Tonight is a very exciting night for fans of the beloved movie-riffing show, Mystery Science Theater 3000. Stars from the show’s past and present are gathering at the State Theatre in Minneapolis for RiffTrax Live 2016: MST3K Reunion. Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett of RiffTrax will be joined by MST3K creator Joel Hodgson, as well as Trace Beaulieu, Frank Conniff, Mary Jo Pehl, and Bridget Nelson from the show’s original run, plus Jonah Ray, who will be the host when the show begins anew in the not-too-distant future.
Over the years, I’ve gotten to speak with Hodgson a few times, once with Beaulieu at a presentation for M.I.T. in 2009 where they were interviewed by members of that vaunted institute’s comparative media department. And I spoke with Pehl for Kirkus Reviews. This minicast features a few bits from those interviews.
Unfortunately, the audio for the interview with Hodgson and Beaulieu is lost, but I do have a partial transcript. I waited for probably close to an hour after the lecture as a long line of fans got things signed, showed off their homemade bots, and shared their memories of the show. It was clear they were touched by their fans’ display.
“They’re loyal and dedicated,” said Beaulieu. “We wouldn’t be successful without the fans adopting the show. It wasn’t like a network show that got shoved down your throat. This was discovered and harvested by those guys.”
“There was one kid that came up,” said Hodgson, “and he said, yeah, somebody had the Comedy Channel and we didn’t, and so when they’d come at Christmas they’d bring a bunch of tapes. And they said after we’d open presents we’d sit and watch Mystery Science Theater. So you kind of go, oh, wow, that’s really amazing. It’s part of people’s lives.”
I also got to ask about the rumor that Joe Don Baker said threatened physical violence against the cast after the beating he took for Mitchell, Hodgson’s final episode before turning the jumpsuit over to Nelson. “It’s not true,” Hodgson said. “Not that I know of.
“I think that’s been largely inflated,” added Beaulieu. “It’s fun to think about.”
That story is no longer online, so here’s a little bit of it:
Joel’s original inspiration for the concept of a lone man out in space came from a Bruce Dern film, “Silent Running.” When Joel showed clips from the pilot (“The Green Slime,” if you’re wondering) and “Silent Running” back to back, it’s obvious what Joel took from it, from the geodesic construction of the Satellite of Love to Dern’s hairstyle. So obvious, that Trace laughed, calling it “A frightening copy, a rip-off.”
The pilot also wasn’t nearly as funny, but it was funnier than what Joel originally had in mind, concentrating on the lonely man in space concept that he ultimately decided was “too bleak.” He designed the robots – Crow and a Servo-like robot named “Beeper” with a candy tub for a head that housed what looked like a single eye – and ramped up the interstitial sketches. Joel was obviously a tad embarrassed by the pilot, stopping it after a few minutes and saying, “So it just goes on like that.”
Joel and Trace talked about the changes, especially to Beeper, who only communicated in weird blurting beeping sounds. “We could tell right off the bat that this robot was just awful,” said Trace. Beeper got a major redesign, closer to the wisecracking gumball machine fans came to love on the Comedy Central and Sci-Fi series. And the writing started to focus a bit more on the jokes, inching closer, said Joel, to the “600 jokes a show, which is what it became.”
Keep track of the new MST3K on the KickStarter Web site.