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


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Part 18: Home Sweet Castle (1997-98)

About mid-season, Jim Mallon gave up the role of Gypsy and handed it to long time BBI staffer Patrick Brantseg. Mallon remained with BBI, but he decided to concentrate on his work behind the scenes and spend more time with his family. With his relinquishing of Gypsy, the entire cast of the series when it first appeared on national television had been replaced by other performers.

The premise continued to take dizzying turns. The SOL and the Widowmaker were sucked into a wormhole and eventually arrived on Earth in "Roman Times" where they spent several more episodes, with Kevin Murphy doing triple-duty as Tom Servo, Bobo and Roman citizen Callipygeas, and Bridget Jones became a semi-regular as his catty wife Flavia. As the season drew to a close, the characters escaped from Roman Times and traveled through the wormhole again. The final two episodes of the season found the SOL and the Widowmaker floating together in some undetermined time and space.

BBI finished the season with a flourish, presenting three very strong episodes (SPACE MUTINY, TIME CHASERS and OVERDRAWN AT THE MEMORY BANK) that had even many of its more diehard naysayers acknowledging that the series had truly found its way back to the level of quality in seasons five or six. Corbett became increasingly proficient -- and more and more comfortable -- in the role of Crow, while at the same time bringing a wonderful flair to his role as Observer.

And by the end of the season it was clear that the Sci-Fi Channel commandment that all the movies riffed on conform to their definition of "science fiction" was being stretched to its limit, allowing movies like JACK FROST and AGENT FOR H.A.R.M. Much of the early concern fans had expressed evaporated. Fans were also pleased, when Thanksgiving rolled around, to see the channel run a short marathon of the series: Seven episodes of the show ran from early morning into the wee hours--with a break at prime time. It was nothing like the massive (and nearly always poorly rated) two-day extravaganzas Comedy Central once ran, but it was something.

During their first season for the Sci-Fi Channel, BBI worked on two specials for the network. During the fall the 1st Annual Summer Blockbuster Review was presented, in which the characters offered commentary on the trailers for many of the summer's blockbusters. Also presented was The Making of MST3K, which focused on how the current series was produced, and spent a little time looking at the history of the series.

It was hardly a surprise when the news arrived that Sci-Fi had renewed the show for a ninth season: Again, the contract called for 13 episodes, with an option for 9 more. And there was more good news: The series moving "across the pond" and began airing in the U.K., Ireland, parts of Scandinavia and southern Africa on what was then known as "Sci-Fi Channel Europe."

If fans had any niggling complaints, they were few and far between. One was that none of the episodes in season eight included "shorts" -- the short films that often were used as filler in many Comedy Central-era episodes. A combination of longer films, more complicated host segments and the necessity of choosing shorts with some sort of science-fiction element made including shorts a low priority on BBI's list of things to do.

Fans had another niggling complaint, but this one was aimed at Rhino Home Video. By late in the year, it became apparent that the company was not going to be able to live up to its ambitious prediction of 20 episodes in one year. In fact, it looked as if less than a half dozen would be in stores by that time. It turned out that Rhino staffers encountered more problems than they expected when they tried to obtain the rights to the movies featured in the series.

The ninth season of the series began in March of 1998, and the Satellite of Love's wanderings through space and time came to an end. Exiting the wormhole, Mike and the bots found themselves orbiting present-day Earth, while on the planet Pearl, Bobo and Observer moved into Pearl's ancestral home, Castle Forrester. The season ran the gamut from the detestable HOBGOBLINS to the truly strange FINAL SACRIFICE. It also featured another guest star: movie critic Leonard Maltin, who made an appearance in episode 909- GORGO.

And responding to repeated calls for a return of the "shorts," two short films were offered: a mind-numbing phone company-produced visit to the Seattle Worlds Fair called Century 21 Calling, and, an MST3K first: a Gumby cartoon!

On the surface, everything seemed to be going smoothly for MST3K once again. But, behind the scenes, another crisis, was brewing. The first hint of trouble came when the show's time slot moved from late night Saturday night to Saturday afternoon. The reason for the change, the ratings, which had climbed steadily in season eight, had plateaued. They were not decreasing, but they were not growing either. The channel seemed to cool on the series. In a situation uncomfortably similar to the souring days at Comedy Central, promotional commercials for the series, once plentiful on the channel, seemed to fade away. And when word came that the channel had not picked up the "back nine" option, and that season nine was to end after 13 episodes, some fans began to fret. They began to fret further when the series' time slot moved again from Saturday afternoon to Saturday morning.

Their worries grew larger that summer when Barry Schulman, MST3K's principal defender at the Sci-Fi Channel, announced that he was leaving the network. As one of his final acts, he renewed MST3K for a 10th season of 13 episodes. But it was the last time he would be able to help the series.

Replacing Schulman was Bonnie Hammer, a career programming professional from Sci-Fi Channel's corporate parent, USA Networks, who had been much of the credit for USA Network's increased ratings. One of the ways Hammer had achieved this success was by recognizing the increasing popularity of professional wrestling, and by increasing the visibility of pro wrestling on USA. Hammer also had a reputation for insisting that every one of the programs on her network pull its weight -- and continue to grow -- in the ratings department. The first thing to go was any thought of an MST3K Thanksgiving Day marathon. Almost always a ratings loser, even in the early Comedy Central days, Hammer would not hear of repeating in 1998 what had been done in 1997.

But as season nine ended in the fall of '98, fans got a fantastic surprise: They learned that in the first episode of season ten, Joel Hodgson and Frank Conniff were slated to make guest-starring appearances. In October, Frank and Joel returned to their old stomping grounds in Eden Prairie. Joel would later recall that he felt like a graduate returning to his old school. "Everything seemed smaller than I remembered," he joked. "The water fountain was lower." A strict "plot" blackout was decreed by both BBI and Sci-Fi Channel, and fans, eager to hear how Joel and Frank would return to MST3K, would have to wait many months to find out.

As the first episode was being shot, Sci-Fi officials were making noises about a January start to the new season. In mid-November the January, 1999, schedule arrived and it brought two disheartening bits of news. The first episode of Season 10 was not on it, and the series' time slots were radically changed. The new time slots were 11 a.m. Saturdays and 11 p.m. Sundays, notably less prominent time slots. At the end of November, when Mike and Kevin made a personal appearance at a sci-fi convention in New Orleans, Kevin told a stunned crowd that the season 10 premiere would not come until April.

The constant backsliding of the premiere date and the time slot change increased worries by fans even more, and they began to watch the network closely for signs that the series was in real trouble. One major sign, it was widely assumed, would come when it was learned whether Sci-Fi would pick up the "back nine" -- making season 10 a 22-episode season like season eight, rather than a 13-episode season like season nine. That decision, it was rumored, would come in March. The next and more serious sign would, obviously, come when the network decided whether or not to order an 11th season, a decision that was expected to come in June.

But some fans weren't waiting until then. Internet campaigns urging viewers to send positive notes of encouragement to Sci-Fi Channel officials were already under way as 1998 came to end.

| 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 |