Sci-Fi Channel's Insisted Story and Conditions

Most of us are aware The Sci-Fi Channel insisted Best Brains implement an ongoing story to the Host Segments and barred anything except Sci-Fi/Horror as experiments once Sci-Fi picked up MST3K for renewal. Were these blessings or a curse to the Sci-Fi years? What say you?

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I liked the focus on Sci-Fi movies and that requirement made sense on a channel actually named the Sci-Fi Channel at the time. I also liked the host segments during this time because sometimes in the CC years they seemed to lack focus and continuity. There are a few times in the CC years where the host segments talk about part of the movie that hasn’t been shown yet.

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Good point.

Curse. Much of it felt forced. I prefer the ‘you never know what’s going to happen’ Host Segments of the CC years.

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A mixed bag.

I wasn’t a fan of Sci-Fi imposing those restrictions on the MST3K crew in terms of an overarching story, but they made the best of it.

The only really daunting “what if” part of it all is the genre restriction stuff. We got classic episodes in the way of Girl in Gold Boots and Final Justice in Season Ten when those restrictions were no longer enforced. Imagine how much stronger Season Nine could have been if Team MST3K was able to jettison selections that weren’t doing them any favors (like The Projected Man) in favor of non-Sci-Fi/Horror picks that they could have riffed to perfection.

Even then, Season Eight stands out as a real contender for the show’s best overall season because of the episodes they tore through, so… like I said, a mixed bag.

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I don’t much like ongoing storylines in the host segments because it means the episodes need to be viewed in a specific order to make sense. I always liked being able to pick any episode and not come in in the middle of a story.

The sci-fi only mandate was predictable and understandable, I guess, though I still didn’t like it.

Were they also prohibited from doing fantasy films?

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I say it was a blessing. The Sci-Fi era was, to me, Mst at its best. And, to be honest, after a while the only story arc on Sci-Fi was that Pearl was sending them movies from castle Forrester. But wasn’t that what Clay and Frank were doing from Deep 13 anyway? Watch Devilfish or Touch of Satan, or even The Final Sacrifice. The only story arc was contained in the episode itself.

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I don’t think you can see these things in a vacuum. If that’s what they needed to agree to in order to get picked up, then they did a great job with it and it led to three really solid seasons that did rather quickly get away from the serialized stories and the science fiction only mandate of the films.

There can be a lot of good that comes from (limited) restraints. We have this idea that every creative needs a tabula rasa in order to properly create, but a structure does help. And I don’t think their requests were too much and they relented when they had more confidence in the show being able to perform on the channel as the Brains wanted to make it.

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Watching the experiments at random and out of order the first time around I found the Sci-Fi Pearl segments confusing. Two mad scientists in a bunker sending cheesy movies to a test subject, that was easy to understand. The opening theme song spelled out as much as you needed to know. Later on it was, “Who is this woman chasing them across time and space? What’s the motivation? Why are they in ancient Rome now?” There was too much backstory at that point to condense into the theme. There was an alienating feeling of having missed out on important information that might have made the segments more entertaining. In my opinion, they never should have tried to mix up the Mads formula.

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I think it was a loosely defined thing. Like by episode 13 of season 8, they were doing Jack Frost which was definitely fantasy. By season 10, they were doing The Girl in Gold Boots and Hamlet, so the directive, such as it was, went away by then.

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A curse. Some of my favorite episodes are genres that never would have made Sci Fi’s criteria. And I don’t see a reason for an ongoing storyline for host segments. This isn’t “The Sopranos”, I don’t know how many people watch MST3K for story. I want to know what makes waffles so great!

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I think it is what it is. I never watched the sci-fi era in real time, so coming up against new eps is always exciting. Are they in the observer world? In Rome? In the castle? The series has always been pretty non-sequitor, so it’s not big mclargehugely distracting. It was never needed but it doesn’t ruin it for me. And I think it allowed the newer seasons to add a bit more storyline in, as well, which I think helps to elevate Kinga and Max from “just another pair of Mads” to their own thing.

(I’m a little anxious about how that story grows with 3 subjects at once, but we will see in a matter of months).

I do think the stylistic limitation was a detriment, though. Not that the work was bad in the sci-fi Era, but that limitations from above can often stifle artistry. Not every creator wants to go full tilt Oulipo on their work, and the diversity of cheese has always been a strength to MST3k. You have full on B Scifi with a scenery chewing drama with a monster movie with whatever Cry Wilderness is. Keeps it from getting Same-y.

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Just to pass the time I made a list of all the episodes (not counting KTMA) that would probably not have qualified under Sci-Fi’s original conditions.

112 Untamed Youth
202 The Sidehackers
203 Jungle Goddess
204 Catalina Caper
207 Wild Rebels
209 The Hellcats
307 Daddy-O
322 Master Ninja I
324 Master Ninja II
415 The Beatniks
419 The Rebel Set
503 Swamp Diamonds
507 I Accuse My Parents
509 The Girl In Lovers Lane
510 The Painted Hills
511 Gunslinger
512 Mitchell
514 Teen-Age Strangler
522 Teen-Age Crime Wave
601 Girls Town
602 Invasion U.S.A.
609 The Skydivers
610 The Violent Years
611 Last of the Wild Horses
613 The Sinister Urge
614 San Francisco International
615 Kitten With a Whip
616 Racket Girls
618 High School Big Shot
619 Red Zone Cuba
622 Angels Revenge
1002 Girl In Gold Boots
1008 Final Justice
1009 Hamlet
1104 Avalanche
1112 Carnival Magic

Some would have been arguable… some of the secret-agent type movies had science fiction elements but weren’t really sci-fi movies per se.

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I don’t hate that episode. It did give Tom a new crush after he was cruelly ignored by Creepy Girl!
image

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I feel the same, Projected Man is one of my favorites, I think the riffing is really strong. The bit where the bots are waiting for Sheila to get undressed is reminiscent of the Soultaker bathtub scene that Crow misses due to a contact lens malfunction.

The riffs over the scene of starting up the “projector” get me every time: “Starting up the sheet metal cutter! Firing up the Evinrude!”

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I don’t have anything particularly ‘against’ the Sci-Fi era story-arc host segments. They’re fun, and they do the job. But on the balance I would have to say that the CC era host segments which were “arcless” hold up better when looked at in totality … with one glaring exception.

The final season on CC had some really bad host segments. I know lots of folks are big fans of MJP and in the Sci-Fi era I think she was much better … but the final CC season host segments with her just were not particularly good. Don’t mistake me though. I’m not saying they weren’t good BECAUSE of MJP. But the dynamic of Dr. Forrester and Dr. Forrester’s Mom was not a good one and the host segments involving her suffered because of it. Dr. F went from abusing TV’s Frank to punching HIMSELF in the face because he was frustrated with his mother? Sorry - that just didn’t work. Dr. F needed a foil and MJP as his mom just didn’t cut it.

So the order of the host segments …

  1. CC era seasons 1-6 (5 stars)
  2. Sci-Fi Era seasons 8-10 (4 stars)
  3. Netflix Era seasons 11-12 (3.5 stars)
  4. CC season 7 (1 star)
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Personally, I loved the Sci Fi years’ host segments. I can see how they might feel like a distraction from the riffing core, but I really loved that cast and those characters, and I enjoyed watching them do more “in-character” interactions.

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Oh yeah, Pearl became a much better character when she was bossing Bobo and Brain Guy around than when she was paired with Clayton.

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I don’t know. Pearl going on a date and Pearl being “put in a home” were both pretty funny to me.

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I think the Pearl going on a date was funny not because of Pearl but because of her date. Mr. POOM! was the spice that made that host segment sequence work … and not surprisingly because it gave Dr. F an actual foil to threaten rather than having to come off as just a henpecked Momma’s boy. No pun intended with the Chicken of Tomorrow… :wink:

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