Oh, the tragedy! Oh, the humanity! In what could turn out to be the most notorious cancellation since NBC axed Star Trek in 1969, Comedy Central has pulled the plug on Mystery Science Theater 3000, the cult hit that's been skewering bad movies for more than seven years.
''The show was a breakthrough,'' says Doug Herzog, who took over as Comedy Central president last July. ''It helped put the network on the map. And it has the most passionate audience I've met in my lifein fact, I'm thinking of getting a bodyguard. But seven years is a long time for any show. The ratings have been declining for a while.''
Herzog won't discuss exact numbers, but says the network was disappointed by last month's annual ''Turkey Day'' marathon, which ''barely registered'' in the Nielsens. Still, the timing does seem odd: Next April, Gramercy Pictures is releasing Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie, which could have given the show a boost.
''We honestly don't know why they did it,'' says MST3K producer Jim Mallon. ''Ratings have never been an issue. And the show has done a lot for Comedy Central.'' One possibility: Herzog may be in the mood for a shake-up (he's also reportedly scouting for a replacement for Politically Incorrect's Bill Maher, who's rumored to be heading to ABC). ''We have to evolve,'' he says.
The news sent fans into a frenzy on the Internet, where plans for a Comedy Central boycott and E-mail campaigns are being hatched. If the protests fail, the show's final episode will tape Dec. 21 and 22. Will the 'bots do a Newhart and wake up in Suzanne Pleshette's bed? ''They wish,'' says Mallon. ''We've looked to films like 2001 as an inspiration. They'll probably take a tour of the deep recesses of space.''