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


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Part 15: The Edge of the Universe (1996)

The movie was very much a big-screen version of the TV show, featuring an opening sequence with Dr. F. explaining the concept, two internal host segments and a short closing segment...followed by Mike and the bots returning to the theater to riff on their own credits! The host segments featured fans' first glimpses of other areas of the SOL, including the passage between the SOL bridge and the theater, Tom Servo's bedroom and a non-descript area referred to as "below decks." The movie riffed was Universal's 1954 sci-fi yawner, THIS ISLAND EARTH (TIE). TIE was heavily edited, however: the running time of the entire movie is less than TIE's original running time. (Some science-fiction movie buffs voiced dismay at the choice of TIE, as did some reviewers, who dubiously declared their affection for the film and said it did not deserve the MST3K treatment.)

Reviews were relatively positive, including two thumbs up from Siskel & Ebert, and raves in Time, Entertainment Weekly, Details and in some newspapers. The majority of reviews seemed to fall into the "fair to middling" range: two-and-a-half or three stars (out of four) being the most common ratings. There were also a few extremely negative reviews, especially among reviewers who professed admiration for THIS ISLAND EARTH and felt mockery of it was mean-spirited. Incidentally, MST3K: The Movie got three stars in Leonard Maltin's movie guide -- in other words, only marginally better than LASERBLAST. :-)

But fans were soon in for an unpleasant shock: Instead of the standard 1,500-theater release most movies get, Gramercy chose to market the movie as what it called a "rock and roll" film. That meant that it played in "limited release" (about 30 theaters total each week) through most of the summer, slowly going from city to city, playing one-to-three weeks, then moving on. BBI's guess was that it was the Pamela Lee movie Barb Wire -- another Gramercy film released at about the same time -- that did them in: Gramercy apparently decided Lee 's boobfest was what America wanted, and threw all its money behind that film, while the MST3K movie got short shrift.

The days and weeks following the movie's arrival in theaters were some of the most trying for Julie Walker. Walker was deluged by complaints from fans, many of whom had assumed that the strategy for releasing the movie was BBI's decision. In her comments online, the normally cool and nearly always professional Walker showed rare flashes of anger in her replies to fans, as she attempted to explain that BBI had nothing to do with the way the movie was released.

Considering the constraints put on it by Gramercy, the movie made a decent showing at the box office. In the first weekend, it made more than twice as much per theater as the movie that ranked number one that weekend, as MSTies from all over traveled hundreds of miles, in some cases, to see it. Ticket sales plummeted the second weekend, and in the weeks that followed it did steady but slowly decreasing business.

Back at CC, again, despite repeated statements that the series was very poorly rated, CC held episode 706, the final episode of the series on CC, until the May "sweeps" period. When it finally came, fans got a truly astounding farewell. BBI, unsure at the time of the taping if the show would ever be back, tossed the entire premise of the series up in the air. Dr. F. was forced to close down Deep 13 for lack of funding. Forced to move in with his mom, he disconnected the Satellite of Love from its tether and casually informed Mike and the Bots they would soon burn up in the Earth's atmosphere.

But Tom and Gypsy found a way to increase the SOL's power and they managed to escape the Earth's atmosphere. They were hurled into deep space, where a series of "2001: A Space Odyssey" and "Star Trek" parodies took place (including a riotous segment in which Mike was transformed into Captain Janeway from "ST: Voyager").

In the final segment, the SOL reached the edge of the universe, and all its inhabitants were transformed into pure spirit and happily floated away. Meanwhile in Deep 13, Dr. F., in a take-off of the ending to "2001," watched himself grow old, and, on his death bed, saw before him not a monolith but a giant videotape, the label of which read "The Worst Movie Ever Made." Dr. F. was then transformed into a star baby, to the delight of Pearl. With that, the episode ended, leaving all of the series' major characters (except Pearl) utterly transformed, and permitting practically anything to happen if and when the series returned.

In mid-May, CC heavily promoted a "movie special" that turned out to be nothing but a regular episode with very brief clips from the movie's video press kit squeezed in during the commercials.

In June, CC canceled the 2 a.m. showings Tuesday through Friday, cutting the series back to just three showings a week. It also began a new "viewers choice" project, inviting viewers to vote via CC's World Wide Web site for which episodes they wished to see (among the few remaining that CC could legally show).

It was on June 24th that the Sci-Fi Channel (hereafter SFC) issued a statement announcing that it had picked up the series.

Sci-Fi Channel has rescued the award-winning comedy series "Mystery Science Theater 3000" from cancellation, and brought it safely to its original programming lineup where the series will flourish with exclusive, original episodes beginning in February 1997...On Sci-Fi Channel, each episode of "MST3K" will feature a full-length science-fiction film (as opposed to any other genre of film).

There was an eruption of fan celebration online, tempered only slightly by the knowledge that BBI's pick of movies would be somewhat narrowed -- only movies that fit the channel's extremely broad definition of "sci-fi" (which included horror, tales of the supernatural and fantasy) could be featured as movies on the series. Some fans bemoaned the exclusion of the drag strip and teen angst movies that had been so successful for the series on CC.

Also somewhat dampening spirits was the news that only new episodes would be shown on Sci-Fi. None of the Comedy Central episodes (among the decreasing number that it was still legal to show) would be aired on Sci-Fi, officials noted. But most fans seemed willing to accept these drawbacks so that the series could continue.

But a month later, to the day, the other shoe dropped. Trace Beaulieu released a statement saying:

I will not be returning to the cast of Mystery Science Theater 3000 for the new season...MST3K has been a wonderful part of my life, and I will miss working with all of the talented people at Best Brains...This is not a decision I make lightly, however, after eight years, 150 shows and a movie, it is time for me to move on.

As high as spirits had risen in postings online following the announcement that the series had been rescued, now spirits dropped to a new low. Mixed with the avalanche of notes wishing Trace well in his future were a small but strident consensus that, after the departure of Joel, Frank, and now Trace, the end of this series had truly come.

Many wondered how it would affect the new season on the SFC. A publicity director at the channel said, however, "This is not a dealbreaker. It was the show itself that we wanted. And we're aware that this series had gone through several cast changes."

As summer waned, there was one last dispiriting piece of news: After a year, MST3K was being pulled from the syndication market, and the syndicator declared bankruptcy. Syndication ended at the end of August of '96, but for several years afterward, posts appeared in some online forums claiming the series was an NBC series, or a Fox series, simply because the people posting had seen the syndicated version on their local NBC or Fox affiliate.

| 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 |