Mystery Science Theater 3000

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Mystery Science Theater 3000
The MST3K planet logo
Also known as
  • MST3K
  • MST 3000
Genre Comic science fiction
Created by Joel Hodgson
Written by
Presented by
  • Joel Hodgson (1988–93)
  • Michael J. Nelson (1993–99)
Voices of
Theme music composer
  • Charlie Erickson (music)
  • Joel Hodgson (music and lyrics)
  • Josh Weinstein (lyrics)
  • Best Brains (lyrics)
Opening theme "Love Theme from Mystery Science Theater 3000"
Ending theme
  • "Love Theme from Mystery Science Theater 3000" (1988-89)
  • "Mighty Science Theater"
Country of origin United States
Original language(s) English
No. of seasons 11
No. of episodes 197 (list of episodes)
Executive producer(s) Jim Mallon
Joel Hodgson (1990–93)
Producer(s) Kevin Murphy
Vince Rodriguez
Location(s) Minneapolis, Minnesota
Running time 97 minutes[1]
Production company(s)
Original network
Picture format 1.33 : 1[1]
Audio format Dolby[1]
Original release November 24, 1988 (1988-11-24) – August 8, 1999 (1999-08-08)
Related shows RiffTrax, Cinematic Titanic
External links
MST3k Official Site

Mystery Science Theater 3000, abbreviated MST3K, is an American television comedy series created by Joel Hodgson and produced by Best Brains, Inc. The show premiered on KTMA in Minneapolis, Minnesota on November 24, 1988. It later aired on The Comedy Channel/Comedy Central for another six seasons until its cancellation in 1997. Through a fan-driven write-in campaign, the show was picked up by The Sci-Fi Channel and aired for another three seasons until its final cancellation in August 1999. The series ran for 11 years, with 197 episodes, and one feature film.

The show's premise is based on janitor Joel Robinson (played by Hodgson) being launched against his will onto the Satellite of Love by "The Mads", a pair of mad scientists, as part of an "experiment". During the course of an episode, the Mads would force Joel to watch a bad B-movie to study its effects on him. Joel, to keep his sanity, crafted a number of robot companions, including Tom Servo, Crow T. Robot, and Gypsy, to keep him company and to help him humorously comment atop the movie, a process knowing as riffing. The show would be presented in its trademarked "Shadowrama" style, with silhouettes of Joel, Tom and Crow on a row of theater seats at the bottom of the film, and also included interstitial sketches based on prop comedy throughout an episode. The show's cast changed over its duration; most notably, Joel was replaced by Mike Nelson (played by Michael J. Nelson) in the show's fifth season. Other cast members, most who were also writers for the show, include Trace Beaulieu, Josh Weinstein, Jim Mallon, Kevin Murphy, Frank Conniff, Mary Jo Pehl, and Bill Corbett.

MST3K won a Peabody Award in 1993, and was listed as one of Time magazine's "100 Best TV Shows of All-Time" in 2007.[3] It was also nominated for two Emmy Awards (in the category of Outstanding Individual Achievement in Writing for a Variety or Music Program) in 1994 and 1995,[4] and a CableACE Award.[5][6]

Following the show's cancellation, various crew members launched separate projects in the same theme as MST3K, including Rifftrax (which continues to be ongoing) and Cinematic Titanic. A revival of the series was launched in 2015 by Hodgson and Shout! Factory, who has helped to secure licensing rights for the MST3K brand and for past MST3K episodes for home media and online streaming. The revival, based on crowd-sourced Kickstarter funding, will include at least 6 new episodes, and will star Jonah Ray as the new "experiment" aboard the Satellite of Love, and Felicia Day and Patton Oswalt as the new Mads.


In the "not-too-distant future", two mad scientists, Dr. Clayton Forrester (named after the main character of The War of the Worlds), played by Trace Beaulieu, and his sidekick Dr. Laurence Erhardt, played by Josh Weinstein, launch Joel Robinson (Hodgson), a janitor working for Gizmonic Institute, into space and force him to watch B-movies in order to measure how much bad movie watching it takes to drive a person crazy in order to pinpoint the perfect B-movie to use as a weapon in Dr. Forrester's scheme of world domination. Joel was later replaced by Mike Nelson as the show's human captive, midway through the fifth season. The sycophantic TV's Frank, played by Frank Conniff, replaced Dr. Erhardt in the second season premiere on the Comedy Channel, following Weinstein's departure from the series. Trapped on the Satellite of Love, Joel builds four sentient robots: Tom Servo (voiced first by J. Elvis Weinstein, then by Kevin Murphy beginning in Season 2), Crow T. Robot (voiced first by Trace Beaulieu, then by Bill Corbett beginning in Season 8), Gypsy (voiced first by Weinstein, then by Jim Mallon and later by Patrick Brantseg, both using a falsetto voice), who steers the ship, and Cambot, the recorder of the experiments who is visible primarily in a mirror during the opening credits and occasionally interacts with the others. Also making intermittent "appearances" in the show's early years is Magic Voice, a disembodied female voice whose primary role is to announce the start of the first commercial break in each episode.

Joel and Mike have no control over when the movies start, because Joel utilized the parts that would have allowed him to do so to build the robots. He must enter the theater when the movie is sent up, because Dr. Forrester (and in later seasons, his evil mother Pearl) has numerous ways to punish Joel/Mike for non-compliance, including shutting off the oxygen supply to the rest of the ship and electric shocks. As the movie plays, the silhouettes of Joel/Mike, Tom, and Crow are visible at the bottom of the screen, wisecracking and mocking the movie (a practice they often referred to as "riffing") in order to prevent themselves from going mad. Several times during each movie (about every half-hour when shown with commercials), Joel/Mike and the robots perform skits, songs, or other short sketch pieces (called "host segments") that are usually related to the movie they are watching.

Many episodes without movies long enough to fill the show's runtime include screenings of unintentionally humorous short films or "shorts", including educational films, training films, and sponsored films. Shorts became less common as the series progressed and were nonexistent in the first Sci-Fi Channel season, due to a combination of longer films and host segments, and shorts requiring a science fiction element. The restriction was lifted for the final two seasons, which featured three shorts.


Episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000 are wrapped with live-action skits performed by the cast, typically opening with a sketch unrelated to the remainder of the episode, followed by an introduction to the movie. In many episodes featuring movies too short to fill the show's 2-hour running time, the movie would be preceded by one or more shorts, educational films, newsreels, or similar material in the public domain. Interstitial skits would be used around commercial breaks, and a final skit ended the show. Skits would often, but not always, be related to the shorts or movies being shown. Many skits would feature "guest characters" (often from or inspired by the movie being featured, or from a past featured movie), often by way of the Satellite of Love's "Hexfield Viewscreen" or external camera named "Rocket Number Nine". While these were generally played by the Best Brains crew in makeup (such as Michael J. Nelson as Torgo from Manos: The Hands of Fate), both Minnesota Vikings running back Robert Smith and film critic Leonard Maltin have appeared as guests.

An example of MST3K‍ '​s "shadowrama" effect used as the central motif for the show. Here, Tom Servo (left), Joel Robinson, and Crow T. Robot, in silhouette, are watching the short Mr. B Natural in the 1991 episode featuring War of the Colossal Beast

During Hodgson's period on the show, the introductory skits would typically involve an "Invention Exchange", where Joel would present a new invention to the Mads, and vice versa. This was an extension of Hodgson's own comedy aspects, and while they were continued into the Nelson era, they were ultimately dropped as, according to Murphy in The Amazing Colossal Episode Guide, "Joel was the gizmocrat, the one who brought that invention exchange spirit on board", while "Mike is many things, but he is not a tinkerer". Similarly, the final skit in Hodgson's period usually included reading fan mail and advertising the MST3K Info Club. This was phased out near the end of the Comedy Central run for the show. Shows with Dr. Forrester and TV's Frank would nearly always end with Dr. Forrester telling Frank to "push the button" to terminate the transmission. Almost all shows feature a stinger following the end credits of the show, typically a short humorous clip from the film.

The end of the introductory sketch would end with lights flashing and sirens blaring on the bridge and the crew running around in a panic and announcing that "We've got movie sign!". The scene would transition from the bridge to the theater via a "door sequence", where the camera would pass through six doors before the theater was revealed; similarly, the reverse of this shot was used to transition from the theater back to the bridge. In the theater, Hodgson or Nelson, Crow, and Tom would sit in silhouette in a row of theater seats and watch the movie, often with Hodgson or Nelson using their hands to point and mock the movie in addition to their verbal riffing. Sometimes, a short video will be shown before the actual film. The silhouette approach is trademarked as "Shadowrama", and really is just a simple row of rounded shapes cut from black painted foamcore board put in front of a white lumakey screen, with the human host dressed in black, and black-painted versions of the puppets used, the host and the puppeteers would watch the film via tiny TV sets placed at their feet. This allowed for the them to watch the movie and read from their scripts while creating the illusion of a theater setting for the show.[7]

Background and history[edit]


Prior to MST3K's 1988 debut, the nationally syndicated TV series Mad Movies with the L.A. Connection and The Canned Film Festival similarly made fun of many of the same movies. Each show lasted a single season, in 1985 and 1986, respectively.

Hodgson is credited for devising the show's concept, as well as the title Mystery Science Theater;[8] the "3000" suffix was added later. Drawing partly on Hodgson's comedy act, the show's format was to showcase Hodgson. These initial episodes were recorded at the since-defunct Paragon Cable studios and customer service center in Hopkins, Minnesota. Hodgson credits Silent Running, a 1972 science-fiction film directed by Douglas Trumbull, as being perhaps the biggest direct influence on the show's concept. The film is set in the future and centers on a human, Freeman Lowell (Bruce Dern), who is the last crew member of a spaceship containing Earth's last surviving forests. His remaining companions consist only of three robot drones. MST3K and the Joel Robinson character occasionally reflected Lowell's "hippie"-like nature.[9]

KTMA era (1988–1989)[edit]

MST3K cast and crew Pehl (left), Beaulieu, Hodgson, Weinstein, and Conniff, as part of the post-show project, Cinematic Titanic in 2011

In September 1988, Hodgson enlisted Twin Cities-area comedians Trace Beaulieu and Josh Weinstein, and producer Jim Mallon, to help him shoot a pilot for the show. The robots and the set were built by Hodgson in an all-nighter. The next morning, shooting commenced and a 30-minute pilot was produced, in which selections from the 1969 science-fiction film, The Green Slime, were the test subject film. Joel watched the movie by himself, and was aided during the host segments by his robots, Crow (Beaulieu), Beeper, and Gypsy (Weinstein). Camera work was by Kevin Murphy, who worked at television station KTMA. Murphy also created the first "doorway sequence" and theater seat design.

Mallon met with KTMA station manager Donald O'Conner the next month and managed to get signed up for thirteen episodes. The show had some slight alterations — the set was lit differently, the robots (now Crow, Servo and Gypsy) joined Joel in the theater, and a new doorway countdown sequence between the host and theater segments was shot. The back story was also altered from the pilot; In the pilot episode it is explained that Joel Hodgson (not yet using his character name of Robinson) had built the Satellite of Love and launched himself into space.[10]

Mystery Science Theater 3000 premiered at 6:00 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day, November 24, 1988 with its first episode, Invaders from the Deep, followed by a second episode, Revenge of the Mysterons from Mars at 8:00 p.m. Initially, the show's response was unknown, until Mallon set up a phone line for viewers to call in. Response was so great that the initial run of 13 episodes was extended to 21, with the show running to May 1989. During this time a fan club was set up and the show held its first live show at Scott Hansen's Comedy Gallery in Minneapolis, to a crowd of over 600. Despite the show's success, the station's overall declining fortunes forced it to cancel MST3K.

Comedy Central era (1989–1996)[edit]

Nelson, Corbett, and Murphy, the primary actors in the Sci-Fi channel area, as part of their Rifftrax panel in 2009

Just as its run at KTMA was ending, the creators of MST3K used a short "best-of" reel to pitch the concept to executives at the Comedy Channel, a relatively new national cable channel. It became one of the first two shows picked up. New sets were built, the robots were retooled, and a new doorway sequence was shot. Another major change was the show's writing format: instead of ad-lib riffs in the theater, each show was carefully scripted ahead of time, with Mike Nelson serving as head writer. Weinstein left the show after the first Comedy Channel season and Murphy replaced him as the voice of Tom Servo. The Dr. Erhardt character was replaced by Conniff's "TV's Frank". Despite the fact that Frank was a lackey and not a "mad scientist", he and Forrester were collectively referred to as "The Mads".

After the Second Season, The Comedy Channel and rival comedy cable network HA! merged to become Comedy Central. During this period, MST3K became the cable channel's signature series, expanding from 13 to 24 episodes a year. To take advantage of the show's status, Comedy Central ran "Turkey Day", a 30-hour marathon of MST3K episodes during Thanksgiving, 1991. This tradition would be continued through the rest of the Comedy Central era.

Hodgson decided to leave the series halfway through Season Five due to his dislike of being on-camera and his disagreements with producer Jim Mallon for creative control of the program.[11][12] Hodgson also stated that Mallon's insistence to produce a feature film version of the show led to his departure, giving up his rights on the MST3K property to Mallon.[13] Hodgson later told an interviewer: "If I had the presence of mind to try and work it out, I would rather have stayed. 'Cause I didn't want to go, it just seemed like I needed to."[14] In his final episode, Joel was forced to sit through the Joe Don Baker movie Mitchell before escaping the S.O.L. (with the help of Gypsy and Mike Nelson - a temp worker hired by Dr. Forrester to help prepare for an audit from the Fraternal Order of Mad Science) and returning to Earth. To replace Joel, Dr. Forrester sent Mike up in his place.

Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie was produced during the later half of the Comedy Central era and had a limited theatrical release in 1996 through Universal Pictures. It featured Mike and the bots subjected to the film This Island Earth by Dr. Forrester. Though well-received, the film was considered a flop.[13]

Conniff left the show after Season Six. Within Season Seven, the show introduced Dr. Forrester's mother, Pearl (played by writer Mary Jo Pehl). In the last show of the seventh season, Laserblast, Dr. Forrester detaches the SOL from Deep 13 after his funding runs out, casting the satellite adrift in space. Parodying 2001: A Space Odyssey, they reach the edge of the Universe and become entities of pure consciousness, as Forrester sees a monolith-like giant videotape, and then turns into a baby, which then faces a terrible fate. There were two official fan conventions in Minneapolis, run by the series' production company (called "ConventioCon ExpoFest-A-Rama" (1994) and "ConventioCon ExpoFest-A-Rama 2: Electric Bugaloo" (1996).

Sci-Fi Channel era (1997–1999)[edit]

Mike and the bots watch The Crawling Eye (in their apartment on Earth) at the end of the series finale

When Comedy Central dropped the show after a six-episode seventh season, MST3K's fan base staged a write-in campaign to keep the show alive.[15] This effort led the Sci-Fi Channel to pick up the series, where it ran for three more seasons. Pearl's new sidekicks were the idiotic, Planet of the Apes-inspired Professor Bobo (played by Murphy) and the highly evolved, supposedly omniscient, yet equally idiotic Observer (a.k.a. "Brain Guy"), played by writer Bill Corbett. In addition, Corbett took over Crow's voice and puppetry and BBI staffer Patrick Brantseg took over Gypsy.[16] With this replacement, the series' entire original cast had been turned over.

The series finale, Danger: Diabolik, premiered on August 8, 1999, although a "lost" episode produced earlier in the season (which was delayed due to rights issues), Merlin's Shop of Mystical Wonders, was the last new episode of MST3K, broadcast on September 12, 1999. Reruns continued to air on the Sci Fi Channel for several years, ending with The Screaming Skull on January 31, 2004. Another campaign to save the show was mounted, including several MST3K fans taking contributions for a full-page ad in the trade publication Daily Variety magazine, but was unsuccessful. The shows later moved to syndication.

Revival (2015–ongoing)[edit]

RAY headshot1.jpg
Felicia Day 2012.jpg Patton Oswalt by Gage Skidmore.jpg
The revivial will feature Ray (top) aboard the Satellite of Love, Day (bottom left) as Kinga Forrester, and Oswalt as TV's Son of TV's Frank

In 2014, in an interview for Wired, Joel Hodgson discussed plans to revive the show, this time online featuring a new host with MST3K alumni making cameo appearances.[17] In November 2015, Hodgson launched a $2 million Kickstarter campaign to produce at least 3 new episodes, with potentially up to 12 if additional funding goals were met. The reboot will feature a new host and new voices for the bots, though members of the original crew will still be involved in the creative process.[18] Hodgson stated that while he wanted to bring back MST3K before, there were issues with obtaining the rights to the show; Shout! Factory, the production company that has published many of the older MST3K episodes including securing the rights to the films contained within, has since acquired full rights to the show from Best Brains, and is working directly with Hodgson to revive the series.[19] Hodgson said in an interview with Vox that he had been working with Shout! for the previous five years to try to bring back the show, with efforts increasing in the last two years. Hodgson felt that timing was right for the reboot: previous shows have found crowd sourced funding from its fans for continuation, and with non-traditional outlets for broadcast, such as Netflix, there is a potential for a wider audience.[20] Mike Nelson stated that he is not involved in the reboot, as the show was not his brand to begin with but will continue doing Rifftrax.[21] Other original cast members Trace Beaulieu, Frank Conniff, Bill Corbett, Kevin Murphy, Bridget (Jones) Nelson, Mary Jo Pehl, and J. Elvis (Josh) Weinstein each posted on their respective Twitter accounts that they will not be involved with the MST3K reboot, as well.

The campaign reached its base funding for a 3-episode revival within a week of its launch. On that same day, it was announced that comedian Jonah Ray will be the new host aboard the Satellite of Love, watching and riffing on the films, for the revived series. Hodgson had met Ray while recording an episode of The Nerdist Podcast, and felt he would be a good fit.[22] Hodgson later announced that Felicia Day will play Kinga Forrester, Clayton Forrester's daughter and one of the new Mads in charge of the experiments; Hodgson had seen Day's performance in shows like The Guild and Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, and felt she matched his idea for the character.[23] The voices of Crow and Tom will be provided by comedians Hampton Yount and Baron Vaughn, respectively, both who were recommended to Hodgson by Ray.[23] With on-going success of the Kickstarter, Hodgson announced Patton Oswalt will play Kinga's henchman, TV's Son of TV's Frank; Hodgson had initially considered bringing on Oswalt, a longtime friend and self-professed MST3K fan, as a special guest writer for an episode, but decided after the Kickstarter had already begun that Oswalt would also be a good fit as an on-camera performer.[24]


Cast of Mystery Science Theater 3000
Character KTMA
"Season 0"

Comedy Channel / Comedy Central seasons (1989–1996) The Movie
Sci-Fi seasons (1997–99) Flash series
Giant Gila Monster
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Joel Robinson
"Joel Hodgson" during season 0,
"Joel" (no last name) during Season 1
Joel Hodgson Joel Hodgson1 Joel Hodgson
Mike Nelson Michael J. Nelson
Crow T. Robot Trace Beaulieu
Josh Weinstein (few episodes)
Trace Beaulieu Bill Corbett Paul Chaplin Trace Beaulieu
Tom Servo Josh Weinstein Kevin Murphy James Moore Frank Conniff
Gypsy Josh Weinstein Jim Mallon Patrick Brantseg Jim Mallon
Cambot Kevin Murphy2
Dr. Clayton Forrester Trace Beaulieu Trace Beaulieu
Dr. Laurence "Larry" Erhardt Josh Weinstein
TV's Frank
simply "Frank" pre-season 4
Frank Conniff Frank Conniff1 Frank Conniff
Pearl Forrester Mary Jo Pehl1 Mary Jo Pehl Mary Jo Pehl
Professor Bobo Kevin Murphy
Observer ("Brain Guy") Bill Corbett

1. Guest/cameo appearance only.
2. Normally a non-speaking role.


By the conclusion of the Sci-Fi era, a total of 197 MST3K episodes have been produced.[26]

None of the KTMA episodes were rerun nationally or have been released onto home video due to rights issues. Some consider the first three KTMA episodes to be "missing episodes", as no fan copies are known to exist, but master copies of all these episodes still exist[27] The credits in the first four seasons on Comedy Central included the phrase "Keep circulating the tapes" to encourage fans to share VHS tapings they made with others, despite the questionable copyright practice. Though the phrase was removed from the credits, the concept of "keep circulating the tapes" was held by the show's fans to continue to help introduce others to the show following its broadcast run.[26]

The pilot episode does not use a full-length movie but is actually an unaired half-hour sample used to sell the MST3K concept to KTMA.[28]

Turkey Day marathons[edit]

A common event in both the Comedy Central and Sci-Fi eras was a Turkey Day marathon that ran on or near the Thankgiving holiday. The marathon would show between 6 to 12 rebroadcasts of episodes, often with new interstitial material between the episodes from the cast and crew.

In honor of the show's 25th Anniversary in 2013, Shout! Factory ran a streaming video "Turkey Day" on Thanksgiving as had similarly been done during the show's run on Comedy Central. Fans were able to select the six episodes they wanted to see and the event was hosted by Hodgson.[29] The success of this event led Hodgson and Shout! Factory to repeat the event the following year.[30] In the final segment, Joel was joined at the dinner table by Crow T. Robot and Tom Servo. The following year, another marathon was held. This time Crow and Tom were full participants, voiced by their original voice actors, Trace Beaulieu and Josh Weinstein, respectively.[citation needed]

The streaming Turkey Day event was run again in 2014 and 2015, the latter coinciding with the Kickstarter for the planned revival of the show.

Video releases[edit]

Home video releases of MST3K are complicated by the licensing rights of the featured film and any shorts, and as such many of the nationally-televised episodes have not yet been released onto home video. Through the current distributor, Shout! Factory, over 100 of the movies have been cleared for home media distribution.[31]

Original home media releases were issued by Rhino Entertainment, initially starting with single disc releases before switching to semi-regular 4-episode volume set. According to Hodgson, the people at Rhino that were involved in the distribution of MST3K eventually left Rhino and joined with Shout! Factory, helping to convince that publisher to acquire the rights from Rhino.[31] Since 2008, all releases MST3K have been through Shout! Factory, (including some reprints of the first Rhino volume set) and have typically been multi-episode volumes or themed packs. In 2014, 80 episodes of the show were made available for purchase or rental on Vimeo.[32] In February 2015, Shout! Factory released select episodes in streaming media.[33]



In 1993, the show's staff selected 30 episodes to split into 60 one-hour segments called The Mystery Science Theater Hour, hosted by Mike Nelson in his "Jack Perkins" persona, requiring him to get then into heavy makeup and to change his voice for the shows taped. The repackaged series' first-run airings of these half-shows ran from November 1993 to July 1994. Reruns continued through December 1994, and it was syndicated to local stations from September 1995 to September 1996, allowing stations to run the series in a 1-hour slot, or the original 2 hour version.[34] On July 5, 2014, MST3K returned to television for the first time in 10 years, when RetroTV began broadcasting the series on Saturday nights, with an encore on Sunday evenings.[35]

Feature film[edit]

In 1996, Universal Studios released Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie, a film adaptation in which Mike and the bots riffed This Island Earth. The film was released on DVD in the United States by Image Entertainment. Universal Pictures re-released the film on DVD on May 6, 2008, with a new anamorphic widescreen transfer, Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix, and the film's original trailer.[36]


In 1996, the book, The Amazing Colossal Episode Guide (written by some MST3K cast members), was released, which contained a synopsis for every episode from seasons 1 through 6, and even included some behind-the-scene stories as well. In it, Kevin Murphy related two tales about celebrity reactions he encountered. In one, the cast went to a taping of Dennis Miller's eponymous show; when they were brought backstage to meet Miller, the comedian proceeded to criticize the MST3K cast for their choice of movie to mock in the then-recent episode "Space Travelers" (a re-branded version of the Oscar-winning film Marooned).[37] Murphy also discussed how he met Kurt Vonnegut, one of his literary heroes. When he had mentioned the show and its premise to Vonnegut, the author suggested that even people who work hard on bad films deserve some respect. Murphy then invited Vonnegut to dine with his group, which Vonnegut declined, claiming that he had other plans. When Murphy and friends ate later that night, he saw Vonnegut dining alone in the same restaurant, and remarked that he had been "faced... but nicely faced" by one of his literary heroes.[38]

Other appearances[edit]

In 1996, during promotion for Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie, Mike and the bots were interviewed in-character on MTV, and seen in silhouettes heckling footage from MTV News.[citation needed] Also that year, Joel Hodgson was a featured guest on Cartoon Network's Space Ghost Coast to Coast.[citation needed] In 1997, the E! network's Talk Soup show, starring John Henson, featured guest appearances from Mike, Crow, and Tom Servo.[citation needed]

In 1997, the videogame magazine PlayStation Underground (Volume 2, Number 1) included a Best Brains-produced MST3K short on one of their promotional discs. The video opened with a host segment of Mike and the Bots playing some PlayStation games, only to go into the theater to riff on some videos from the magazine's past. The feature is about seven minutes long. An Easter egg on the disc has some behind-the-scenes footage of Best Brains filming the sequences.[39] Also that year, a new online animated web series, referred to as "The Bots Are Back!", was produced by Jim Mallon. The series planned a weekly adventure featuring Crow, Tom Servo, and Gypsy, with Mallon reprising his role as Gypsy and Paul Chaplin as Crow. However, only a handful of episodes were released, and the series was abandoned due to budget issues. The internet response to the webisodes was largely negative.[40]


In 2004, the show was listed as #11 in a featured TV Guide article, "25 Top Cult Shows Ever!", and included a sidebar which read, "Mike Nelson, writer and star (replacing creator Joel Hodgson), recently addressed a college audience: "There was nobody over the age of 25. I had to ask, 'Where are you seeing this show?' I guess we have some sort of timeless quality."[41] Three years later, TV Guide rewrote the article, and bumped MST3K to #13. [42] In 2007, the show was listed as one of Time magazine's "100 Best TV Shows of All-TIME".[3] In 2012, the show was listed as #3 in a featured Entertainment Weekly article, "25 Best Cult TV Shows from the Past 25 Years", with the comment that "MST3K taught us that snarky commentary can be way more entertaining than the actual media."[43]

So popular is the show that fans coined the name "MSTies" or "MiSTies" (pronounced mistees) as an analogy to the term Trekkie. Rather than a derogatory putdown, MSTies wear the label as a badge of pride, and it gained Best Brains' seal of approval with the 1996 publication of the Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Amazing Colossal Episode Guide. MSTie led to the creation of the verb MSTing (or misting) in the fanfiction community. MSTing is the practice of writing a meta-fic (a fanfiction about a fanfiction) in which the author's characters comment on a fic written by another. MSTie fics imitate the style of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 programs: the commentators are usually three in number (sometimes they are MST3K characters), the fic opens with an introductory dialogue or situation which continues as a mini-plot during several "intermission" sequences (between blocks of the riffed fanfic), and comes to a conclusion at the end. MSTie fics are written in transcript format. The show also enjoyed a number of celebrity fans, including Frank Zappa, whose long-standing enjoyment of substandard B-movies had been documented in songs such as "Cheepnis" (as heard on Roxy & Elsewhere); Zappa went so far as to telephone Best Brains and became a friend of the show, and following his death episode 523 was dedicated to him.

Reactions by those parodied[edit]

The reactions of those parodied by MST3K has been mixed. Sandy Frank, who held the rights to several Gamera films parodied on the show, was "intensely displeased" by the mockery directed at him. (The crew once sang the "Sandy Frank Song", which said that Frank was "the source of all our pain", "thinks that people come from trees", Steven Spielberg "won't return his calls", and implied that he was too lazy to make his own films). Because of this, Frank reportedly refused to allow the shows to be rebroadcast once MST3K's rights ran out.[44] However, this may in fact be a rumor, as other rumors indicate that the Gamera films distribution rights prices were increased beyond what BBI could afford as a result of the show's success. According to Shout Factory, the Japanese movie studio Kadokawa Pictures were so horrified with MST3K's treatment of 5 Gamera films that they refused to let Shout release the episodes on home video. Brian Ward (one of the members of Shout Factory) explained to fans on the forums of the official Shout Factory website that they tried their best to convince them, but the Japanese take their Gamera films very seriously and do not appreciate their being mocked. However, eventually Shout was able to clear the episodes for a special 2011 release due to the rights in North America shifting away from the Japanese to another, North American entity that had no such qualms.[45] In another post on the Shout Factory message boards, Ward explained that the Godzilla films faced the same obstacle as Gamera, and explained that unless the rights shifted the way the Gamera rights have, these films would remain unreleased.[46]

Kevin Murphy had once said that Joe Don Baker wanted to beat up the writers of the show for attacking him during Mitchell.[47][48] Murphy later said Baker likely meant it in a joking manner, although Mike Nelson said he deliberately avoided Baker while the two happened to be staying at the same hotel.[49]

Director Rick Sloane was shocked at his treatment at the conclusion of Hobgoblins.[50] In a 2008 interview, however, Sloane clarified his comments, saying that "I laughed through the entire MST3K episode, until the very end. I wasn't expecting the humor to suddenly be at my own expense. I was mortified when they dragged out the cardboard cutout and pretended to do an interview with me. I was caught off guard. I had never seen them rip apart any other director before on the show." He also credits the success of the MST3K episode with inspiring him to make a sequel to Hobgoblins, released in 2009.[51]

Jeff Lieberman, director of Squirm, was also quite angry at the MST3K treatment of his film.[52] In an audio commentary discussing The War of the Worlds, author Bill Warren said "I don't like that show" after director Joe Dante pointed out that one of MST3K's villains is named after the film's leading character, Dr. Clayton Forrester.

Others have been more positive: Robert Fiveson and Myrl Schriebman, producers of Parts: The Clonus Horror, said they were "flattered" to see the film appear on MST3K.[53] Actor Miles O'Keeffe, the star of the film Cave Dwellers, called Best Brains and personally requested a copy of the MST3K treatment of the film,[49] saying he enjoyed their skewering of what he had considered to be a surreal experience. In the form of an essay and E. E. Cummings-esque poem, Mike Nelson paid tribute to O'Keeffe with a humorous mix of adulation and fear.[54]

Actor Adam West, star of the 1960s Batman TV series, co-starred in Zombie Nightmare, another film MST3K mocked. West apparently held no grudges, as he hosted the 1994 "Turkey Day" marathon in which the episode featuring Zombie Nightmare had its broadcast premiere. Mamie van Doren (who appeared in episode 112, Untamed Youth, and episode 601, Girls Town), Robert Vaughn (star of episode 315, Teenage Cave Man, which he called the worst movie ever made) and Beverly Garland (who had appeared in many MST3K-featured Roger Corman films) also hosted at the marathon.

Rex Reason, star of This Island Earth, has also appeared at several MST3K events and credits MST3K with introducing the film to a new generation. The crew of Time Chasers held a party the night the MST3K treatment of their film aired and, while reactions were mixed, director David Giancola said, "Most of us were fans and knew what to expect and we roared with laughter and drank way too much. I had a blast, never laughed so hard in my life."[55]


In 1993, MST3K won a Peabody Award for "producing an ingenious eclectic series": "With references to everything from Proust to 'Gilligan's Island,' 'Mystery Science Theater 3000' fuses superb, clever writing with wonderfully terrible B-grade movies".[56] In 1994 and 1995, the show was nominated for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Writing for a Variety or Music Program, but lost both times to Dennis Miller Live.[4] Every year from 1992 to 1997, it was also nominated for CableACE Awards. Its DVD releases have been nominated for Saturn Awards in 2004, 2006 and 2007.


In 2003, the television series Deadly Cinema, starring Jami Deadly, debuted, which featured the cast making fun of bad movies, MST3K-style. In 2004, the ESPN Classic series Cheap Seats, debuted, which featured two brothers making fun of clips of old sporting events, MST3K-style, and is noteworthy for containing an episode in which MST3K cast members briefly appeared in a cameo to make fun of the hosts' own skits. In 2008, the internet and direct-to-DVD comedy series Incognito Cinema Warriors XP, debuted, which used the same "host segment-movie segment" format the show established, while featuring completely original characters and plot. ICWXP gained a similar cult following, even earning the praises of former MST3K host Michael J. Nelson.[57] In 2010, the television series This Movie Sucks! (and its predecessor Ed's Nite In), starring Ed the Sock and co-hosts Liana K and Ron Sparks, debuted. It features the cast making fun of bad movies. Creator Steven Kerzner, however, was quick to point out that MST3K was not "the creator of this kind of format, they’re just the most recent and most well-known".[58]

In 2011, the theater silhouette motif was parodied by golf commentator and talk show host David Feherty in an episode of Feherty. He is shown sitting in front of a large screen and "riffing" while viewing footage of golfer Johnny Miller and is joined in the theater by his stuffed rooster (Frank) and his gnome statue (Costas).

Public performances of live riffing have been hosted by various groups in different cities across the U.S. and Canada, including Cineprov (Atlanta, Georgia), Master Pancake Theater (Austin, TX), Counterclockwise Comedy (Kansas City, Missouri), FilmRoasters (Richmond, Virginia), Moxie Skinny Theatre 3000 (Springfield, Missouri), Riff Raff Theatre (Iowa City, Iowa), Twisted Flicks (Seattle, Washington), and Turkey Shoot (Metro Cinema at the Garneau, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada).[59][60][61] Canadian sketch comedy group Loading Ready Run produces the show Unskippable for The Escapist website, which applies the MST3K premise to video game cut scenes.

Nostalgia Critic picked this show on his top 15 comedic influences (second only to Daffy Duck)[62]

The original DVD release of the 1997 film Men in Black used a similar format to shadowrama for an "in-vision" commentary feature in which film co-star Tommy Lee Jones and director Barry Sonnenfeld were shown in silhouette watching the film and commenting on it.

Usenet groups[edit] and were Usenet newsgroups established in the mid-1990s for announcements and discussions related to the show.[63][64][65] The newsgroup had been created in April 1995 by renaming the existing unmoderated newsgroup at the same time as the creation of the moderated general announcement group[66]

Related post-show projects[edit]

Mystery Science Theater 3000s Mike Nelson (left) and Kevin Murphy, at "Exoticon 1" convention panel in Metairie, Louisiana, November 1998
Main articles: Rifftrax and Cinematic Titanic

The various cast and crew from the show's broadcast run have continued to produce comedy works following the show. Two separate projects were launched that specifically borrowed on the theme of riffing on bad movies. After the short-lived The Film Crew in 2006, Nelson started Rifftrax, providing downloadable audio files containing MST3K-style riffs that the viewer would synchronize to their personal copy of a given popular movie (such as Star Wars: Episode I); this was done to avoid copyright and licensing issues with such films. Rifftrax‍ '​s cast expanded to include Murphy and Corbett along with occassional guest starts, and were able to use a wider range of films, including films and shorts in the public domain, and films which they could get the license to stream and distribute. In addition, they launched production of Rifftrax Live shows for various films, where they performed their riffing in front of a live audience that was simultaneously broadcasted to other movie theaters across the country and later made available as on-demand video. As of 2015, Rifftrax continues to offer new material and shows.

Similarly, Hodgson started Cinematic Titanic with Beaulieu, Weinstein, Conniff, and Pehl in 2007. Like MST3K, the five riffed on bad movies they were able to acquire the licenses for (including Santa Claus Conquers the Martians), which then were distributed through on-demand video and streaming options. They later did a number of live shows across the United States, some which were made available for digital demand. Production of Cinematic Titanic was shut down in January 2014.[67]

Other related projects by the MST3K crew following the show's end include: In 2000, most of the cast of the Sci-Fi era of the show collaborated on a humor website, Timmy Big Hands, that closed in 2001.[citation needed]

In 2001, Mike Nelson, Patrick Brantseg, Bill Corbett, Kevin Murphy and Paul Chaplin created The Adventures of Edward the Less, an animated parody of J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings and others in the fantasy genre, with additional vocals by Mary Jo Pehl and Mike Dodge,for the Sci Fi Channel website.[68]

In 2006, Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett debuted RiffTrax, a web-based series which allowed customers to purchase riff-only audio tracks that they can sync up with dozens of popular film titles. Guest commentators such as "Weird Al" Yankovic and Neil Patrick Harris have been featured guest riffers, and, under the RiffTrax banner, the three principal riffers have made occasional live appearances which have been broadcast to theaters nationwide, starting with the 50th anniversary edition of a colorized Plan 9 from Outer Space in 2009.[citation needed] In addition, the three riffers also occasionally provide commentary to movies during a summer series at the Stone Brewing Company in Escondido, California.[69]

In 2007, Joel Hodgson, Trace Beaulieu, Josh Weinstein, Frank Conniff and Mary Jo Pehl debuted Cinematic Titanic, direct-to-DVD releases which riffed on older films with a shadowrama effect. Also that year, the three principal Rifftrax crew debuted The Film Crew, direct-to-DVD releases which riffed on old movies in a different setting. Cinematic Titanic ceased production in 2013, while The Film Crew discontinued after only four titles. Also that year, Frank Conniff and animation historian Jerry Beck debuted Cartoon Dump,[70] a series of classically bad cartoons, which are also occasionally performed live.[71] In an interview with, Pehl confirmed that Cinematic Titanic would end in January 2014.[72]

In 2008, Bill Corbett and fellow writer Rob Greenberg wrote the screenplay for Meet Dave, a family comedy starring Eddie Murphy about a tiny Star Trek-like crew operating a spaceship that looks like a man. The captain of the crew and the spaceship were both played by Murphy. Originally conceived as a series called Starship Dave for, it was dropped in favor of Edward the Less. The script (along with the title) were changed drastically by studio executives and other writers, although Corbett and Greenberg received sole screenwriter credit.[73]

In 2010, Trace Beaulieu, Frank Conniff, Joel Hodgson, Mary Jo Pehl, Josh Weinstein, Beth McKeever and Clive Robertson voiced characters for Darkstar: The Interactive Movie, a computer game created by J. Allen Williams.[citation needed]

In 2013, Frank Conniff and animation historian Jerry Beck debuted Cartoon Dump,[74] a series of classically bad cartoons, which are also occasionally performed live.[75]


In 2008, to commemorate the show's 20th anniversary, the principal cast and crew from all eras of the show reunited for a panel discussion at the San Diego Comic-Con International, which was hosted by actor-comedian Patton Oswalt. The event was recorded and included as a bonus feature on the 20th Anniversary DVD release via Shout! Factory. Also that year, several original MST3K members (including Joel Hodgson, Trace Beaulieu and Frank Conniff) reunited to shoot a brief sketch to be included on the web-exclusive DVD release of The Giant Gila Monster.[25] The new disc was added to Volume 10 of the "MST3K Collection" DVD boxed set series, replacing the Godzilla vs. Megalon disc which could no longer be sold due to copyright conflicts. The new package was sold under the name "Volume 10.2", and the sketch was presented as a seminar to instruct consumers on how to "upgrade" their DVD set, which merely consists of "disposing" of the old disc and inserting the new one.

In 2013, Joel Hodgson and Trace Beaulieu reprised their roles as Joel Robinson and Crow T. Robot for cameo appearances in the fourth season of Arrested Development.[76]

See also[edit]


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External links[edit]