APT offers MST3K episodes to public TV stations

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SAN DIEGO — Mystery Science Theater 3000 could be headed for public television.

It’s one of some 75 shows that public TV programmers are previewing at distributor American Public Television’s annual Fall Marketplace, running here through Thursday.

(Photo: Adam Norwood, via Flickr)

(Photo: Adam Norwood, via Flickr)

In the cult comedy series, janitor Joel Robinson (played by series creator Joel Hodgson) is forced to watch grade-Z movies on a remote space station as part of a psychological experiment devised by an evil scientist. Robinson creates robot pals Tom Servo, Crow T. Robot and Gypsy to watch with him, and they pass the time by making snarky yet erudite comments throughout each film. Their shadows are superimposed along the bottom of the screen so viewers see the movie while hearing their quips.

MST3K, as fans know it, began as a local weekend show in 1988 on a Minneapolis TV stations. It went on to air for six seasons on Comedy Central and three on the Syfy channel before its cancellation in 1999; reruns ran on Syfy through 2004. Episodes also began airing on the Retro Television Network cable channel in July.

Shout! Factory, the Los Angeles distributor that holds the TV rights, recently approached APT with an offer, said Eric Luskin, v.p. of premium service and syndication. Luskin was not familiar with MST3K but mentioned it to Alison Schmidt, senior program associate, syndication, who reacted enthusiastically. “She said, ‘We have to get this!’” Luskin recalled.

Luskin also knew science fiction was a good fit for public TV; he was an early fan of the pubTV favorite Doctor Who and produced the documentary The Making of Doctor Who: Silver Nemesis. “So I knew the passion the sci-fi audience has and its positive relationship with public TV,” he said.

APT is offering programmers the chance to initially pick up four episodes, including Manos: The Hands of Fate, a howlingly awful 1966 clunker that is considered a MST3K classic. Other titles are Hercules and the Captive Women, Gunslinger and The Unearthly. All four are hosted by Hodgson, who later handed off the series to head writer Mike Nelson to host.

“If programmers embrace these, we could offer an ongoing ‘Best of MST3K,’” Luskin said. Broadcasters would also have digital rights for streaming online.

The episodes, which run between 94 and 97 minutes, will be edited to 88 minutes to conform to public TV schedules, Luskin said.

After Marketplace, programmers vote on which shows they’d most likely schedule. APT should know by mid-December whether MST3K will make the cut, Luskin said.