MST3K’ goes boldly into ninth season

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) — After a close brush with the Black Hole of Lost Series a few years ago, “Mystery Science Theater 3000” is speeding into its ninth season at full warp drive.
Fans of the cult TV show, which features silhouettes of puppets making fun of really bad movies, can get their fix this weekend when “MST3K” starts a new season on the Sci-Fi Channel.
Sci-Fi began carrying the Peabody Award-winning program last year after Comedy Central dropped it because of low ratings. For the second season of “MST3K” on Sci-Fi, the network has ordered 13 new episodes, with an option for nine more.
After 150 episodes, the fearless crew of “Mystery Science Theater” is ready to tackle a new batch of cheesy movies, starting with “The Projected Man” on Saturday, March 14, at 4 p.m. CST (repeat at 10 p.m. Saturday). Future turkeys to be ridiculed include “The Phantom Planet,” “Werewolf” and “The Deadly Bees.”
While Sci-Fi says ratings for “MST3K” have increased since the show left Comedy Central, the show — written and produced in a suburban Minneapolis industrial park — has never been a Hollywood mega-hit.
But that’s fine with Jim Mallon, the show’s executive director.
“We know we’re entertaining a lot of people. And we don’t have the pressure that being an enormous success brings, so we can kind of stay relaxed in what we do. We’ve got our little clubhouse down here. You know, it’s not a bad life,” Mallon said.
“How long will it go from this point on, I don’t know. But I didn’t expect it to get to a network to begin with, much less last more than a year or so. And this is our ninth year,” he says.
Sci-Fi is pleased enough with the show to order an Academy Award preview, in which “Titanic” and other big-name Oscar nominees get the “MST3K” treatment. The half-hour special airs Thursday, March 19, at 6:30 p.m. CST, with a repeat at 10:30 p.m.
“It’s a blast,” said writer-producer-director Kevin Murphy, 41, who operates the Tom Servo puppet and appears as Professor Bobo, an intelligent gorilla. “You get to make fun of Hollywood Today rather than Hollywood Yesterday. It kind of gets old, sometimes, to just make fun of people who are either dead or don’t care.”
Here’s the “MST3K” premise: office temp Mike Nelson (head writer Michael J. Nelson) is stranded in space with his homemade robots (Tom Servo and Crow) and forced to watch such execrable films as “The Thing That Couldn’t Die” and “The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies.”
Nelson and his robot buddies (or bots) subject the movies to a torrent of heckling. Viewers get to see the awful flicks, with images of Nelson and the robots superimposed on the lower right corner, and laugh along with the wisecracks.
For Nelson, 33, mocking bad movies is not a life-and-death proposition.
“People don’t really screw up in this job,” he said. “What can you do? You’re just sitting down, making fun of a movie. It’s not You blew the Johnson account!'”
The show has survived major cast changes since debuting on a Twin Cities UHF station in 1988. Comedian Joel Hodgson, who created the show and was the original host before Nelson, left in 1993 and moved to Los Angeles.