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


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Part 13: The Network Strikes Back (1995)

About mid-year, CC got a new president: Doug Herzog. Herzog was appointed to the position with the directive that he make CC "hipper, more like MTV." BBI sent him a set of tires as a peace offering. After a short period of time, BBI and CC finally agreed to a contract for season seven. But instead of the 24-episode season that fans were used to, or even a more modest 13-episode season, season seven would have only six episodes (the contract contained an option for three more, but the option was not exercised).

The Amazing Colossal Episode GuideMSTies were dismayed at the small number of episodes, but on the heels of that announcement came better news: BBI had signed a deal with Bantam Books to create The MST3K Amazing Colossal Episode Guide. The staff spent much of the late summer and fall working on the six season-seven episodes and, in the off hours, re-watching old episodes and typing up recollections and commentary about them for the book (any spare moments were taken up sparring with Universal and Gramercy executives, who were still unhappy with the final version of MST3K: The Movie). And there was still more in the works: Noting the success of the hugely popular CD-ROM "Monty Python's Complete Waste of Time," BBI signed a deal with a CD-ROM publisher to create an MST3K CD-ROM. The project was largely under Trace Beaulieu's supervision.

Also cheering fans was news that the series was going to syndication. Beginning in the fall of '95, broadcast TV stations had their choice of full-length MST3K episodes or The Mystery Science Theater Hour. Dozens of outlets around the country picked up the show.

But as fall arrived another major controversy erupted on CC. Apparently not understanding how deeply BBI felt about the moratorium on season one episodes, and no longer feeling bound by the promise not to show them (which had, after all, been made by a previous management team), CC decided unilaterally to show the eight season-one shows they still had the rights to on Turkey Day, without consulting BBI. BBI strenuously objected and a compromise was worked out: The number of shows shown was reduced to four, and their time slots were late at night or early in the morning. BBI also got to choose which four episodes would be rerun. Fans were of two minds about the controversy. Quite a few had never seen a season one episode and were eager to do so (and to get them on tape!). But they were uncomfortable with the way CC was clearly pushing BBI around.

But first-season episodes were not to be the only thing that would make the '95 Turkey Day marathon special: For one thing, for the first time since '92, BBI would be producing the bumpers for the marathon, and for another, the climax of the marathon would be the debut of the first episode of season seven -- including the introduction (or re-introduction, since she'd appeared once before) of (as Jim Mallon had predicted months earlier) Mary Jo Pehl as a new regular character, Dr. F.'s mom, Pearl. What fans didn't know then was that, as part of deal about the season one episodes, BBI had been forced to accept a tiny amount of money to create the Turkey Day bumpers.

In November, Friday night midnight episodes were cut. Comedy Central ran a promo for Turkey Day describing Dr. Erhardt as "a fake Frank" and infuriating Joel fans by calling him the "fifth bot-tle" (based on a Beatles parody which portrayed Mike and the bots as "The Bot-tles"). But fans were intrigued when they learned that the host segments for the version of episode 701 seen on Turkey Day would be shown only once, and that when the episode was rerun, a different set of host segments would appear in their place.

Comedy Central's Bot-tles Parody

The bumpers, when they finally did air, had Dr. F. frantically trying to entertain Thanksgiving Day guests who had been invited by Frank before his departure, and at the same time trying to take over the world before his mother arrived. When they aired, many fans saw it as a rehash of the '91 bumpers, and were ambivalent about the introduction of Pearl as a regular character.

But even as they were absorbing all this, in December, fans got to the worst-case scenario they'd been increasingly dreading. BBI, starting the whole circus off, released a statement saying that CC had no interest in ordering any more new episodes of the series and also noted that an exclusionary clause in their contract would not let them move to another network until 1997. Executives at CC, apparently caught off-guard by BBI's pre-emptive announcement, which a spokesperson called "premature," hemmed and hawed for several days before admitting that, yes, they had not ordered any new episodes beyond the six scheduled for season seven. But they hastened to add that the series had not actually been cancelled at that point, since reruns were still airing.

As the press began to pick up the story, interviews with CC staffers brought a series of contradictory responses and lame excuses. Herzog cited "low ratings" as the reason, but fans, who had long been following the battles between the network and BBI, immediately suspected that the bad blood between the two organizations had much more to do with the cancellation than ratings.

At this point, there was some hesitation from fans. Some wondered whether BBI wished to continue with the series, which, after all, they had been working on since 1988. With the departure of Joel and Frank, some wondered whether other staffers were similarly restless. In public comments in on-line forums, fans asked for direction from BBI.

BBI then publicly told its fans that it did want to continue doing the series, and, since a clause in their contract with CC prohibited them from negotiating with other entities, suggested that fans write to the executives at CC and ask them to reconsider.

At about the same time, CC fouled up its re-broadcast of episode 701 when it ran the Turkey Day version again in December, rather than the one with the new host segments BBI wanted them to run. This was followed by CC changing the schedule again, moving the show to some very inaccessible times: the midnight episodes moved to 2 a.m. and the Sunday 10 a.m. showing moved to 7 a.m.

| 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 |