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Mystery Science Theater 3000
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Mystery Science Theater 3000

Mystery Science Theater 3000, also called MST3K, was a cult television comedy series created by Joel Hodgson originating from Eden Prairie, Minnesota. Original episodes aired on Comedy Central and the Sci-Fi Channel from 1988 to 1999. The show started with a short run on Minnesota UHF station KTMA channel 23.

Table of contents
1 Premise
2 History
3 The cast
4 The episodes
5 External links


The premise of the show was that Joel Robinson (played by Hodgson), a janitor working for the Gizmonics Institute, had been shot into space by two mad scientists, Dr. Clayton Forrester and his sidekick Dr. Erhardt as an experimental test subject. The experiment was meant to test how many awful B-movies a human could endure before going mad. (Dr Erhardt was soon replaced by the sycophantic TV's Frank.)

Trapped on board The Satellite of Love (S.O.L.)--a Lou Reed reference--Joel built the robot beings that populated the ship (ostensibly because he was lonely). The robots were Tom Servo, Crow T. Robot, Gypsy, who handled the "higher functions" of the S.O.L., and Cambot, who recorded the experiments. Gypsy didn't appear in every episode and Cambot was only seen during the robot roll call portion of the opening credits, though the characters would occasionally interact with it in a Brechtian sort of way. Also, occasionally making an 'appearance', is Magic Voice, a disembodied female voice that, for the most part, in the earlier years of the show, announced that the first commercial of each episode was about to start.

Since Joel had built Tom and Crow out of parts of the space ship, he had no control over when the movies start. As the movies would play, Joel, Tom, and Crow could be seen in silhouette at the bottom of the screen, endlessly mocking the movie with wisecracks in order not to be driven mad (a practice they sometimes referred to as "riffing".) Often, just before or after a commercial break, they would leave the theater to perform skits, songs or other short comic material during the show's "host segments", which were often inspired by the movie they had been watching. Sometimes this involved interaction with the characters from the movies, with characters such as Torgo from returning many times in future episodes of the show. Inevitably, though, the "movie sign" light would flash, and they would be forced to run back into the theater to continue watching the movie.

When Joel Hodgson decided to leave the series, halfway through season five, an episode was written in which his character escaped from the S.O.L. with the help of Gypsy after finding an escape pod (named the Deus ex Machina) in a box marked "Hamdingers". Mike Nelson, a temp worker hired by Dr. Forrester to clean up Deep 13, was sent up to the Satellite to replace Joel. Mike was played by series head writer Michael J. Nelson, and appeared from 1993 until the series's end.

Among the movies deconstructed on the series were Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, Manos: The Hands of Fate, five Japanese Gamera monster movies, and the Ed Wood film Bride of the Monster. It should be pointed out that most of the movies had to be edited to make room for the sketches surrounding them, and for commercials. This practice often made the movie more riffable because continuity would not always be respected. Altogether, nearly 200 episodes of MST3K were produced.

Most of the early episodes also included screenings of unintentionally hilarious short films, mostly propaganda films from the 1950s-- such as a training film for Chevrolet sales managers, and films intended to teach children about posture or personal hygiene.


The show's run coincided with the growth of the Internet, and numerous websites were devoted to the series. Fans also sent one another tapes of back episodes, a practice the show's creators encouraged by flashing the title "Keep circulating the tapes!" during each episode's closing credits. There were two official conventions (zanily called "Conventio-Con Expo-Fest-A-Rama" and "Conventio-Con Expo-Fest-A-Rama II: Electric Boogaloo", respectively). Some noted celebrity fans are Time film critic Richard Corliss and MSNBC anchor Keith Olbermann.

After KTMA was forced to cancel MST3K due to financial difficulties, the show began its run on the cable channel Comedy Central. When Comedy Central dropped the show after a shorter-than-normal seventh season, MST3K's Internet fan-base staged a precedent-setting write-in campaign for the show -- hoping to keep the show alive. The show was picked up by the SciFi Channel, where it resumed with most of the original cast. Trace Beaulieu, who played Dr. Forrester and Crow, left. Mike and the 'bots were now menaced by Dr. Forrester's mother, Pearl, played by Mary Jo Pehl. Her sidekicks were the idiotic, Planet of the Apes-inspired Professor Bobo (Kevin Murphy) and the highly evolved, omniscient, yet equally idiotic Observer (The "Brain Guy"), played by writer Bill Corbett. Corbett also competently took over Crow's voice.

Due to contractual obligation, every episode on the Sci-Fi Channel had to be of a science-fiction movie (instead of the varied genres present in past shows), although by the final season this restriction seemed to be loosened. In any event, the network's vast library of science-fiction films meant there was no shortage of bad movies to spoof.

When Nelson took over from Hodgson, there was, not surprisingly, heated debate among fans as to who made the better host, and whether or not the show's overall quality was declining. But some of the series' fans rallied to its support when Comedy Central decided to drop it; when the show resumed on the Sci-Fi Channel, fans of the show, MSTies, were generally delighted.

A feature film, in which Mike and the 'bots worked over This Island Earth, was released in 1996 between the show's move from Comedy Central to Sci-Fi. About two dozen of the original Comedy Central episodes have been released on VHS and DVD.

The series finale premiered on August 8, 1999, although an epsiode produced earlier in the season was the last new episode of MST3K broadcast on September 12, 1999. MST3K continued on the Sci-Fi channel as reruns until January 31, 2004.

In the May 30th-June 5th, 2004 issue of TV Guide, Mystery Science Theater 3000 was listed in their 25 Top Cult Shows Ever! feature article. Here's what TV Guide said about the series.

" 11 - Mystery Science Theater 3000 (1989-1999)

A space traveler and his smart-ass robots watched and cracked wise about bombs like "The Brain That Wouldn't Die" and The Killer Shrews."

Cult-ability: Mike Nelson, writer and star (replacing creator Joel Hodgson), recently adressed 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." [said Nelson]." -- (Source: TV Guide May 30th-June 5th, 2004 issue. 25 Top Cult Shows Ever! feature artice. Page 32)

The cast

"The guys"

"The Mads"

Recurring guest characters

The episodes

Wikipedia list of Mystery Science Theater 3000 episodes

External links