Satellite News - The Almost But Not Quite Complete History of MST3K - Part 5


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Part 5: A New Beginning (1990-91)

Gypsy, Crow, Joel and Tom Servo

The first season ended in the spring of 1990, and executives at the Comedy Channel assured BBI that a contract for a second season was coming...but weeks went by and it did not appear. A nervous period of waiting commenced. With no money coming in, nearly all the staff went on unemployment, the team spent their days kicking aimlessly around the studio and playing a lot of video games. Finally, the renewal check arrived, and BBI could begin production of another 13-episode season.

BBI later learned that the series was, for a short period, very very close to cancellation, and that one reason they were renewed was a wave of positive reviews and articles in the press -- articles that made Comedy Channel executives look very good for supporting the series.

But there were to be some changes. Increasingly restless at the direction the series was taking, anxious to strike out on his own, and experiencing friction between himself and the rest of the staff, Josh Weinstein left the show. According to some reports, Weinstein, a mature 18-year-old but an 18-year-old nonetheless, never really jelled with the rest of the writing staff, which was mostly in its late 20s and early 30s.

When asked, in an interview in the summer of 1990, why Josh was leaving, Mallon simply called it "creative differences." But Joel offered his own take: "Let me put it this way," he said with some weariness in his voice, "he's 18 years old."

For his part, according to reports, Weinstein's biggest gripe about the series was that it was now being scripted. He had flourished in the easy-going, extemporaneous atmosphere at KTMA, but chafed at being held to a script. It is apparent just by watching the season one episodes that he departed from the script often. It seems likely that this would lead to tensions with his co-stars.

So, jumping before he was pushed, Weinstein departed for Los Angeles. Success awaited. He did stand up comedy and got some small notice: He was featured on an A&E stand-up comedy show. A stint as a writer and performer on the Greg Kinnear show Later led to bigger things: a job as a writer and producer for the UPN series Malcolm & Eddie. From there he jumped to ABC, as the supervising writer for the completely revamped America's Funniest Home Videos. Most recently, he worked on the staff of the critically acclaimed but ratings-hungry NBC series Freaks and Geeks. He also wrote a play that was well received in performance in both Minneapolis and Los Angeles.

MST3K fans watching the Fox show The Simpsons would soon begin noticing a Josh Weinstein listed in the credits of that series, but it turned out it was not the same guy. To distinguish himself, our Josh chose a new professional name: J. Elvis Weinstein.

Back at BBI, replacements would be necessary, and the writing team, with newly promoted Head Writer Mike Nelson in charge, set out to do just that. When the second season began on September 22nd, Joel was seen installing a "new voice" in Tom Servo -- thus began the era of Kevin Murphy as the voice and puppeteer for the big-voiced 'bot. In the same episode, Weinstein's Dr. Erhardt character was written out of the show and a new resident of Deep 13 was introduced: lab assistant Frank -- later to be known as TV's Frank -- played by Conniff.

Dr. Erhardt is missingAsked by Joel of Dr. Erhardt's whereabouts, Frank simply held up a milk carton with Weinstein's picture on it and announced: "He's missing." He was never heard from again.

(But it wasn't the last time he was mentioned. While making episode 313- EARTH VS. THE SPIDER, the team, for some reason, seemed to have Dr. Erhardt on their minds, and inserted two references to him in that show. When a character vaguely resembling him was eaten by the giant spider, Joel exclaimed: "No, Dr. Erhardt, no! So THAT'S what happened to him!" Also in that episode, Frank and Dr. F. reprise the famous "THANK YOU!!" catchphrase from the first season -- then look at each other with deep embarrassment).

Weinstein had used a deep, profundo voice as Tom, so as to not to be confused with the high-pitched, squeaky voice he used as Dr. Erhardt (although the two mixed somewhat.) Murphy seems to have tried to imitate Weinstein in the early going, before settling down and making the role his own. Meanwhile, Conniff's portrayal of the chirpy, fun-loving, off-the-wall Frank was quickly revealed as a fitting foil for Beaulieu's glowering, obsessive Dr. Forrester and the chemistry between the two performers became apparent almost at once.

Season two would bring other changes. Almost every first-season episode had been a science fiction or horror film (indeed, with the exception of episode 112- UNTAMED YOUTH, the entire first season would easily fit within the Sci-Fi Channel's format). But in season two, with the network running out of usable science fiction films, the series would turn to other genres, most notably some very greasy and unpleasant biker movies. It would also feature the only intentional comedy the series has ever presented, CATALINA CAPER.

Another change was completely revamped sets. Now, pasted into the hexagonal shapes that made up the walls of the SOL "bridge" set, were hundreds of little toys and found objects. Fans delighted in picking this or that recognizable shape out of the clutter in the background. And, to the viewer's left of the main bridge desk, an important new addition arrived: the Hexfield Viewscreen, through which Joel and his pals could interact with what would soon become a parade of visitors to the SOL's orbital path. In Deep 13, the lab equipment became more elaborate, and new doorways in the background suggested other rooms in the Mads' cavernous lair. And two other new characters were introduced in Deep 13: The Mole People, Jerry and Sylvia (named for the creators of Super Marionation shows like "Thunderbirds" and "Fireball XL5") who happily helped out around the place. Playing the Mole People were unpaid interns, broiling under the hot studio lights inside suffocating rubber masks.

With talented musician Nelson in command, music would become a larger part of the series. In one second-season episode, not one but TWO song were presented, and the MST3K cast burst into song fairly regularly, belting out such gems as If Chauffeurs Ruled The World and The Godzilla Genealogy Bop.

Another serial would rear its ugly head: Three episodes of the dreary THE PHANTOM CREEPS, starring Bela Lugosi, would appear. And the last two episodes of the season would presage the season to come: They each featured a Japanese-made Godzilla movie.

| 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 |