Everything ends. I guess we can’t put a stop to that. In early 1999 the Sci-Fi Channel decided not to renew Mystery Science Theater 3000. There were a bunch of ideas for continuing the show, most of them floated by the regulars on Usenet newsgroup rec.arts.tv.mst3k.misc. There was moving to another cable channel. Or maybe going to PBS. Maybe releasing stuff direct to videotape or that newfangled DVD. Maybe forget about fangling stuff and just release stuff online. Maybe save the we-imagined pricey business of recording host sketches and stuff and instead just release audio tracks that people could match to movies they’d buy. Maybe just go to doing live shows on new, never-ending college tours. Maybe even transcend the movies thing altogether and do comic books or something. Maybe do some fundraising scheme to buy new episodes. Not interested in this: the people who actually made the show, far as we could tell. It went off the air in August 1999 with the final episode, Danger Diabolik, and then went off the air again in September 1999 with Merlin’s Shop of Mystical Wonders which had been sitting in some kind of rights quibble for months. The show went off the air once again with The Screaming Skull a bit over four years later, when the Sci-Fi Channel stopped airing reruns.
But losing the original show hurts a group of fans gathered for stuff. And yes, the group’s focus expanded; we got to talking about movies and TV shows and books and all sorts of pop culture, viewed with that perspective of loving good stuff, but also loving looking for what’s enjoyable about the bad. Or looking at the bad and trying to find stuff enjoyable about it. If Mystery Science Theater 3000 has any positive insight, it’s that there is something worth sharing that can be made out of most anything.
Still, it hurts a group to lose its TV show. And it hurts a group to be on Usenet. The great thing about Usenet is it was designed in the early 80s, for anyone who likes to run a server to set up and run and share with people. The thing that kills it is that who wants to set up and run a server for talking about cancelled TV shows? If there’s any money in it, it’s in proper web forums that can show advertisements or at least harvest user information. Usenet can’t do that. Servers dwindled out of operation, probably because they broke and nobody knew they were even there or how to fix them. A couple of big ISPs dropped Usenet on allegations the system was used to pirate movies and TV shows and music and while that may have been true we also used it to legitimately talk about urban legends and pinball and comic strips and stuff like that. Still, with each month, there was a little less Usenet, and some people drifted away not to be seen again, and so there was even less Usenet, and some more people drifted off, and then suddenly there wasn’t anything left but a few people who refuse to turn off the lights.
My community dwindled away. Web Site Number Nine, the center of the MiSTing community, went down for a weekend of maintenance sometime in 2004 and hasn’t come back yet. rec.arts.tv.mst3k.misc I’d say had its final collapse around 2007 or 2008. I stick around, checking in some and talking occasionally. I try to write at least one new MiSTing a year and post that, but I admit a lot of it feels like putting in designated at-bats to keep alive some abstract streak no one but me even knows exists.
There’s still fans, though. One time I had a rare chance to meet in person some friends from the Seattle area; they spent nearly the whole weekend talking in MST3K quotes, to the point I felt like I was being quizzed. Did I recognize the episode with the jingle about “when you want the flavor of bacon in a dip”? Well, of course I did, but … is this everything we have to talk about? Somehow it felt alienating and I started taking dives, claiming I don’t recognize episodes that I actually do. Boy that’s screwy.
Weirder stuff happened. Really, every crazy plan we had on Usenet in 1999 to save the show came true. There’s live shows, as Cinematic Titanic and as Rifftrax. There’s recorded audio-only tracks, for Rifftrax. There’s episodes made direct for DVD release. There’s episodes brought back on air, sent to PBS stations or some of those weird digital sub-channels on broadcast TV. I remember somewhere seeing a plan to license an MST3K comic book, but goodness knows if that’ll come about.
And so we come to today, when the Kickstarter-funded, Netflix-backed season debuts. I haven’t seen it yet. Don’t have Netflix. We used to get Internet through AT&T, and they don’t want working-class neighborhoods in the state capitol as customers, so we couldn’t get Internet nearly fast enough to stream videos. They were bad enough that Comcast was the improvement. We probably have fast enough Internet to stream videos now. But the habit built from getting ten minutes into a show and stuff freezing up, until I call tech support and demand someone answer “Why?” dies hard. I recommend asking tech support “Why?” It’s at least as productive as saying what your specific problem is, and we do need more people working out exactly why we’ve let society come to this.
So I don’t know what I feel or what I expect exactly from the new season. I want to be enthusiastic, but I’m not good with enthusiasm. Especially if it’s something lots of people are enthusiastic about. It makes me worry something’s going wrong. So here’s what I can manage, before ever seeing Season Eleven: I really hope they don’t screw this up.
I don’t know if I want you to tell me whether they did.