Satellite News - The Almost But Not Quite Complete History of MST3K - Part 8


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Part 8: Departure (1993)

By the spring of 1993, Joel Hodgson had had it. 

"I had ideas falling out of my sleeves at night," he would later say, trying to describe how the daily grind of producing the series was stifling his desire to try new things. His resentment unavoidably spilled into his work, and was returned by increasing exasperation by most of the rest of the BBI. Something had to give.

On May 11th, a bomb exploded in the MSTie community. The effects of that explosion would be felt for months, even years. Joel announced he was leaving the series, and would depart halfway through the 24-episode fifth season.

In the press release announcing his departure, Hodgson summed his reasons up by saying:

It's time for me to hang up my red jump suit and move behind the camera. Besides, there's an old show business adage I once heard Adam West say: "Stay in the same costume and before you know it, you end up signing pictures at an R.V. show." Maybe it was Clayton Moore, now that I think of it.

Joel went on to explain:

I want to become a behind-the-camera guy. I want to get on to the NEXT weird show. I want to be an idea man.

Who would replace him? There really was only one logical choice, as Hodgson himself said at the time:

Mike Nelson is a real comic discovery. All of us at BBI are enthused and excited about what he'll bring to the position and I have to admit, the man looks good standing next to puppets.

Little noted by anyone was another comment of Joel's at this time:

I don't want to be a movie star.

Although fans did not know it, the idea of a movie based on the series was already being quietly peddled. Indeed it came out later that, in discussing a possible movie, Joel had found himself again negotiating with his old nemesis Brandon Tartikoff, now the studio head at Paramount. Tartikoff and his people had an idea for an "origins" movie, in which viewers would see how Joel was first blasted into space, and movie riffing would be downplayed. Once again, Joel found it necessary to turn the great Brandon Tartikoff down. Everyone at BBI agreed that any movie should stay true to the basis of the series, and that movie riffing should remain the focus.

But based on Joel's comment in his farewell, it's clear that the process of trying to get a movie deal, and the prospect of being the star of that movie, was another factor among his reasons to seek greener pastures.

The fifth season began July 24th. As summer turned to fall, Comedy Central programmers were griping to BBI about the length of its episodes, saying that the two-hour shows were hard to fit into a programming grid. BBI, still anxious to make things work with the channel, responded by creating The Mystery Science Theater Hour, in which full-length season-three and -four Mike as Jack Perkins, aka The Hostepisodes were divided into two one-hour shows. Each episode opened and closed with a short explanatory segment starring Mike Nelson, heavily made up, as "The Host " -- a genial and slightly befuddled character loosely based on his Jack Perkins character first introduced in episode 310- FUGITIVE ALIEN. In addition to placating the network, BBI had another good reason to produce these episodes: It foresaw a chance to use the episodes in a syndication effort later on.

But BBI, having done the network's bidding in that instance, refused in the next: When Comedy Central offered what BBI considered an insultingly small amount of money to once again produce the Turkey Day bumpers, it refused.

Casting about for something else to base the bumpers on, Comedy Central officials learned of a Halloween party being planned by a group of on-line MSTies (largely from the very active community on the Prodigy online service--with a sprinkling of others from AOL and elsewhere in cyberspace) at the suburban Minneapolis home of one Debbie Tobin, a MSTie who at that time posted regularly on the Prodigy MST3K bulletin board, and who had done a bit of clerical work at BBI. The network asked permission to film the party. Tobin agreed.

The first half of season five probably offered fans the widest range of movie types they ever got. The eye-popping MAGIC VOYAGE OF SINBAD, the smarmy SWAMP DIAMONDS, Steve Reeves in the original HERCULES, not one but two low-budget spy pictures, the nausea-inducing EEGAH!...even a Lassie movie was grist for the mill.

Returning again to educational shorts, such gems as The Truck Farmer and the infamous What To Do on a Date were also trotted out. There was little outward sign of Joel's growing disenchantment with his role as host, but in retrospect a viewer, reading between the lines, might find some clues. The tension between the performers is palpable during the "funeral" host segment in episode 511- THE GUNSLINGER, to site one example.

I Can't Come Back, I Don't Know How it Works!Joel's departure took place in episode 512- MITCHELL. That is also the episode (first run Oct. 23, 1993) in which the character of Mike Nelson was introduced. In it, Gypsy overheard Dr. F. and Frank discussing their plans to kill their newly hired temp Mike. Gypsy mistakenly thought the person they were planning to kill was Joel. With Mike's help, Gypsy learned that the SOL was carrying a secret, single-occupant escape pod and how to gain control of it. Desperate to save Joel, Gypsy tossed him into the escape pod and launched it before he could object. He landed safely on Earth. Furious at Joel's escape, Dr. F. sent Mike up to the SOL to take his place.

The new era of MST3K had begun.

| 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 |