).
On September 11th the Brains attended the 46th Annual Emmy Awards in Pasadena, CA where they were nominated for Outstanding Achievement in Writing in a Variety or Music Program. Even though they did not win, Comedy Central picked up the bill for all ten writers and a guest to fly to LA and attend the festivities.
At last on Friday, September 16, 1994 registration for the ConventioCon began at the Radisson South Hotel in Bloomington, MN. This was truly an event for the fans, but would also hopefully help impress the representatives from Universal Studios that were also attending. Pins proclaiming "MST3K has Universal appeal" were every where. The schedule was full of entertaining opportunities starting with a keynote speech where the entire writing staff was introduced and answered questions.
Throughout the weekend there were three rooms set up showing episodes 24-hour a day. Years worth of props and costumes were displayed in the Museum of Mystery Science Theater and Industry. Gypsys Basement sold MST merchandise at a feverish pace. There was also a "photo opportunity" that most fans realized were cardboard cut outs of the cast.
Saturday, September 17 began with a 2-hour autograph session that the Brains graciously stretched to 4-hours. A celebrity panel featured David Worth, the director of Warrior of the Lost World (501), John Humphries, the enigmatic Mikey from Teenage Strangler (514) and Beverly Garland, My Three Sons mom who had appeared in three MSTied movies. Kim Cattrall was scheduled, but was unable to attend breaking Crows fragile molybdenum heart. There were also studio tours conducted all day back at Best Brains.
Although live performances were presented on the 15th and16th, the primary show for the MSTies was held at 7 PM September 17 at the Historic State Theater. The show featured a live riffing of Universal Pictures own 1955 classic This Island Earth. Back at the Radisson, immediately following the performance, was a costume ball sponsored by Comedy Central. A variety of awards and prizes were given out and the "Parade of Torgos" was equal parts sad, scary and hilarious.
A few mischievous MSTies paid a visit to Best Brains studio late that night and left chalk messages on the sidewalk and a plethora of pink flamingoes, harkening back to Jims early college antics.
In all 2036 fans attended the convention from 43 states and elsewhere and rumor has it a splendid time was had by all.
Even though Zombie Nightmare (604) had been announced back in July its first broadcast was delayed so that it could be used from 9/21/94 to 11/11/94 for the Fresh Cheese College Screening Tour. Some of the staff took the movie to schools around the country for a sneak preview and a question and answer session.
There was another reason this particular episode was delayed though. The Holiday 94 (6.2) issue of the Satellite News came out during this time and gave the schedule for another Turkey Day Marathon. Best Brains was again offered a low amount of money to produce bumpers and again turned it down. Comedy Central was lucky to find that Adam West, TVs Batman, who happened to be a star in this movie, had no previous engagements and could fill in as host.
The issue also mentioned that plans were already in the works for a second convention in 1996.
Viewers were treated to a spoof of the Star Trek episode Mirror, Mirror on October 16 in The Last of the Wild Horses (611). When Dr. Forrester tries to send a matter transference device through the Umbilicus, during an ion storm, parallel universes converge. What results is the only time we get to see Dr. Forrester and TVs Frank in the theater riffing on a movie.
There were now 50,000 members in the info club including Henry Rollins, Neil Young and the late Frank Zappa. As popularity of the show continued to grow the Brains were finding it increasingly difficult, and expensive, to get film rights.
It was on 10/31/94 that Comedy Central stopped presenting the midnight showings. They had decided to overhaul the schedule in an effort to reduce repeats. They instead began showing an episode of the MST Hour at noon each weekday. Comedy Central also mentioned that they would be starting a viewers choice system they called Play MSTie for Me, that would be shown every Friday at 8 PM.
Angry fans frantically began calling Comedy Central about ending the midnight airings. The programming chief, Vincent Favale, made two on air appearances to defend his decision. The first was a 10-minute response on 11/4/94 immediately before the first Viewer's Choice show. The second was a full half-hour show on 11/11/94 hosted by Mark Maron, which included responding to actual calls and complaints from MSTies. Neither appearance helped alleviate the anger of the MSTies nor did Comedy Central back down from their decision, yet.
MSTies received some more bad news on 11/4/94 when Frank posted on-line that he was leaving the show when filming of season 6 ended. He would be moving to Los Angeles by the end of 1994 to perform stand-up and to write for other shows.
Season 6 continued on and when San Francisco International (614) first aired on 11/19/94 it included a laugh-fest prompted by Mikes flawless impression of Urkel. The infectious laughter was joined by Jan in the Pan (Mary Jo), Huggy Bear (Paul), Rooster (Patrick) and Nuveena (Bridget) on the Satellite of Love, while Santa (Kevin) and Pitch (Paul) visited Deep 13. Finally, Torgo (Mike) entered Deep 13 and reminded us all that Urkel just isnt really very funny.
This years 28-hour Turkey Day Marathon began at 8 PM Wednesday, 11/23/94 with the premiere of Kitten With a Whip (615). Adam West introduced himself as "your cheesy gourmet" and was joined during the marathon by Beverly Garland, Robert Vaughn and Mamie Van Doren to help present their own MSTied movies. At 10 PM 11/24/94 Adam introduced his own long delayed movie, Zombie Nightmare (604).
The 12/23/94 issue of Entertainment Weekly included an interview with Kathy Ireland, who had appeared in Alien from LA (516). Showing all the insight one might expect from the perky super model, she acknowledged being MSTied by saying "Its a compliment, I guess I hope."
1994 drew to a close without a contract for another season. With filming completed for season 6 Best Brains shut down. Not knowing the immediate future, many staff members were laid off and the now familiar studio tours were discontinued. The only news from Comedy Central was that on 12/26/94 they were resuming the weekday midnight show, but they would be discontinuing the MST3K Hour, which went on "hiatus". (The midnight show would then be switched to noon on 2/27/95.)
In January 1995 Jim flew to New York City to meet with Comedy Central executives. Jim returned to Minneapolis confident that relations between the companies had improved. Negotiations began for another season and there was an agreement reached for BBI to produce their first special. The CableACE awards aired on 1/15/95 and MST3K lost the award for Best Comedy Series. The governing board of the awards decided to change their schedule to have the awards presented in the same year as the shows aired. Starting later in 1995 another presentation time would be scheduled.
Two big announcements were made in January 1995. The first came on 1/23/95 that Tradewinds Television would begin syndication of MST3K beginning in the fall. Either the MST Hour or entire 2-hour episodes could be used. This would make MST available to millions of new viewers across the country. Action Media Group would be handling the advertising sales nationally. Then on 1/24/95 BBI announced that at long last a movie deal was signed with Universal Studios and that shooting would begin in March 95. The original plan was to release the film in the fall, but this target would prove to be a bit optimistic. There was, however, word that a book and a CD-ROM were also being considered.
Meanwhile, in LA, Joel was working on a pilot for a new concept in television he called X Box R & D, that would soon become known as The TV Wheel. It was the first collaboration with his brother Jim. It was a huge set designed to film shows live and air with no post-production. Joel would continue to look into new ideas for innovating television.
On March 7th Jim, Mike, Kevin and Trace were honored in LA by the Museum of Radio and Television. They showed a few short features and participated in a lively question and answer session where Jim tried to assure everyone there would be a seventh season and that Franks replacement may be none other than Dr. Forresters mother. Trace also used the occasion to show how to field strip Crow.
On 3/15/95 Comedy Central discontinued the "viewers choice" part of Play MSTie for Me, but continued to use the name for the Friday shows.
On 3/22/95 the MST3K Little Gold Statue Preview Special aired at 8 and 11 PM. It was fitting that BBIs first special would take on Hollywoods elite heading into the Academy Awards.
As the last few episodes of season 6 aired (622-624) viewers noticed a new name in the credits. Bill Corbett had been hired during the end of 1994 to help write some episodes while the regular staff was working on the movie script. Bill would eventually join the staff, but for now was credited as an additional contributing writer.
3/25/95 marked the premiere of Samson vs. the Vampire Women (624), which was not only the last episode of season 6, but also Franks farewell performance. After gorging on Chinese food Frank is assumed into second banana heaven by Torgo the White (Mike), which is a reference to JRR Tolkeins Lord of the Rings. Frank reappears at the end of the show to push the button one last time. Fans are left to wonder who will fill Franks tennis shoes in future episodes.
Fans would also find out that Jef Maynard had decided to leave to form his own company, Blue Thumb Scenic. Jef would be used by BBI in the future though to help redesign sets.