Comedy Central is a cable television and satellite television channel in the United States and served as the network that aired Mystery Science Theater 3000 nationally for its first seven years. The channel carries comedy programming, much of it now originally created for the network. MST3K was one of its first pieces of original programming.
The Early Years: 1989 - 1992
In spring 1989, Joel Hodgson and Jim Mallon had seen some moderate success with MST3K, at the time produced at and shown on local Minneapolis TV station KTMA. Convinced they had the makings of a hit on their hands, they cut a nine-minute tape of MST3K 's best moments and shopped around to cable networks. HA!, a comedy channel owned by Viacom, passed, but executives at the Comedy Channel, which was owned by HBO and had worked with Joel before, took note. They ended up signing a contract for MST3K 's first season, resulting in the founding of Best Brains, Inc.
MST3K was a moderate hit, attracting as much of a cult following on the Comedy Channel as it had on KTMA. While not an overwhelming success, the positive reviews and press it generated was enough to convince the Comedy Channel executives to grant the show a second season. Midway through season two, HA! and the Comedy Channel merged and relaunched, eventually becoming Comedy Central. MST3K was one of the few shows on either network to survive the transition, and so the executives of the newly formed company signed the show to a three year contract for twenty-four episodes each year. Comedy Central and Best Brains formed a solid partnership during these years, primarily because MST3K brought in good ratings and became one of Comedy Central's signature shows.
It was during this period that the two camps made the informal agreement that first season episodes would no longer be rerun, as Best Brains believed them to be grossly inferior in quality to the show's later seasons.
The Transition Years: 1993 - Early 1995
However, 1993 brought about strains in the relationship, perhaps due to a large slip in the show's ratings. Comedy Central stopped paying the Brains to make promos for new MST3K episodes. In addition, the network began running voiceovers for other shows during the closing credits which interfered with episodes where jokes and gags were extended into the playing of Mighty Science Theater. Fans began to complain on internet message boards. Eventually, the voiceovers were stopped, but tension began to show in other ways between Comedy Central, Best Brains, and the MSTies.
After Joel left the series during the fifth season, Comedy Central asked Best Brains to make an hour-long version of the show that would fit into their programming slots better; the Brains complied in November 1993 by creating The Mystery Science Theater Hour.. However, when Comedy Central offered the Brains minuscule amounts of money to write and produce Turkey Day segments in both 1993 and 1994, the Brains turned them down both times, leaving Comedy Central to make their own. In spite of the strain and sinking ratings, Best Brains was signed to another twenty-four episode season.
Minor problems continued to surface. The newly displayed Comedy Central bug was removed during showings of MST3K after MSTies complained that covered up Crow during the theater segments. Similar measures were taken when Comedy Central also began to crawl jokes at the bottom of the screen, covering up the silhouettes. Another outcry happened when it was learned Comedy Central planned to edit, without consulting the Brains, five to seven minutes of footage from season two and three episodes to make them fit into the newer-style programming schedule that included longer commercial breaks. Eventually, the episodes were left untouched and allowed to run into the next ten minutes of programming. At the same time, Comedy Central and Best Brains worked together to plan and execute the first ever ConventioCon ExpoFest-A-Rama, as well as continue the college tours of select episodes.
Shortly after, Comedy Central made the choice to stop the midnight reruns of the show, upsetting fans and concerning the Brains. A compromise was created in the form of a viewer's choice slot that would run on Friday evenings, Play MSTie for Me; it allowed viewers to vote over the internet for the episode that would be shown, and while it showed a great deal of promise, it failed to work out in the end amid charges of vote fraud. However, the MSTies were not done butting heads with Comedy Central, especially the internet-based ones. Comedy Central's programming chief came on air before a Saturday episode airing, defending the cutting of the midnight episodes and stopping just short of outright insulting fans. He made a second appearance during an unprecedented call-in show aired a half-hour before the next week's Saturday episode, but refused to show respect to the MSTies in that venue either. After putting back daily weekday showings at noon for a while, Comedy Central quietly resumed the midnight showings in 1995. Promos that aired during that time had the Comedy Central announcer state that viewers succumbed to "more MST belly-aching".
Around the same time, Comedy Central did not make its annual announcement to renew the Brains' contract, leaving season seven in doubt.  Negotiations produced slightly improved relations between them, as well as The MST3K Little Gold Statue Preview Special, the first of many hinted-at special presentations featuring MST3K characters.
The Herzog Years: Late 1995-1996
Doug Herzog came on board as Comedy Central's new president. A welcoming gift (and peace offering) of a new set of snow tires, plus some careful negotiation, got Comedy Central to agree to an abbreviated, six episode seventh season.
However, things continued to fall apart. One of the first decisions made was to unearth the first season episodes that Comedy Central still had the rights to air, ignoring the agreement made three years before. Eventually, a compromise was reached that allowed the Brains to pick four episodes to air. They also agreed, even with the small amount of money offered, to do segments for that year's very short Turkey Day marathon.
Soon after, the final bomb dropped. Best Brains formally announced that Comedy Central had ordered no new episodes and decided not renew their contracts. Comedy Central was caught off-guard and stopped just short of declaring the show canceled, and declaring that low ratings were the reason no new episodes had been ordered. Many believed that it was simply that the relationship between the two companies had degraded to a point beyond salvation and compromise. The schedule of episode airings became thinner and Comedy Central let the rights to many movies drop, making a limited amount of episodes available for air anyway. Negotiations went back and forth for several weeks, but in the end, Best Brains announced on March 14, 1996, that Comedy Central had released them from their contract, leaving them free to seek a new network.
- ↑ The Almost But Not Quite Complete History of MST3K: 1988-1989
- ↑ The Almost But Not Quite Complete History of MST3K: 1990-1991
- ↑ 3.0 3.1 The Almost But Not Quite Complete History of MST3K: 1991-1992
- ↑ The Almost But Not Quite Complete History of MST3K: 1992-1993
- ↑ 5.0 5.1 The Almost But Not Quite Complete History of MST3K: 1993 Part 1
- ↑ 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 The Almost But Not Quite Complete History of MST3K: 1994 Part 2
- ↑ The Almost But Not Quite Complete History of MST3K: 1993 Part 2
- ↑ The Almost But Not Quite Complete History of MST3K: 1994 Part 1
- ↑ 9.0 9.1 The Almost But Not Quite Complete History of MST3K: 1995 Part 1
- ↑ 10.0 10.1 The Almost But Not Quite Complete History of MST3K: 1995 Part 2
- ↑ The Almost But Not Quite Complete History of MST3K: 1996
- ↑ Tom's MST3K Temple: Season 5.5-7 Continued
- ↑ Tom's MST3K Temple: Seasons 8-10