Monday, September 16, 2013

MST3K, The Home Game: How It Changed The World

Satellite News, the go-to website for fans of MST3K, recently had a post about an upcoming conference that will discuss the cultural impact of the TV show.
That's right: a bunch of scholars will talk about how some guy and two robots mocking movies changed the world as we know it.

It's run by the Southwest/American Popular Culture and American Culture Association, and will take place next February in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The official title is "Mystery Science Theater and the Culture of Riffing", although it will take up other topics, too. The guy in charge is Rob Weiner of the Texas Tech University Library. He compiled a book of essays called In the Peanut Gallery with Mystery Science Theater 3000: Essays on Film, Fandom, Technology and the Culture of Riffing.
And people thought earning a degree on studying Buffy the Vampire Slayer was unusual.

One of the proposed subjects in this conference is "MST3K, the Home Game". This aired twice on SyFy (when it was the Sci-Fi Channel) on January 25th 1997. Roger Corman's "The Day The World Ended" was shown, and people could send in their riffs through IRC's, or Internet Relay Chat rooms, that the network set up. They even had a commercial to show how it worked:

Those who circulated the tapes, or were smart to tape it when it aired (like me), have copies of both versions. It was available on YouTube, but not any more. People interacted with the movie by pretending to be Mike, Servo or Crow, then got to read their riffs on TV. It was quite a treat for those who were probably adding their own riffs while watching MST3K, or any bad movie.
For the most part, the riffs in the "home game" came about ten seconds after the action. If they syched up better with the movie, it would have been funnier. Then again, this was 1997 technology, a long way from Twitter. The fact that SyFy did this at all was still a big deal. It mixed TV watching with internet chat rooms. That's not too far off from watching Conan or Breaking Bad with your TV and iPad for a "second screen experience".
Nowadays, we tweet while watching TV, and some of those tweets are shown on TV, even during news shows on CNN or MSNBC. You can easily say "MST3K: The Home Game" made this possible.

The special also had features on a new set, and new episodes that were about to premiere a week later. The home game was only a taste of the new era to come. It may have also convinced some people that they could make their own versions of MST3K, if they only had a couple of robots or stuffed toys. Somehow, this led to iRiffs, Josh Way and Incognito Cinema Warriors XP. That, of course, is a good thing. Someone has to maintain the new tradition of severe movie criticism, usually as you're watching the movie. Again, "MST3K: The Home Game" made this possible.

SyFy's decision to have the home game was a sign that they wanted to have MST3K on its lineup after Comedy Central let it go because it had South Park, and didn't need funny bots anymore. It's too bad they didn't try it again as the technology improved. Maybe they could have had viewers riff on all of This Island Earth.

The conference is expected to discuss other MST3K subjects like comparing Mike and Joel (which nearly broke the internet around the Holidays 20 years ago), who was the best evil sidekick, and how riffing can be connected to Frank Zappa ("is that a Sears Poncho?"), Shakespeare and Monty Python. There's even a proposal to see how riffing affects spy movies, Christmas movies (maybe including Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny and that annoying Talking Christmas Tree), Hercules movies, and just movies that were forgotten for good reason. Despite all these subjects, a panel on MST3K: The Home Game should be on the agenda. It gave viewers a chance to mock a bad movie, see their comments on TV, and decide they can make their own version for mass consumption or something cool to download on YouTube.
And, in a way, it would also lead to seeing viewers' comments being shown on certain TV shows, thanks to today's social media.
Too bad we can't have a new version of MST3K: The Home Game today...with the target being Sharknado. Then again, we still have Rifftrax.


Anonymous said...

Sorry, nerd, but South Park didn't start airing until a few months after MST came to Sci-Fi. There were other reasons why Comedy Central canned it. One of them I'd like to assume was because of how nasty the lot of you were over the "annoying" things they were doing to your precious nerd show. Like it really deserved some royal treatment or something! Sheesh, they even say in the opening theme that it's just a show and to relax. Yeah, it was funny and all but come on!

P.S. This is just me speaking from an outsider's perspective. I didn't get into MST until a few years ago, and from looking at various fan sites and reading up on it's history, I gotta say, the obsessives probably played a role in the show's "bad" treatment by that evil Comedy Central in a pretty big way. Also, I've grown out of South Park so don't go thinking that I actually like it more than MST or anything from my above statement. It really hasn't aged well at all. MST on the other hand seems like it's holds up pretty well, save for the dated references (which are worse in the earlier days which I don't like as much).

David Mello said...

Well, I see your point, but there was eventual tension between Best Brains and Comedy Central after a while. Same thing happened with SyFy, especially since it insisted the show have a "story arc" because mocking bac movies (especially made by Universal) wasn't enough. Thanks for reading, though.