Cult classic sci-fi/comedy show Mystery Science Theater 3000 might be returning to television, although this time, it’ll be in a place that you might not expect– PBS.
No, Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett, and Kevin Murphy are not going to humorously critique episodes of Masterpiece Theatre in the style of RiffTrax DVD commentaries, nor are they going to riff on decades-old story arcs of the original Doctor Who series.
Shout! Factory, the current rights-holder and the DVD distributor of MST3K since the 2008 release of the 20th Anniversary Edition box set, approached American Public Television, offering them the chance to place classic reruns of the former Comedy Central and Sci-Fi Channel program on the lineups of PBS affiliates throughout the nation.
MST3K is among 75 programs being screened by representatives of PBS stations during the annual American Public Television Fall Marketplace, currently ongoing in San Diego, California.
PBS affiliate programmers are being offered a preliminary package consisting of four Comedy Central episodes of the series. All four episodes are Joel Hodgson-era programs. (Sorry, Mike lovers, not this time.)
The programs offered in the package include:
Manos: The Hands of Fate (season four, episode 24, paired with second half of Hired!, a 1940 short training film by Jam Handy Productions for aspiring sales managers at Chevrolet dealerships.) The main feature revolves around a vacationing family becoming lost on a trip and eventually stopping at a lodge ran by Pagans. It’s as strange as it sounds. The episode has been called the best of the series.
Hercules and the Captive Women (season four, episode 12.) This stinker deals with Hercules rescuing an attractive princess– but it’s her mother that becomes attracted to him. She tries– and fails– to drug Hercules before the protagonist rescues the princess at movie’s end.
Gunslinger (season five, episode 11, Hodgson’s next-to-last episode as the star of the show.) This Harvey Corman-directed film is a woman’s western. Beverly Garland stars as a widow out for revenge after her husband, the marshal of the fictional Texas city known as Oracle, gets killed by a hired assailant, and now she wants to take out him. Strained continuity and mistakes ahoy!
The Unearthly (season three, episode 20, paired with short film Posture Pals.) Rounding out the trial package of episodes, this Boris Petroff-directed bomb concerns a mad scientist’s attempt to uncover the fountain of youth through the creation of “the 17th gland” and using depressed test subjects with no family to speak of. His experiment backfires when his pupils devolve into hideous monsters.
This package, if enough PBS stations agree to devote broadcast time to it, may yield to subsequent packages of other episodes. It’s not certain that the package will air on TV at the moment.
After the Marketplace ends tomorrow, representatives of the affiliates will vote on the shows that they are most likely to program. The fate of MST3K on PBS will be known within the next month.
If MST3K, which ordinarily has a running time of somewhere in the neighborhood of 94 to 97 minutes without commercials, is voted to air by affiliate programmers, PBS would then have to cut seven to nine minutes of footage from episodes to fit the more constricted running times of public television series.
PBS would be a likely fit for a series like MST3K– and why would it not be? In the past, they’ve aired cult comedy series like Monty Python’s Flying Circus (a show that was edited for PBS itself, but for content, not time) and The Red Green Show, an offbeat Canadian offering.
PBS in primetime hours is a place for fresh, offbeat shows that you would not necessarily find on traditional broadcasters like NBC or CBS. Thus, MST3K would surely fit the bill.
(On a personal note, if PBS does decide to air MST3K, I just might have to donate. It’d be well-worth the tote bag.)
I’m also reminded of the 22nd episode of season eight of MST3K. which featured the made-for-TV movie Overdrawn at the Memory Bank, funded in part by New York City PBS affiliate WNET.
Naturally, the episode’s host segments lampooned the occasional pledge drives found on PBS stations. Pretty funny stuff. Then again, the whole series is like that.