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


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Part 19: Re-Entry (1999)

On February 24th, well ahead of when the decisions were expected to be made, the bomb dropped. BBI issued a press release announcing that Sci-Fi had decided not to order any more episodes, and that the show would cease production in April, after filming the final season 10 episode.

"Ten years is a great run for any series. We've had a tremendous ride and it's time for Mike Nelson and the 'Bots to come down to Earth," Jim Mallon said in the statement.

The MST3K internet discussion forums exploded with dismay, disbelief and grief. Calls for letter-writing campaigns were heard and "Save MST3K" web sites sprung up overnight. As in 1996, fans looked to BBI for direction in the crisis but, unlike 1996 (when BBI indicated almost at once that it was seeking a new home and welcoming help from fans), from BBI there was an eerie silence. Only in a spate of newspaper and magazine interviews did anyone address the issue. Both Mallon and Murphy indicated that they would like to continue producing the series if some other network expressed an interest, but both also indicated that they did not expect that interest to materialize. Despite the best efforts of fans, it did not.

After more weeks of fretting and anticipation, April finally arrived and season 10 finally got under way with episode 1001- SOULTAKER.

In the host segments, Joel returned as Joel Robinson, rushing to the rescue of a wildly malfunctioning Satellite of Love, which he'd learned had been programmed to self-destruct after ten years. In a long awaited moment, Joel and Mike stood side-by-side on the SOL and exchanged pleasantries, and even shared a tender moment as Joel attempted to raise the spirits of Mike, downhearted at the thought of never escaping the SOL. As Joel headed off into the ship to begin repairs, Mike expressed his envy for Joel, only to be advised by Tom Servo: "Don't compare yourself, man. It ain't healthy." Across the country, MSTies laughed as the series gently mocked their own endless debates comparing the merits of the two hosts.

In Castle Forrester, a black-clad apparition appeared, only to be revealed as TV's Frank. Explaining he'd been kicked out of Second Banana Heaven, Frank made sport of Observer ("Where'd ya get the Hostess Snowball?") but, perhaps not surprisingly, hit it off with the dimwitted Bobo.

The reaction to the episode from online fans was generally positive, though some expressed regret that Joel did not join Mike and the bots in the theater to watch the movie. Hodgson explained in press appearances for the series that he had been unable to take part in the writing of the theater segments, and did not want to participate in anything he had not helped to write.

At about the same time that the first episode of the season aired, BBI was at work on the final episode of the series. Unlike the first episode of the season, when Joel and Frank had been present, and BBI had invited the news media to the taping, the taping was a private affair, and the details of what would happen in the final episode were, for the time being, a closely guarded secret.

Season 10 episodes continued to air on Sci-Fi Channel in a rapid-fire pace, as if (and this was noted in more than one MST3K discussion group) the network was in a hurry to be done with the series. Though episode 1003 was delayed due to rights difficulties, the rest of the season rolled by quickly.

Highlights included the demented BLOOD WATERS OF DR. Z, a dreary made-for-German-TV version of HAMLET and the series' final short: the incomprehensible A Case of Spring Fever.

Gone in season ten were the last shreds of the restriction that the series only feature movies that fit its definition of "science fiction." That restriction now seemed to be completely lifted, and movies such as THE GIRL IN GOLD BOOTS and Joe Don Baker's FINAL JUSTICE were part of the mix.

Early on, before the cancellation, Sci-Fi had made a half-hearted attempt to micro-manage the show's content, requesting that BBI create an over-arching story line. They did, introducing the notion that Pearl was trying to be "certified" by the Institute of Mad Science. But when the cancellation notice came, about four episodes in, BBI no longer felt any necessity to continue the concept. It faded away about mid-season.

At the same time that fans were enjoying season 10, at Best Brains, the process of shutting down the series continued. Staff was laid off, sets were struck, offices were cleared out and plans were announced for an online auction in which nearly the entire contents of the BBI prop room would be sold off to the highest bidder. And, though fans once again took out a full page ad in Variety, from nowhere in the entertainment industry was there even a hint of interest in picking up the series.

At the end of June, the Eden Prairie offices where Best Brains had spent the last 10 years, were empty, and locked up for the last time. Ensconced in a new, studio-less office in nearby Plymouth, MN, the final remnant of BBI was Jim Mallon, controller Tim Johnson and Info Club Poobah Barb Tebben.

Episode 1013- DIABOLIK, the series' finale, debuted August 8th. In the episode, Pearl precipitates the end by hooking the SOL to a Radio Shack joystick, which promptly breaks. The failure causes the SOL to be thrown into re-entry mode and Pearl is unable to stop it. Her experiment in ruins, she quickly evacuates the lab, taking a job as "dictator for life of Qatar." Bobo and Observer also find new gigs, and when we see them last they are huddled together (in a reference to the final episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show) singing. Pearl then pauses, walks up to a plug directly in front of the camera, and disconnects it with the admonition "Move on, Nelson. I have."

On the SOL, the final re-entry begins and the ship is nearly torn apart as it enters the Earth's atmosphere and then crashes...but Mike and the Bots survive. In the final scene, Mike, Crow and Tom are seen living together happily in a one-room Milwaukee apartment (Gypsy had departed to found her own successful internet startup company), and settling in to watch a bad movie. The movie turns out to be THE CRAWLING EYE, the movie riffed in the very first national episode. "This seems familiar..." Crow observes as the camera fades to black...and the series comes to a bittersweet end.

There was high praise for the final episode, both from fans and from critics, but nobody was there to receive the plaudits. The cast had already scattered. Mike Nelson spent some time working on a collection of short humorous essays, Bill Corbett turned his attention again to playwriting, Paul Chaplin began writing articles for online magazines, Kevin Murphy and his wife Jane went traveling. 

Mary Jo Pehl was a juror for the USA Film Festival immediately after MST3K ended, and then she traveled to China and was unfortunate enough to be an American in Beijing when the Chinese Embassy was bombed in Belgrade. "That was very exciting for this Minnesota gal," she says. Over the summer of '99, Mary Jo did a lot of writing, including a paper for a documentary film class. She also took part in the Minnesota Fringe Festival. She then went traveling again, visiting Africa, the Middle-East and Europe.

With the finale out of the way, Sci-Fi Channel dropped its Sunday night time slot completely, relegating the show to one airing per week, at 11 a.m. Saturday mornings. The Sunday night time slot returned only once more, for the premiere of the last first-run episode, episode 1003- MERLIN'S SHOP OF MYSTICAL WONDER. That episode premiered on Sept. 12, 1999.

There was little surprise from most fans when the October schedule arrived, and the show's time slot was moved again, to 9 a.m. Saturday eastern time (an extremely inaccessible 6 a.m. on the West Coast). There was a good deal of surprise, however, when the December schedule arrived and it contained a "Chain Reaction" mini-marathon of MST3K episodes during Christmas week, and fans were invited to vote for which episodes would appear on the channel's Web site.

Throughout the rest of 1999 and into 2000, online rumors persisted about another network picking up the series. A tiny satellite channel calling itself The B-Movie Channel posted several notes on its website saying it was in negotiation with BBI for new episodes, for the rights to the Comedy Central episodes and even for the rights (already held by Rhino Home Video) to release DVDs of the series. But by the end of the year, it was forced to back down from most of those claims, and soon it grew completely silent on the issue of MST3K.

Rumors also circulated that the cable channel American Movie Classics was interested in picking up Comedy Central-era episodes, but AMC officials never confirmed that.

Late in the year, Joel Hodgson had some news: he and his brother Jim signed a deal to create a series for Noggin, the new 24-hour commercial-free educational network for kids from Viacom, which also owns Nickelodeon. According to Viacom officials, the Hodgson brothers are developing a show that "takes real kids and challenges them to work together to build their own TV show. This show-within-a-show turns the TV cameras on themselves while giving kids a crash course in storytelling, TV production and team building. Each episode will focus primarily on the production process, but culminate in the kid-built program." The Hodgson Brothersí project is a co-production with Jim Henson Productions.

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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 |