Season 5.5-7b: Mike on Comedy Central – Part 2
Throughout March and April filming of Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie took place at the new Energy Park Studio in St. Paul, MN. The production and release of the film would be through Gramercy Pictures, a subsidiary of Universal that handled lower budget endeavors. With a budget under $2,000,000 this film fell well within their norm. Production began on 3/27/95 and shooting wrapped up on 4/24/95 when the film began post-production in preparation for focus group reviews.
Another fan made MSTing had its debut at Norwescon in Seattle, WA in April 95. It was another Ryan K. Johnson production, this time featuring Highlander II: The Quickening.
The Spring 95 (7.1) issue of the Satellite News came out in May. The big news, of course, was the update on the movie, but there was also information about deals being worked on with Bantam Books and a Voyager CD. The fan club was up to 54,000 and the show was being aired 24 hours a week.
On 5/25/95 Matt Groening paid homage to MST3K in an episode of the Simpsons. In Who Shot Mr. Burns? Part One (2F16) the MST silhouette can be seen on the television in Moes Tavern.
May 95 saw the "official" end of the MST3K Hour on Comedy Central even though it had been on hiatus since the end of 1994. Some good news from the station was that on June 13 the midnight show would return each weeknight (and the noon show would be dropped). Commercials said that they had succumbed to more MSTie bellyaching. They also were starting a Viewers Choice Midnight MST Summer Countdown where fans could send in their 5 favorite shows and the top 60 would be shown each night for the next few months. Actually, 56 top episodes were shown.
In June and July the movie was reviewed by several focus groups in LA who didnt seem to "get it", which prompted Gramercy to request major changes in the movie. The ending was said to be confusing and Gramercy was considering cutting one entire host segment.
The next news from Comedy Central was that on July 1995 Doug Herzog had been hired away from MTV to become president of the station.
From July 13-16 Dragon*Con 95 was held at the Atlanta Hilton. That years convention also presented the NASFIC (North American Science Fiction Convention). Trace and Kevin were scheduled to appear, but Mike filled in for Trace.
At the San Diego Comic Convention July 27-30, 1995 Gramercy Pictures distributed a nine-card MST3K:TM set featuring pictures from the movie that attendees were told would be released the following March.
Over the summer BBI and Comedy Central reached an agreement for six new episodes with an option for three more for the seventh season. A deal was also completed with Bantam Books and with Voyager to begin developing a CD-ROM.
As August wore on the summer countdown concluded, finally ending on September 1. The top 10 viewers choice episodes and their air dates were:
8/21/95 10 Attack of the Eye Creatures (418)
8/22/95 9 Godzilla vs. Megalon (212)
8/23/95 8 Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (321)
8/24/95 7 Giant Gila Monster (402)
8/25/95 6 Village of the Giants (523)
8/28/95 5 Pod People (303)
8/29/95 4 Gammera (302)
8/30/95 3 Mitchell (512)
8/31/95 2 Zombie Nightmare (604)
9/01/95 1 Manos: The Hands of Fate (424)
On 9/2/95 NBC aired Attack of the Killer B-Movies at 8 PM. The 2-hour special was written by Frank, hosted by Elvira and featured the stars from NBCs Saturday morning teen shows making jokes about old movie clips.
The 47th Annual Emmy Awards were presented 9/10/95. MST3K was nominated for, but did not win, the award for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Writing in a Variety or Music Program.
Syndication began on 9/16/95 at 11 PM with Part 1 of Cave Dwellers (301). Most stations decided to use the MST3K Hour version since it was generally easier to program as opposed to the 2-hour format. All 13 of the shows featured season 2-4 Joel episodes.
Later that month Frank appeared at a convention in Dallas, TX called Stellar Occasion. The event ran from September 22-24.
A strange series of events began rather innocently in October 1995. An agent for BBI made a routine call to Comedy Central to ask about when an extension to the show could be expected. The agent was told that no new episodes would be purchased. BBI was also told that Comedy Central intended to use the eight season 1 episodes they still had rights to for this years Turkey Day marathon.
BBI was disturbed by the first announcement and angry at the second. They believed there was still time to negotiate for another season, but were incensed that Comedy Central would go back on their word and use the early episodes. Finally, BBI compromised and agreed to select four season 1 episodes for the marathon and to prepare bumpers for the first time in three years, but for very little money.
Episode #18, entitled Urges, of Space Ghost Coast to Coast aired at 11 PM on 10/20/95 on the Cartoon Network. The show was written by Joel and featured appearances by singer Matthew Sweet and TVs Daisy Duke, Catherine Bach.
The Holiday 95 (7.2) issue of the Satellite News announced officially in early November that Mrs. Pearl Forrester, again played by Mary Jo, would indeed replace Frank as a foil for Dr. Forrester. There were updates to the status of the book, CD and movie. In honor of the older episodes now in syndication the merchandise catalogue included some old Joel items.
MAD Magazine featured Tom and Crow in a parody of the movie Apollo 13 in their December 95 issue.
This years Thanksgiving marathon was a combination of old and new ideas. Comedy Central played up the fact that season 1 episodes would be shown and described Josh as a "fake Frank" and Mike as the "fifth Bot-tle". The midnight show on Monday 11/20 through Wednesday 11/22 featured the first of the season 1 offerings. Then on Thanksgiving Day 11/23/95 the Turkey Day marathon started with The Crawling Hand (106) at 9 AM followed by five more recent episodes. The whole event was referred to as the MST3K Anthology, a reference to the recent 6-hour televised Beatles special.
BBI had produced a series of bumpers featuring Dr. Forrester trying to take over the world before his mother showed up for a visit. To complicate matters, visitors who had received dinner invitations from Frank kept showing up. The guests included Jack Perkins (Mike), Mr. B Natural (Bridget), Pitch (Paul), Kitten with a whip (Kevin) and Michael Feinstein (Mike again). As Mr. Feinstein accompanied a sing-a-long no one noticed Pearl pounding on the door.
There had been a few promos announcing that the next convention would be over Labor Day 1996 and others of Tom Servo hawking some great holiday gift shopping ideas from the MST3K merchandise catalog. During a half-hour break in the marathon we were treated to BBIs own infomercial. Kevin, Mike and Trace introduced us to the Scrapbook and Poopie videotapes and made an appropriately cheesy sales pitch few MSTies could refuse.
At 10 PM we returned to Deep 13 for the premiere of season 7 with Night of the Blood Beast (701T) complete with special host segments for Thanksgiving which would be shown today then replaced with new segments for future airings. As the marathon ended Pearl announced that she would be moving in to Deep 13 to assist Dr. F with his experiments.
The Cable ACE awards were televised 12/2/95 instead of the following January for the first time. This meant that there were two awards given in the calendar year 1995. At this ceremony, however, MST was not nominated for for the Best Comedy Series award. Instead The MST3K Little Gold Statue Preview Special was nominated for Writing an Entertainment Special. Unfortunately, it lost to Dennis Miller Live: American: Where Did Our Sense of Humor Go?
For some unannounced reason the Thanksgiving version of 701 aired again on 12/3/95. Comedy Central also revised the schedule again moving the weekday midnight shows to 2 AM Monday through Thursday. The other times were Saturday at 5 PM and Sunday shifted to 7 AM.
BBI had not heard any thing further about an extension to season 7 or another season so on 12/5/95 they announced to the fan club that Comedy Central had decided not to renew the show. They did promise to reappear in some form even if it was direct-to-video. Loyal fans immediately besieged Comedy Central with complaints. They were told the cancellation was due to declining ratings and also that Doug Herzog wanted the station to keep evolving.
Best Brains responded that the ratings had never been an issue and were surprised that they were given as a reason for the decision. Comedy Central countered that they were surprised BBI even announced a split since the two sides were still talking.
Later in the month Jim confirmed that BBI wanted to continue making new episodes of MST3K and gave the green light to grass roots campaigns to either convince Comedy Central to purchase more episodes or let BBI out of their contract so they could look for a new network.
On 12/22/95 the last new episode for Comedy Central was taped and again MST3Ks future was a mystery.
Comedy Central was catching heat from both the fans and the media. TV Guide jeered the station for the cancellation in the 12/23/95 issue. After all, the timing seemed incredibly strange. The fan club was over 60,000, a movie and a book were coming out in the spring, a CD was still in the works, negotiations were beginning with Rhino for home video releases and a second convention was set for Labor Day 96. So why now? Thats still a question that isnt clearly answered.
Many fans had joined the campaign by the beginning of 1996. To name just a couple, Mike Harney was working on an ad to be placed in Variety magazine and Jamie Plummer, a sophomore at the University of Virginia at the time, had started a Save MST site that had 13,000 hits in the first two months.
On 1/14/96 Tony Fox, Comedy Centrals vice president of media relations, announced that the show was not technically canceled, they just havent committed to any new production of the show. This type of double talk didnt sit well with fans.
Finally, on 2/3/96 the revised version of Night of the Blood Beast (701) had its debut with Pearl now strongly entrenched in Deep 13 and terrorizing her son Clayton.
On 2/9/96 Joel personally appeared on Space Ghost Coast to Coast in episode #20 called $20.01 that also featured Penn and Teller.
There was a very limited college tour from 1/22 to 2/23/96. Mike and Trace made an appearance at the University of Wisconsin River Falls on 2/13/96. At 8 PM they began by showing a few shorts (A Date With Your Family, Why Study Industrial Arts and Last Clear Chance) and a clip from the upcoming movie. The subsequent question and answer session focused on hair, clothes and the fact that Mike had attended the school briefly.
Doug Herzog now claimed that the cancellation was due to a lack of communication and even sent the vice president of programming to meet with BBI to discuss the issue. On 2/15/96 the two sides met, but Comedy Central was not looking to extend the show. At least not in its current format. They suggested riffing on old sit-coms or even getting involved in political coverage, perhaps due to the fact that Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher was one of their hottest shows. BBI countered with a suggestion to review old school health films.
On 3/14/96 the end of the relationship was announced. No agreement could be reached for further shows or projects. Comedy Central did agree to let BBI out of their contract and could, therefore, begin looking for a new home.
When a Special Movie Bulletin issue of the Satellite News came out in late March 96 it already included a request to send letters to the Sci-Fi Channel asking them to pick up the show.
As April began fans found out that the rights to episodes were being lost wholesale. All of season 1 plus 24 more, including all the Sandy Frank films were now unavailable. Each month for the balance of the year more were lost and viewers got used to seeing the same episodes shown more and more frequently.
But bigger and better things were also happening. 4/1/96 saw the release of the Amazing Colossal Episode Guide (ACEG) which was created by the Best Brains writing staff and would, therefore, have their unique insights told with their particular comedic spin.
Also, a full-page ad appeared in the 4/1/96 issue of Variety. A total of 110 fans, including Jack Perkins himself, donated the $4700 required by the publication. The ad was designed to get the attention of any potential networks considering picking up the show.
Jim, Mike, Kevin and Trace kicked off the movies promotional tour in New York City on 4/8-10/96. Their busy trip included taping Good Morning, America, sessions at the MTV studios, presenting a Crow T. Robot to Planet Hollywood, a premiere screening of the movie and a late-night taping for ABC news. The tour continued with Jim and Trace presenting bots to Planet Hollywood locations in LA (4/12), San Francisco (4/15) and Dallas (4/16) while Mike and Kevin did the same in Atlanta (4/13) and Chicago (4/16). There would be one last Planet Hollywood presentation at the Minneapolis Mall of America on 4/19/96.
On 4/18-19/96 Comedy Central presented a Movie "Stunt" which included short comments about the film by the crew between episodes of a short MST marathon.
At last Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie had its gala premiere on 4/18/96 at the Uptown Theatre in Minneapolis. The formally dressed writers showed up in limousines and the entire event was taped for local news broadcasts.
In some locations a flier was handed out urging fans to write to the Sci-Fi Channel to convince them to pick up the show.
The Movie went into "limited" distribution the next day, 4/19/96, in 26 theaters across the country. Universal and Gramercy had decided to put their distribution efforts behind the movie Barb-Wire starring the larger-than-life Pamela Anderson Lee. MST3K: TM did extremely well in per screen sales, but fans found it difficult to find those screens. Over the next few weeks the box office tailed off, but overall the picture did reasonably well. The movie's run in theaters ended 8/22/96 having officially made a grand total of $1,007,306.
The Brains were seen every where on television and in print. Movie reviews were in Time, Premiere and Entertainment Weekly among others and features were presented on E! Coming Attractions, Entertainment Tonight, Talk Soup and MTV Week in Rock. Siskel & Ebert even gave the film two thumbs up. The Movie was also reviewed in Variety on 4/22/96.
On 4/30/96 the first three Rhino home video tapes were released. The episodes were Cave Dwellers, Mitchell and the Amazing Colossal Man which would later be pulled out of circulation due to issues with the rights.
Laserblast (706) finally debuted at 5 PM on 5/18/96 because it had been held up for the May sweeps period. Since the episode was taped before the Brains knew the future of the show they wanted to leave their creative options open. We learn that funding has been cut for Dr. Forresters experiments so he disconnects the umbilicus and lets the SOL race toward a firey death in the earths atmosphere. Mike is unable to help, even dressed as Star Trek: Voyager's Captain Janeway. At the last minute Gypsy is able to pull them out of the dive and send them out into space where they all become pure energy and go off to play at the edge of the universe. In a hilarious take off of 2001 Dr. F is left alone and ages until on his death bed he reaches for a monolith that turns out to be a giant video labeled "The Worst Movie Ever Made." He then converts to a star baby, which Pearl vows to raise again.
Immediately following the show at 7 PM Comedy Central presented Joels TV Wheel. The special had been produced by HBO back in March 95, but they could never work out arrangements to show it. The concept was a 32-foot turntable with a stationary camera in the middle. Skits were performed around the rotating stage and were taped live with no post-production. Once again Joel was trying to stretch the boundaries of traditional TV.
Joel had also been working on other projects like his experimental movie Statical Planets, featuring the process he called Static-O-Matic. His web site known as the Gizmonic Ant Site in which visitors became ants and were able to explore the inner workings of the "ant hill", was launched in June 96.
After 5/31/96 they stopped showing the 2 AM weekday shows completely, but added a Best of MST3K weekly show at 5PM Saturday with the few episodes they had left.
As June 96 began the Brains began finding other outlets for their creative talents. Mary Jo appeared in the play The Bad Seed at the St Genesuis Theater in LA. Mike began writing a column for a publication called Home Theater and began a three-week engagement on 6/21/96 acting in the play Hate Mail at the Loring Playhouse in Minneapolis.
On 6/24/96 an announcement would be made that would have the Brains returning to BBI with hope for the birth of a new era.