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Goodbye Sci-Fi

Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett reflect on MST3K's final broadcast.

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Episode guide: 101- The Crawling Eye

Movie: (1958) After some mysterious deaths in the Swiss Alps, a U.N. troubleshooter is sent to assist a scientist who is investigating the situation. But a pretty young psychic may be the most help.

First shown: approx. 11/25/89? (See below).
Opening: None
Invention exchange: Electric bagpipes, canine anti-perspirant, welcome to Deep 13
Host segment 1: Crow and Tom fail to understand why losing your head is a big deal
Host segment 2: Gypsy uncoils
Host segment 3: J&TB discuss the whole “giant eye” premise
End: Good thing/bad thing, the Mads are happy
1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (125 votes, average: 4.00 out of 5)
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• In the months between Memorial Day weekend (when the last KTMA episode aired) and the end of November (when this episode first aired), the Brains put together a nine-minute pitch video with what they considered to be the funniest moments from the show (that video was later included on the Scrapbook Tape). Joel called in some favors and managed to get meetings with executives at The Comedy Channel and Ha!, the two competing 24-hour comedy basic cable channels that had just started up, or were about to. Joel and Jim headed to New York with high hopes. The Ha! executives took a pass (the show really didn’t fit in with their lineup of mostly sitcom reruns) but the Comedy Channel executives liked what they saw–especially the fact that the show would be two hours long, really helping to fill their programming grid. Stu Smiley, a well-regarded TV producer who was then working at HBO (The Comedy Channel’s parent company) once told me that the other reason they went with the show is that the executives knew and trusted Joel. They offered a 13-show deal and Jim and Joel signed. Jim and Kevin quit their jobs at the KTMA (it wasn’t THAT courageous a leap–the station was circling the drain), and, with Joel, Trace and Josh, incorporated as Best Brains Inc. in July. A friend had some empty warehouse space in the Minneapolis suburb of Eden Prairie. It was just what they needed. They moved in and set about building new sets, new bots and generally rebooting the whole show. This is the result.
• Do I like it? It’s such an icon that, like the Taj Mahal, it almost seems above my likes and dislikes. Yes, the riffing is funny and steady, but the whole thing is still pretty rough. Really it’s not much more than a somewhat polished KTMA episode, not even close to the level of entertainment we’d get even later this season, and certainly in season two and forward. But there are definitely some fun spots, and it’s where it all began.
• This episode is part of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 Collection: Vol. XVII.
References.
• The Comedy Channel went live on Nov. 15, 1989, and we now believe, thanks to the diligent work of Tom Noel, that the first episode actually aired was episode 102- ROBOT VS. THE AZTEC MUMMY, on Nov. 18, and that this episode appeared the following weekend, on Nov. 25. Cast members have said, somewhat casually, that it first ran on Thanksgiving day, 1989. That year Thanksgiving fell on the 23rd, but we do not believe an episode actually aired on that date. That was a Thursday, and the show aired on Saturdays. But, let’s face it, back then, nobody was keeping track of this stuff. If somebody has TV Guides or some other TV schedule from the second half of November, 1989, and it lists The Comedy Channel, let us know!
• The stretch between the end of the KTMA season and the beginning of season one (if we assume the first episode aired on Nov. 18) was 173 days, the fifth-longest amount of time MSTies had to wait between episodes.
• Firsts (in addition to being the first national show): The first episode to be fully scripted, first mention of Gizmonic Institute, first invention exchange, first episode to be filmed at Best Brains studios, first movie to have a film used with permission, first episode with Jim doing the voice and puppeteering for Gypsy and the first episode with scenes set in Deep 13. Also this was the first episode to end its credits with: “Keep circulating the tapes.”
• Changes from KTMA: A completely redesigned dog-bone shaped satellite, a new door sequence, new sets and new theme lyrics.
• A little about The Comedy Channel (since there is VERY little video of it on YouTube that I could find): The premise was that it was going to be a comedy version of MTV — MTV the way it was back when it first started and actually showed music videos, that is. When MTV started, they had hosts (veejays as they were called) who introduced the videos and generally chatted between videos. The Comedy Channel wanted to emulate that setup: It called its hosts “ceejays” and they generally showed clips of comedy shows (they had all all those HBO comedy specials in their vault) and movies. But, one by one, most of the ceejays evolved their shows into something else. Alan Havey turned his into a talk show. The Higgins Boys and Gruber turned theirs into a sketch comedy show, and so forth. But not all the programming was like that. Rich Hall had a terrific series (hey Shout! get the rights!) called “Onion World.” And then, of course, there was MST3K. Initially they ran it on Saturday morning, playing off the idea that it was a parody of a kid’s show, but it also played in the wee hours. One last note: The Comedy Channel was not available in many areas of the Twin Cities when the show debuted. BBI staffers found a bar that carried it and went there to celebrate and watch it when this show first debuted.
• During the theme song, we see Joel (as the lyrics say) “working” and “cleaning up” but in these shots we can see that he’s in Deep 13 and on the SOL. We never actually see him working at Gizmonic Institute. You’d think they could have just had him go out into the hallway at the BBI offices and shot some footage. Maybe that footage in Deep 13 is from when he cleaned up that Flubber spill? I know, it’s just a show…
• During the opening theme, you can spot Jim’s head sticking up–it’s during the section where Joel sings “…to make his robot friends…” You can also spot the PVC pipe that was used to work Crow.
• There is no opening host segment between the theme song and the first commercial, something that became institutionalized later.
• In Deep 13, Dr. F. appears to be controlling the camera with some sort of remote control device that looks like a little satellite antenna. In season two, they would create the notion of the Mole People assisting on camera and such … and then they just stopped worrying about explaining who was behind the camera.
• We get as much information as we’re ever going to get about Deep 13 in that first host segment.
• Joel wore a tan jumpsuit in the KTMA episodes. With this episode he switches to bright red and the red jumpsuit continues through the entire season. In season two, he switches up the colors a bit, but we’ll deal with that when we get there.
• The “electric bagpipes” used in the invention exchange were the first of many props from Joel’s old standup act that would re-appear as inventions.
• During the KTMA shows, Joel and the bots (usually Servo) used to signal the approach of a commercial during the theater riffing. It’s a habit they continue in this episode and for many to come before it fades away.
• Both Tom Servo and Crow have been rebuilt. Tom is built slightly different from later eps–larger shoulder thingies and a larger white beak.
• Trace has pretty much abandoned the “baby” voice he used for Crow during KTMA, though we get occasional, er, traces of it.
• Note that there are no buttons on the table: At Movie Sign, Joel just sort of slaps the table! Movie Sign is a somewhat lifeless affair all the way around…no flashing lights, just a little camera-shaking.
• During this season, BBI experimented with making the theater seats different colors, to see if the signature visual element of the show might be a little easier to see especially during dark scenes. In this episode they are just sort of a dark gray.
• BBI was using a “thinner” bluescreen level than they would use later–the result is that Crow’s “net” seems to vanish, and you can see some odd gaps between Servo and the theater seats.
• Even taking the bluescreen level into account, you may notice that Crow’s silhouette in the theater looks a little strange. According to an informed source, BBI used the KTMA Crow for the theater segments here–all they did was add an extra floralier tray and clean him up a little.
• Tom walks into the theater by himself in the first movie segment, just as he often did during the KTMA episodes. Joel carries him in after the first and second host segments, and Tom seems to like it.
• Of course, this is the movie that Mike and the Bots were watching at the end of the final episode of Season 10. As we discussed then, it was a cute “full-circle” kind of thing, but the writers forgot (or decided not to care) that this movie doesn’t start with the credits. It has a “cold” opening right into a mountain climbing scene. Maybe Mike and the bots tuned in late?
• Fans of the terrific cartoon series “Freakazoid” may recall an episode that did an almost scene-for-scene (in spots) takeoff of this movie.
• I was still pretty new to the show when I saw this, and when they said “directed by us!” during the credits, I thought that was some sort of catchphrase that they were going to say every week. I later figured out that they were just referring to the fact that an arrow was pointing at them.
• A couple of times Joel does a funny bit where he provides the the voice of the other person on the telephone when somebody is talking on the phone. Cracks me up.
• You can see the shadows of the puppeteers on the wall during the second host segment. Cambot should not have pulled back quite so far.
• We meet a whole new Gypsy in segment two. She’s completely redesigned and has a new person running her and doing her voice, but her mouth mechanism squeaks so much you can barely make out what she’s saying. And that whole comment from Tom about discovering something that “narrows down” what Gypsy’s sex is–that’s just odd. Also, her light isn’t on. And this is the one and only time Joel removes her “eye”–something that seems to upset her quite a bit.
• Joel blows a line in the the theater: “Pick up some ice and some cubes.” They just keep going.
• I like the radio conversations between the pilot and the guys on the ground, clearly written by somebody with no aviation experience. The guys on the ground address the pilot as “plane.” The pilot addresses the guys on the ground as “party.”
• We get the origin of the “Richard Basehart” running gag in the final host segment. If you ever wondered what the whole Richard Basehart thing was about, it was just a weird non-sequitur.
• Cast and crew roundup: Special effects guy SFX: Les Bowie also worked on “Moon Zero Two.” In front of the camera, Warren Mitchell also appeared in “Moon Zero Two.”
• CreditsWatch: The basic credits for season 1 are: Writers: Trace Beaulieu, Joel Hodgson, Jim Mallon, Kevin Murphy, Mike Nelson, Josh Weinstein. Featuring: Joel Hodgson’s Puppet Bots.Associate Producer: Kevin Murphy.Production Manager: Alexandra B. Carr. Editor: Randy Davis. Art Direction: Trace Beaulieu, Joel Hodgson.Set Design: Trace Beaulieu, Joel Hodgson.Lighting: Kevin Murphy. Make-up: Faye Burkholder, Clayton James. Costumes: Bow Tie. Gizmonic Devices: Joel Hodgson. Production Assistants: Jann L. Johnson, Steve Rosenberer, Sara J. Sandborn. Production/Post Production: Fuller Productions, Minneapolis, Minnesota. Production Staff: Ken Fournelle, Jim Fuller. Production Assistant: Jim Erickson. Special thanks: Randy Herget, Skyline Inc., Bryan Beaulieu, KTMA TV23, The Teachers of America, David Campbell, Rick Leed. Keep circulating the tapes.
• Favorite riff: “o/` I’m Popeye the sailor man…I’ve got a guy’s head in my hand… o/`” Honorable mention: “Fannie Flag and Groucho and Carl Sagan…..”

UPDATE: Bill Interview + RiffTrax Live News

A week out from RiffTrax Live: Anaconda, bigtime MSTie Alex Biese at the Asbury Park Press interviews Bill.

And, RiffTrax has announced they will be doing their fourth RiffTrax Live show this year: A brand new take on K. Gordon Murray’s “Santa Claus” on Thursday, Dec. 4.

AND, Mike, Kevin and Bill did a Facebook Q&A session on Wednesday. Read it here. In it, the announced they are doing two more “Total Riff Off” episodes for the National Geographic Channel. They will air in December, but no details yet.

This Date in MSTory

BORN TODAY
1904: Robert Tobey, assistant cameraman for the movie in episode 106- THE CRAWLING HAND.
1910: Hayden Rorke, who played General Pappy Greene in the movie in episode 109- PROJECT MOON BASE.
1920: Rayford Barnes, who played Detective Tyzack in the movie in episode 512- MITCHELL and a soldier in the movie in episode 517- BEGINNING OF THE END.
1922: Coleen Gray, who played the title role in the movie in episode 802- THE LEECH WOMAN, and also played Liara in 902- THE PHANTOM PLANET.*
1923: Harold P. “Hal” Warren, producer/director/screenwriter for the movie in episode 424- MANOS, THE HANDS OF FATE, in which he also played the lead character of Michael.
1926: Stan Jones, who played an ambulance attendant in the movie in episode 106- THE CRAWLING HAND.
1938: Larry Billman, who wrote the story for the movie “Five the Hard Way,” seen in episode 202- THE SIDEHACKERS.*
1950: Wolf Muser, who played John Palin in the movie in episode 324- MASTER NINJA II.*

DIED TODAY
1964: Ellis W. Carter (age 57), cinematographer for the movies in episodes 802- THE LEECH WOMAN, 803- THE MOLE PEOPLE and 804- THE DEADLY MANTIS.
1975: Barboura Morris (age 43), who played a young tribe member in the movie in episode 315- TEENAGE CAVEMAN and probably a Viking woman in the movie in episode 317- VIKING WOMEN AND THE SEA SERPENT.
1984: Lyonel Margolies (age 78), dialogue director for the season two serial THE PHANTOM CREEPS.
1989: Armida (age 78), who played Wanama in the movie in episode 203- JUNGLE GODDESS.
2002: Nathan Juran (age 95), director of the movie in episode 804- THE DEADLY MANTIS.

EPISODE PREMIERE
1993: Episode 512- MITCHELL first shown. In this episode, Michael J. Nelson debuts his recurring character, named Mike Nelson.

EVENT
1946: The movie in episode 702- THE BRUTE MAN is reviewed in Variety.


This Date in MSTory is written and compiled by Steve Finley, Chris Cornell and Brian Henry. Copyright © 2014 All rights reserved. Please do not reproduce This Date in MSTory items in any form without express written permission from the authors.
* = According to the IMBD this person is alive. If you can supply evidence that he or she has died, and when, please let us know.
** = If this appears next to a birthday, the IMDB indicates that the person has died, but the IMDB does not have a full death date (probably just a month and year or just the year he or she died). If you can give us the exact date (with some sort of proof we can check), please let us know.
** = If this appears next to a death date, the IMDB does not have this person’s full birthday. If you can provide it (with some sort of proof we can check), please let us know.

Kevin Interview

Gavin Jasper at DenOfGeek.us conducts a long and wide-ranging interview with Kevin.

Volume XXXI — The Unboxing

And now, for your dining and dancing pleasure, live from the Hotel Sheetz in downtown Plunketville, we present Vol. XXXI: The Unboxing.

The coasters are kewl.

Now Available from RiffTrax…

I’m a little late with this one…

HawkTheSlayer_Web

I’ll admit it. This was one of my favorite cheesy movies back when it was a cable staple. View a sample or download it here.

Weekend Discussion Thread: Best Eps for a Halloween Marathon

Alert regular Sue has another good one:

It seems impossible, but I can’t find that you’ve had a “Best/Worst Episodes for a Halloween Marathon” WDT. I won’t chime in with my choices just yet, as I’d like to think about it a little longer. “Worst” would be eps that are supposed to be scary but aren’t, or have other qualities that make them less-than-ideal for Halloween.

I’m going to go with “Ring of Terror” and “Zombie Nightmare” as a one-Joel/one-Mike double feature.

What’s your pick?

Keep those ideas coming!

Episode guide: K21- The ‘Legend of Dinosaurs’

Movie: (1977) A plesiosaur is discovered living in a lake near Mount Fuji, then volcanic activity awakens still more prehistoric creatures.

First shown: 5/28/89
Opening: The Mads come up with clues to support the “Joel is Dead” rumor they want to start. Joel is dubious
Host segment 1: Joel demonstrates the way special effects can be used to make a person look really small
Host segment 2: J&TB put on a sitcom, complete with laugh track, canned applause and pointless catchphrases
Host segment 3: Joel uses his model lizard, which breathes real fire, to demonstrate monster special effects
End: What are you going to do on hiatus?
1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (63 votes, average: 3.79 out of 5)
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• This was the final KTMA episode, though the last host segment makes it clear that the Brains expected to return to KTMA after a summer break. Fortunately for them (and us), they had a larger destiny in store for them.
• Host segments 1 and 3 were apparently aired in the wrong order: in host segment 1, Joel refers to their “earlier” segment … it’s pretty obvious he’s referring to host segment 3. Oops.
• The model in segment 3 would be re-used as an invention exchange in episode 103- MAD MONSTER.
• Segment 2 appears on the MST3K Scrapbook tape.
• It has been fascinating to watch these and to watch the concept of MST3K grow and coalese. But, as many of you have said, I doubt that I will come back to watch any of these episodes for pleasure.
• That said, as several folks said in the comments, the riffing in this one is pretty solid and pretty much as good as anything we’re about to get in season one coming up.
• For one thing, by this time they were routinely previewing the movie and pre-writing jokes, even though they weren’t willing to admit it yet. Example: At one point in this episode, Joel repeats a line of dialog along with a character in the movie. Tom (Josh apparently tweaking Joel for doing so) asks: “Have you seen this before, Joel?” Joel replies: “It’s something I learned in camp.”
References.
• Callback: “The Two Eyes of Su-Maru.”
• It’s both depressing and somehow fitting that the final movie is yet another confusing Sandy Frank outing (and maybe the most disjointed one yet). It makes you wonder why they came back and did a lot of these movies again. That’s a lot of pain to take.
• This is one of the rougher tapes from the KTMA era, making the viewing experience even more exasperating.
• I want to note again, as I did earlier: Not once, not a SINGLE TIME in any of these episodes, did anybody EVER use the word “Gizmonic.” Joel once told me that, in the KTMA episodes, The Mads are transmitting from their lab in Gizmonic Institute. And that makes sense. After all, in the next episode, (the first of season one) we learn that The Mads have fled Gizmonic Institute to Deep 13. But now it’s pretty clear that’s a notion that came after the fact.
• All this time, we have listed this movie as “Legend of the Dinosaur,” when the title card actually reads “The ‘Legend of Dinosaurs’” (including those quotation marks). My DVD also calls it by the wrong name. The IMDB, on the other hand, gives its full title in English as “The Legend of Dinosaurs and Monster Birds” (“Kyôryuu: Kaichô no densetsu” in Japanese).
• I wonder where that retouched “Abbey Road” album cover is. That would be a great collector’s item.
• The kid in segment 1 is listed in the credits as Ralph Smith. Wonder where he is now.
• The giant hand in that segment would be used again.
• One thing that was particular to the KTMA shows, I think, was that when something truly horrific happened on screen, Tom Servo would deliver his trademark phrase: “Oh, golly!”
• In segment 3, Joel handles a tiny replica of a Kentury Fried Chicken store. That little model would later be incorporated into the “Big G Burger” scene seen during commercial bumpers for several seasons.
• It was a cool evening in the Twin Cities on Memorial Day weekend: 74 degrees, 73 an hour later.
• At one point somebody says: “Watch out for overly sensitive producers!” Huh?
• There’s a very strange moment in the riffing, when Joel says, “Finish the job, man! Open the tank!” Then he seems to realize that he’s said something wrong. He tries to correct it. He gets as far as “I meant to say ‘Open the…’ ” before all three riffers collapse into laughter. Servo declares that Joel has “snapped a twig,” but I have no idea why.
• In this episode we get our first set of renaissance fair jokes, including a “huzzah!” They would return in season three’s “Pod People” and then become a running gag throughout the series.
• Cast and Crew Roundup: Other than Sandy Frank, nobody involved in this movie was involved in any other MSTed movie.
• CreditsWatch: Special Guests: Ralph Smith & Ralph’s Mom.
• Fave riff: Servo: “YBS?” Joel: “People seem to accept it!” Honorable mention: “We haven’t heard from her.”
Next week we will begin season one, and before anybody asks, we will, as always, being doing them in episode number order, meaning that episode 104 will be the fourth one we do, even though it was the last one produced that season. We’ll hash that out when we get there.

RIP Robert Orrison and Gary McLarty

Orrison imgres Rancho Cordova, Calif.–Two veteran, retired Hollywood stuntmen (and, occasionally, actors), Robert Orrison and Gary McLarty, were killed in a traffic accident here Oct. 11. Orrison was 86. McLarty was 73. Both appeared in the movie featured in episode 512- MITCHELL, a movie in which several stuntmen were cast in small roles. MSTies will remember them as “Mistretta Hood #1″ and “Mistretta Hood #2″, respectively.
According to the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department, the two men were traveling in a blue Chevy truck when they made a U-turn causing a white Jeep Cherokee to slam into their vehicle. Both men were pronounced dead at the scene. The occupants of the Jeep Cherokee were transported to a local hospital for medical treatment.
Orrision was a stunt performer and background actor on Star Trek: The Original Series, having minor roles in three second-season episodes. He also performed stunts for television’s “The Dukes of Hazzard” and for such films as “The Wild Bunch” (1969), “Smokey and the Bandit” (1977), “Die Hard 2″ (1990), “Speed” (1994), “Stargate” (1994) and “The Wedding Planner” (2001).
McLarty’s career was not without controversy. He is known for his work on “The Blues Brothers” (1980), “Jurassic Park” (1993) and “Beverly Hills Cop” (1984). McLarty drove the motorcycle up the frat house stairs in the movie “Animal House,” and doubled as “The Fonz” for motorcycle scenes on the “Happy Days” television series.
However, on July 23, 1982, McLarty was in the helicopter, as a stunt coordinator, when actor Vic Morrow and two children died in an accident on a “Twilight Zone” movie set. The helicopter was hovering about 24 feet above them when pyrotechnic explosions damaged the chopper causing it to crash on top of the three actors.
McLarty also testified against his long-time friend Robert Blake when Blake was accused of killing his wife. But, Blake’s defense team successfully undermined the his credibility, introducing evidence of mental illness, drug addiction, etc. Blake was acquitted.

Thanks to Duane for the heads up.

‘The Great Pumpkin’ Meets RiffTrax

The folks at Mashable.com set this up.