A week later, on Saturday, 11/18/89 at 11:00 AM and 11:00 PM, the show had its network premiere. The episode was The Crawling Eye (101) and a new legion of fans across the nation got their first look at MST3K. There were new sets, improved bots, better defined mads and Deep 13 was introduced. The mads were now renegade outcasts conducting their experiments on Joel from the sub-basement of Gizmonic Institute. Joels character was now Joel Robinson, named in homage to Lost In Space boy genius Will Robinson, who Joel was said to have looked like as a child. (Note: there is strong evidence that even though The Crawling Eye was obviously intended to air first, the actual first episode shown was The Robot vs. the Aztec Mummy (102). This has been claimed by a number of MSTies who state that they were watching that first day, plus a very early Comedy Central promo for MST states "the experiment begins Saturday with The Robot vs. the Aztec Mummy. If I ever confirm this I'll revise this history section.)
In fact a new national Information Club was introduced with the now familiar Hopkins, MN PO Box mailing address. They even started the numbering system for fans over again and offered the first article of MST3K merchandise, a white power t-shirt with the new planet logo on it.
Unfortunately, The Comedy Channel decided to present MST3K as a kids show, which explains the early Saturday air time. They also did virtually no promotions for the show. Initially the channel focused on showing two-minute comedy clips pulled from movies, cartoons and videos. The clips were introduced by "comedy jocks" a la MTV, including the Higgins Boys & Gruber and Rachel Sweet.
Another change to the format of MST was the decision to add chapters of an old movie serial to fill in the balance of the episode since some of the movies being riffed were so short. The first serial used was Radar Men From The Moon from 1951 starring George Wallace as Commando Copy. In all, nine of the twelve chapters were shown, although one ended abruptly when the film "broke."
Sadly, back at KTMA the management tried to milk out one more Melon Drop. On 12/31/89 they broadcast The Drop That Almost Wasnt. This one did not have any new participation from the Brains, but instead presented a man telling his son about the glory days of the Melon Drop while showing clips from the previous three years.
As 1990 began The Comedy Channel was receiving very poor reviews after their first few months of existence. The format, content and especially the hosts were all targets for complaint and ridicule. The only exception was MST3K, which was singled out as the one bright spot. An early positive article was published in USA Today on 1/10/90.
Even so, on 2/13/90 when The Black Scorpion (113), the last episode of the contract, aired the future of the show, if not the station, were still in doubt. The Brains sent out a mailing to members of the fan club urging them to write to HBO and The Comedy Channel to show support.
On 4/1/90, April Fools Day, a rival 24-hour comedy channel called Ha! debuted. Ha! was run by Showtime, HBOs chief competitor, and was owned by Viacom. For critics of one comedy station it was certainly puzzling why people would possibly need two.
An article in the 4/9/90 issue of the Multichannel News also praised MST3K. Later that month issue 2.1 of The Satellite News was mailed out to fans with the note that the show still had not been signed, but letters from fans and the positive press were helping. As a reward to the now 700 members there was for the first time a merchandise catalog included in the newsletter. Now fans could own a t-shirt, hat, bumper stickler, autographed mug and even a demon dog used in The Robot vs. The Aztec Monster (102) (all 20 sold out quickly at $25.00). A new era of merchandising had begun. Another interesting note is that Josh is not listed as a contributor to the newsletter nor is he even mentioned in any of the articles.
On April 2, 1990 Joel appeared on the Comedy Channel show called Night After Night with Alan Havey. Still waiting for a contract, Alan tried to help by getting one of the station big wigs live on the phone and make him commit, but it didn't work.
Finally, in June 90 the show was signed for a second 13 episode season. The Comedy Channel must have begun to understand what they had because in July they responded by sending letters to each fan that had written them confirming the extension to the contract. They also started airing the show more regularly to try to draw in even more viewers (Saturday at noon and 6 PM, Sunday at 2 PM and Monday at 3 AM.)
Troma, Inc finally released Jim Mallon's Blood Hook on video on 8/27/90 through Prism Entertainment.
When issue 2.2 of The Satellite News came out in August 90 there were some big announcements. First, of course, was the new contract, but second was the departure of Josh, later attributed to creative differences. Even though Trace was the only one with real improv experience, Josh thrived on it. Unfortunately, in his own words, improv "freaked" Joel out. He and Jim preferred more structure. Josh found that the scripted format was too confining and was certainly a factor in his leaving. Besides some people forget he was only 18 years old and had a whole career ahead of him.
It was mentioned that Frank Conniff, who was born in New York, but had been sharing time between waiting tables at Arbys and stand-up comedy (as seen the previous ad from Sept 1989), would take over as Dr. Erhardt and that Kevin Murphy would be the new man under Tom Servos hoverskirt. Also there would be new and improved sets plus other additions to the staff. Jef Maynard was hired, after answering a want ad, as the "shop foreman and builder guy", although he would later become known as the Toolmaster. That nickname was created when Frank began singing a parody of the Minnesota based band Trip Shakespeares song The Toolmaster of Brainard.
One more reward for faithful MSTies occurred when The Comedy Channel dedicated 24 straight hours of programming to MST3K on Labor Day 9/1/90. From midnight to 11:59 PM eight of the original thirteen episodes were shown, with some repeats. There were also promos for the new season that would be premiering in two weeks.
Over the past year the pressure of shooting schedules and contract negotiations had taken a toll on the Brains. The staff had a number of disagreements and the studio was working long hours. Finally, Jim and Joel went through business therapy and learned how to communicate better and set up some rules and guidelines that helped ease the tension. For example, work days ended no later than 6 PM and no weekends were worked. A week would be taken off after every five episodes were completed.
As more income began to come in they even spent some money on some practical and psychological comforts. They bought a $150,000 editing bay to make them less dependent on outside services. They also bought a sofa, love seat and chair for the writers room in fabulous green leather.