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Part 6: East Meets West (1991-92)
Early in 1991, in the middle of the second season, the Comedy Channel and its rival, Ha!, merged to become (after some confusion where it had to change its name) Comedy Central (hereafter called CC). While this was bad news for most of the series currently airing on the Comedy Channel -- very few of them made the transition -- it was good news for MST3K. Seeing MST3K as its signature series, CC executives wanted to lock in BBI, and offered them a deal almost unheard-of in the industry -- three 24-episode seasons.
Delighted, the Brains signed eagerly, and returned to Minneapolis to a enjoy a rarity in the television world--long-term security. They set about grinding out episode after episode, and this was one of their most fertile periods.
Turning to material they knew was a riffing gold mine, the team ordered and re-riffed nine of the films that they'd riffed during the KTMA season, including five Gamera movies, the two Fugitive Alien movies, the mind-boggling TIME OF THE APES, and the incomprehensible MIGHTY JACK, all Japanese films imported to the U.S. by one Sandy Frank. Impresario Frank became the target of numerous barbs from the cast. (One example: a lustily sung song in which Joel and the bots declared: "We wanna stick it to Sandy Frank/and sit on his chest/and gob on his face/and make him cryyyy.") According to some reports, when Frank learned that he was being mocked by name on national television, he was not amused. The jibes would come back to haunt the series later.
For several of its other titles in season three, the team turned to the genre it would be best known for, the classic 1950s quickies by Roger Corman and Bert I. Gordon, including THE AMAZING COLOSSAL MAN, its sequel WAR OF THE COLOSSAL BEAST, IT CONQUERED THE WORLD, EARTH VS. THE SPIDER, TEENAGE CAVEMAN and VIKING WOMEN AND THE SEA SERPENT. BBI would also try another new genre, the TV movie, taking on two Master Ninja outings and the bland STRANDED IN SPACE.
For most of season three, BBI set up a see-saw rhythm in its movie choices: an American film, followed by a Japanese film the following episode, then back to a domestic title, and so on
To accompany the movies, when filler was needed, BBI shifted from the movie serials that had dominated the first two seasons to short one-reelers (most of which were provided by New York City-based film archivist Rick Prelinger), including a number of educational films with titles like Using Your Voice, Posture Pals and Appreciating your Parents. And, late in the season, their choice of an ill-considered promotional film made for a musical instrument manufacturer, entitled Mr. B Natural, would turn out to be one of the highlights of the entire series. Episodes of season three began airing June 1st, 1991.
In late summer, the network and BBI agreed to have a marathon of the series on Thanksgiving Day, and the network requested "bumpers" that would run in between the episodes to pull the marathon together. BBI responded brilliantly, producing the now-classic bumpers in which Dr. F. attempts to control the world while Frank entertains Thanksgiving Day guests.
Helping to write the bumpers was a recent addition to the BBI staff, a local comic and writer named Paul Schersten, who went by the stage name Paul Chaplin. Also contributing to the mix was Mike's wife Bridget Jones, who served as a home writer. "They'd give me a tape of the movie, and I'd sit at home and write comments with the time codes," she recalled years later. "It was interesting doing it that way. When you're looking at it all by yourself, sometimes you're able to see things you wouldn't see if you were with a group in the writing room, while the movie is slowly choking the life out of you."
That fall, as the team was working on episode 321- SANTA CLAUS CONQUERS THE MARTIANS, a film crew from Comedy Central arrived to make a promotional documentary about the series called This is MST3K.
It was an era of happy BBI-network cooperation, allowing BBI to make an unusual request: With more than 30 episodes in the can from the two most recent seasons, BBI and CC made an informal agreement that the network would no longer run first-season episodes. In light of more recent episodes, BBI was uncomfortable with the idea of first season episodes (with their different look, different performers and -- to BBI's mind -- lesser quality) continuing to be included in the rerun mix.
"It's like if someone wanted to judge you based on the work you did in kindergarten," Jim Mallon later explained. Many fans disagreed then and disagree now with Mallon's assessment, but generally respected the decision. CC honored the request, even though they technically did not have to.
1992 dawned, and by Spring, BBI had begun working on season four episodes, which began running June 6th. Joining the writing team was a talented actress, comedian, and the pride of Circle Pines, MN, Mary Jo Pehl.
As the episodes began to air, BBI became aware of a new and exciting way to hear from and communicate to its fans--something called the internet. It was about that time that early pioneers of the internet scene began to set up online communities centered on the series. The newsgroup alt.tv.mst3k was already in existence, and one occasional poster there was a Microsoft employee named Julie Walker. On the fledgling Prodigy, America Online and CompuServe services, MSTies were forming small discussion groups as well.
| 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 |