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


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Part 14: Battles on Many Fronts (1996)

As the year began, a massive effort by fans to save the series got under way. People wrote by the thousands to CC and asked them to reconsider, or to release BBI from the exclusionary clause of its contract. The network had to hire five staffers to handle the avalanche of mail it received. In response to the wave of mail, CC sent out letters to those who wrote in. In a somewhat patronizing tone, the letter declared that "rumors of MST3K's cancellation have been greatly exaggerated" and noted that reruns of the series would continue.

But even the reruns were getting thinner. About this time Mike Pearce had the unpleasant duty to announce that dozens of episodes would no longer air on CC because the rights to the movies featured in the episodes had expired at the beginning of the year. It had begun a few years earlier when the rights to the movie in episode 204- CATALINA CAPER expired and that episode could no longer be shown. (Tapes of it became immediate collector's items.) But now the rights to many movies featured in MST3K episodes were expiring, and when CC staffers made a casual effort to renew the rights, they learned that, ironically, the movies' appearances on MST3K had increased their value in the eyes of the rights holders, and none were willing to sell further rights to the movies without a substantial increase in the price.

Prominent among these rights holders was one Sandy Frank. The word from his office was that he had been intensely displeased by the mockery of him in several episodes, and that it would be a cold day in Hell before he allowed those episodes to be shown again -- with the result that a huge chunk of Season Three episodes were now unavailable.

In mid-February, a CC vice president flew to Minneapolis and met with BBI to make a "proposal." As it was later revealed, the proposal was that Mike and the Bots shift from watching movies to watching old sitcoms. A few weeks later, BBI offered a counter-proposal, the details of which were not made public.

Meanwhile, on the air, despite declarations that the series was getting low ratings, the network held the rest of the season seven episodes until the February "sweeps" period. When it arrived, episodes 702 through 705 aired in quick succession. While little had changed on the SOL, segments set in Deep 13 were now focused on Dr. F. and his sometimes stormy relationship with his mom, Pearl, who had moved in with her son to help him in his experiments following the departure of Frank.

Mary Jo and Trace, thoroughly enjoying their chance to work together on the air, made a strong effort to create a new chemistry between their characters, but comments by some online fans, still smarting from the departure of Frank nearly a year before, were mixed. Some fans of the Dr. F. character had become accustomed to his delightfully cruel attitude toward Frank, and were displeased when the new sketches sometimes turned the tables, making him the oppressed character and Pearl his oppressor. But in, a situation reminiscent of the departure of Joel three years earlier, other fans expressed satisfaction that BBI was shaking up the status quo and going in new directions with the comedy.

After several weeks of quiet, on March 14, 1996, BBI made the following announcement:

After a long run on Comedy Central, it's official: Yesterday CC told us they have decided not to purchase any additional MST3K episodes and that they have agreed to release us from our contract. We are now free to look for a new home for Mystery Science Theater 3000. The Sci-Fi Channel has recently expressed some interest in MST3K and we are in discussions with them.

The full page Variety ad placed by MSTiesAlthough the reaction might have seemed strange to an outsider observer, MSTies greeted this statement with surprising cheerfulness. "It's worth it to escape CC" was the general opinion that was expressed. And the news that BBI had been released from the exclusionary clause was seen as a major victory.

Fans immediately wrote to the Sci-Fi Channel by the thousands, asking them to pick up the series. Over the next few months, negotiations dragged on between the network and BBI. At the same time, a number of fans (including Jack Perkins himself) contributed to an ad in the entertainment industry trade magazine Variety, telling potential buyers that the series needed a new home.

The end of a long frustrating winter brought a promising spring. First, fans were delighted when they learned that BBI, despite MST3K's cloudy future on TV, was planning a second convention, on Labor Day weekend.

At the beginning of April, fans rushed to bookstores to buy the Amazing Colossal Episode Guide, which was brimming with BBI-style drollery. Barely had they digested that when MST3K: The Movie, at long last, hit movie theaters April 19th.

| 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 |