Play 'MST3K' for me, fans say Preview: The show that loves to poke fun at bad movies is getting new life on the Sci-Fi Channel.

February 01, 1997|By Chris Kridler | Chris Kridler,SUN STAFF

Watching bad movies just hasn't been any fun since they left. You tried talking to yourself. You brushed up on your pop culture references and exchanged witty criticisms of '50s monster movies with the mirror. But you didn't have theater seats to sit in. Your obnoxiousness was feigned and halfhearted. And, frankly, your toaster oven just couldn't cut it as a friendly robot companion.

Thank goodness "Mystery Science Theater 3000" is back on the air.

The hippest slice of geek heaven on television, "MST3K" has finally come to roost with the fans who can appreciate it most. Canned without compunction by cable's Comedy Central, the cult hit will be resurrected on the Sci-Fi Channel today at 4 p.m. and again at 11 p.m. with the first new episode since last spring.

"I wasn't really worried because I knew there was a rabid following for the show," says producer Jim Mallon. "I knew at least we could go direct to tape."

The Peabody-winning show that inspires such loyalty is really a show within a show. Each week, a rotten movie becomes an "experiment" for the crew stranded aboard the so-called Satellite of Love. Mike Nelson (in real life, Michael J. Nelson, also head writer) watches and makes sarcastic digs at each flick along with his robot companions -- Tom Servo (Kevin Murphy), Gypsy (Mallon) and Crow T. Robot (series writer and playwright Bill Corbett, replacing Trace Beaulieu, who has moved to Los Angeles to find his fortune and write comic books).

The show began when Mallon and Murphy, working at a UHF station in the Twin Cities, talked with original host Joel Hodgson about funny ways to parody bad movies. "MST3K" was the result. "We made 22 shows at little KTMA," Mallon says, and eventually sent a tape to what was then the Comedy Channel.

The cable channel may have liked the show enough to put it on, but, says Mallon, "We had what I would describe as a contentious relationship for most of the seven years we were involved." When network president Doug Herzog came in, he wanted to put resources into new, topical projects including "The Daily Show," Mallon says, and that meant getting rid of "MST3K."

"Then our fans raised an uproar," says Mallon. So he and his colleagues at Best Brains Inc., the Eden Prairie, Minn.-based company that puts the show together, were offered a half-hour spot, which they declined. Then a "remarkably pleasant" four-month negotiation period with the Sci-Fi Channel brought the series home.

That doesn't mean there aren't changes, of course. The set is more elaborate, with motifs borrowed from "MST3K: The Movie," and the satellite has been lost in time so long that Earth is now ruled by apes. "I wish I could actually make Earth a planet of the apes, but I was only able to do it on the TV show," Nelson says drily.

He wasn't as confident as Mallon when Comedy Central kissed them goodbye. "I instantly began calling Embers restaurants to see if they needed prep cooks or expediters. I don't do much else ... I'm a writer and performer, and I don't want to move to L.A. or New York, so I'm pretty limited." Among the appeals of Minnesota are his wife, Bridget Jones, a writer on the series, and their two sons.

With the departure of Beaulieu, who also played the evil Dr. Clayton Forrester, the crew's captor, a new villain is introduced: his mom (Mary Jo Pehl). But the silly critiques of even sillier movies are intact. This week's victim is "Revenge of the Creature," a 1955 sequel to "The Creature From the Black Lagoon."

Happiest to see the series return are the fans, aka MSTies ("misties"). Brian Henry, a 34-year-old from Tampa, Fla., runs a web site (http: //members.aol .com/mstienews) on "MST3K" (there's more at http: //www.scifi.com/mst3000).

"It's very intelligent. It's very funny," he says of the show. "It's not like watching 'Beavis and Butt-head.' or something like that. They have such a wide range of references, of pop culture references. It's just amazing to watch it and try to figure out what they're going to come up with next."

The Best Brains are optimistic about their future with the Sci-Fi Channel.

"They know who their audience is. They've got a great sci-fi image, Mallon says. "All that caring and interest is very helpful to us."

Even the writing has become more relaxed, Nelson says. "I think we used to put pressure on ourselves to keep these strict conventions ... and we kind of got into our own mythology a little too much."

Now, their desires are simple: All they want are really terrible movies.

Pub Date: 2/01/97

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