MST3K plans final|
experiment; 'Babylon 5'
spin-off 'Crusade' fails
March 4, 1999
By Franklin Harris
Last week wasn't a good one for science-fiction television.
First, the Sci-Fi Channel announced that the upcoming 10th season of "Mystery Science Theater 3000," scheduled to begin April 11, would be the series' last.
Then, late Thursday night, came word that J. Michael Straczynski's effort to find a new home for his "Babylon 5" spin-off series, "Crusade," had failed.
The demise of MST3K isn't really a surprise. What is surprising is that the clever, innovative show about a man and two robots, trapped on a satellite and forced to watch awful movies as part of a twisted science experiment, lasted an entire decade.
MST3K's Tom Servo, Mike Nelson and Crow are subjected to yet another affront to art.
It was too good for television.
MST3K, created by Jim Mallon and Joel Hodgson, the latter of whom also served as the show's star, originated in 1988 on Minneapolis UHF station KTMA.
After one season, MST3K moved to the fledgling Comedy Channel (later Comedy Central), where it earned a cult following and critical acclaim.
The show's premise is simple: Two mad scientists shoot Joel Robinson, a janitor at the Gizmonic Institute, into space. The scientists force Joel to watch bad -- sometimes really bad -- genre movies and monitor his mind. Once they find a movie bad enough to break him, they'll unleash it on the public and take over the world.
But Joel has his own ideas. He constructs several robot companions and, along with two of them, Crow and Tom Servo, talks back to the movies.
As the series progresses, Joel and the 'bots poke fun at some of the worst movies ever made, including Ed Wood's "Bride of the Monster," several truly awful Roger Corman efforts and the worst of the lot, "Manos: The Hands of Fate."
"Manos," by the way, is written, directed and produced by Harold P. Warren, an El Paso, Texas, fertilizer salesman.
Hodgson left the show after season five's "Mitchell," in which he and the 'bots are subjected to the thespian talents of Joe Don Baker as Mitchell, a cop who makes Popeye Dolye seem suave.
Joel's replacement was MST3K's head writer Michael J. Nelson, who carried on the wisecracking tradition proudly.
MST3K moved to the Sci-Fi channel in 1997, but it never fully recovered from the departure of original cast member Trace Beaulieu, who had pulled double duty as both the original voice of Crow and mad scientist Dr. Clayton Forrester.
Still, even on the Sci-Fi Channel, MST3K had its moments.
And there are more to come, with Hodgson and fellow former cast member Frank Conniff (TV's Frank) both scheduled to make guest appearances this season.
I'll miss MST3K, but I'll at least have plenty of fond memories.
The cancellation of "Crusade," on the other hand, leaves little behind.
While MST3K led a full life, "Crusade" hasn't even been born yet.
It has been aborted.
"Crusade" was originally scheduled to air on the TNT cable network, current home of "Babylon 5" reruns.
Creative differences between "Crusade" creator Straczynski and TNT's Powers That Be, however, sent JMS, as "Babylon 5" fans call him, in search of another home for his new project.
That home was to be the Sci-Fi Channel, which, according to Straczynski, was doing everything possible to bring "Crusade" to its lineup.
In the end, however, the Sci-Fi Channel couldn't come up with the necessary cash to purchase the show, as it already had allocated its 1999 budget by the time "Crusade" showed up on its doorstep.
As it stands, TNT will show the 13 "Crusade" episodes that already have been filmed, and then the series will fade into oblivion.
JMS has said that, if the ratings for the 13 episodes are good enough, a second, full season may be possible.
But don't count on it.
The economics of Hollywood are demanding, and there is almost no chance of Warner Bros., the owner of "Crusade," paying to keep the show's actors under contract on the faint hope that "Crusade" can be salvaged. And there is equally little chance the actors would stay if asked, anyway. They all have careers of their own of which to think.
"Faith manages," JMS would say during those dark times when it looked like "Babylon 5" might not complete it's planned five-year run.
Unfortunately, faith isn't always enough.