Satellite News - The Almost But Not Quite Complete History of MST3K - Part 11



Back to opening screen

  MST3K-related articles

  Written by the MST3K cast!

  IRC transcripts

  Info on all MSTed movies!

  The Rhino DVD's

  List of all MST3K episodes


  Get MST3K news in e-mail!

  The historic printed issues

  Observer's Search Page

  Ten years of MST3K!

  Trade episodes here!

  Gone but not forgotten

  Visit other MST3K sites

  For obsessive fans only

  Keep in touch with us


Visit our archives of the MST3K pages previously hosted by the Sci-Fi Channel's SCIFI.COM.

Part 11: A Gathering of the Tribe (1994)

As the season got underway, several things were going on at once. CC, wanting to get a first-hand look at the show's fan base, pulled episode 604- ZOMBIE NIGHTMARE from the schedule and took it on tour to college auditoriums around the country. At some stops, the screening was packed to the rafters with giddy fans. At others, the episode played to lackluster, half-empty houses. Overall, the experience seemed to confirm the network's sense that the show's fan base was a mile wide and an inch deep.

Still, the convention went on as planned. MSTies from around the country jammed the Radisson South hotel in Bloomington, MN. Immediately, BBI realized they had vastly underestimated the desire fans would have for MST3K merchandise: They'd placed the merchandise store in a tiny room, where fire code rules only allowed a few dozen people at a time. The result was a line that stretched for hundreds of yards. One room at the hotel featured a "museum" of memorable props and costumes. Episodes were run in three different rooms 24 hours a day -- and the showing of episode 424- MANOS: THE HANDS OF FATE was standing-room-only. The Friday night keynote event featured the entire cast and writing staff, discussing the early days of the show, showing slides and answering questions from the audience.

On Saturday morning, BBI found they'd underestimated fan enthusiasm again: An autograph session scheduled for two hours stretched to over four, leaving cast members exhausted and sore. It came dangerously close to overlapping a celebrity session featuring Beverly Garland (star of three MSTed movies), David Worth (director of WARRIOR OF THE LOST WORLD -- seen in episode 501) and John Humphries (the guy who played Mikey in TEENAGE STRANGLER -- seen in episode 514).

Studio tours went on all day Saturday. On Saturday night, the entire convention was bused to a theater in downtown Minneapolis for a live performance of the show, featuring the movie THIS ISLAND EARTH. There were standing ovations beyond count and deafening cheers rattled the hall. Following the show, conventioneers returned to the hotel for a costume party that extended well into the wee hours, with MSTies and cast members mingling freely. But, again, the fans' enthusiasm had been underestimated: MSTies, in a celebratory mood, wanted to cut loose, but hotel officials, fearing injuries in the cramped party space, forbad any dancing.

Though there was some worry that Joel loyalists might disrupt the affair, both BBI and fans were pleasantly surprised by the enormously supportive greetings and standing ovations Mike received every time he appeared. And while CC baffled attendees with a booth featuring something called The Wheel of Fish, it also got high marks for contributing funds toward the costume ball held on the last night of the con.

Something else was going on that weekend too: Several executives from Universal Pictures were BBI's guests at the con. They were reportedly impressed by the intensity of the fan base. Hundreds of fan-made buttons that read "MST3K has Universal appeal" were handed out for free and seemed to be on every lapel. The tumultuous response by fans at the live show also impressed the group.

The euphoria of the weekend did not last long, however. Once again CC made a low-ball offer to BBI to produce the Turkey Day bumpers, and once again they turned it down. Instead, Adam West hosted the marathon. Ratings, again, were dreadful, as they had been every year except the first. CC officials came to believe that the novelty of an MST3K marathon had worn off, and although hardcore fans were watching (and taping), few others were. It was this view, along with the impressions gained by the college tour, that probably led to what happened next.

Late in the year, the network stopped running reruns of the series at midnight (eastern and pacific time). While fans had complained en masse before, those were mere dress rehearsals for this. It was an uprising. Fans flooded the channel with complaints, both letters and phone calls.

The network responded, instituting a "viewer's choice" presentation called Play MSTie for Me, in which viewers were invited to vote, mostly via the Prodigy online service, for which episode they would like to see. It was a nice idea on paper, but did not really work in practice: The same four or five episodes began to air over and over. It slowly became apparent that actual MSTies, voting based on their knowledge that a particular episode was memorable, or because a particular episode had not been shown in a long time, were being vastly outvoted by non-viewers who had just happened upon the voting site and were clearly voting for the movie with the most outrageous title. (It did not help the fan mood that a Comedy Central commercial for Play MSTie for Me featured two supposed "programmers" talking about the series like southern rednecks, seeming to indicate that this was how the channel's staff viewed the show's audience.)

In the midst of all this, fans had to absorb yet another blow: Frank Conniff, who played Dr. F.'s much-abused assistant TV's Frank, announced to fans that he too was leaving the series to seek his fortune in Los Angeles. He wrote in a public letter to fans:

I've discovered that after 5 seasons and 109 episodes, I have a need for change, even if change means losing the best job I've ever had and most likely will ever have. I have a need to grow and evolve and to find new challenges and adventures in my life.

Conniff's on-screen participation in the series usually amounted to about five minutes per episode, but to fans it was another disaster. Conniff had acquired his own following of fans, and, echoing the words of Joel fans a year earlier, they bitterly declared that the series had been ruined. Even the series' strongest supporters found themselves wondering if they were right.

Frank moved to the Los Angeles area at the end of 1994 and got plenty of work performing his stand-up act and/or working as an emcee at L.A. comedy clubs. He wrote a two-hour NBC special called Attack of the Killer B Movies, that aired in September, 1995. In 1996, Frank joined the writing staff for the hit ABC television series, Sabrina, The Teenage Witch. He also appeared in two episodes of the series during the first season. He also appeared on two episodes of Comedy Central's game show Make Me Laugh and continued to do regular stand-up appearances in Los Angeles.

As fans were still bewailing these turns of events, the sixth season wound down, and many began to notice that the time when some sort of an announcement about a renewal for the seventh season came...and went...with an ominous silence from all parties involved. Contractless, BBI shut down production at the end of the year. Tours of the studio were suspended. Much of the staff was laid off.

It began to look as if Frank would not be the only one departing.

| Welcome! | 1984-87 | 1988 | 1988-89 | 1989-90 | 1990-91 |
1991-92 | 1992-93 | 1993, part 1 | 1993, part 2 | 1994, part 1 |
| 1994, part 2 |
1995, part 1 | 1995, part 2 | 1996, part 1 |
1996, part 2 | 1996-97 | 1997 | 1997-98 | 1999 | 2000 | Epilogue |