Next year, TV viewers will be able to relive all manner of classic ’90s shows, with new episodes of The X-Files, Twin Peaks, Gilmore Girls, and Full House on the horizon. Add one more returning series to that list, as Joel Hodgson is announcing Tuesday that his beloved cult creation Mystery Science Theater 3000 is coming back after 15 years of dormancy.
For those unaware, the premise of Mystery Science Theater 3000 is brilliantly simple: A mad scientist has launched a man into space, and he torments said subject with psychological experiments that involve him watching some of the worst movies ever made. In order to keep it together, the poor marooned host talks back at the screen, aided by a pair of pop culture-obsessed robots. The MST3K crew may not have invented talking back to the screen, but they certainly brought it to the masses.
“We’ve been talking about doing this for five years now, so it’s taken a long long time to get it to happen,” Hodgson told EW last week via phone. His first order of business is to launch a crowdfunding campaign at Bring Back MST3K, a project he hopes will have a multi-pronged effect: Not only will he raise some funds to produce new episodes of the show, but he also hopes it will act as both a promotional tool and as a way to gather together everybody who contributed to the show in the past. “The crowdfunding is kind of this big gathering, and not only is it gathering the audience but it’s also gathering together the people who want to get involved,” says Hodgson.
Those who he hopes to get involved include past cast members and writers, as well as a brand new cast that includes a fresh host as well as a new mad scientist and new voices for famous wise-cracking robots Tom Servo and Crow. “Basically, I’m trying to blend the old with the new,” says Hodgson. “Mystery Science Theater has already refreshed itself once with a completely new cast, so I think it deserves to do that again. The original cast is going to be invited back to write, produce, and do cameos as their mad science characters, and then there’s a new cast with new talent.”
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Mystery Science Theater 3000 has proven to be a durable survivor. Originally launched as a public access show, it was picked up by the Comedy Channel (which soon morphed into Comedy Central), only to be canceled after seven seasons. A letter-writing campaign saved it from oblivion, and it spent three more seasons on Syfy (then called the Sci-Fi Channel) before shuffling off the TV schedule. Along the way, the show tucked and rolled through a bunch of staff turnover, most notably when Hodgson himself left the show in the middle of its fifth season, only to be ably replaced by longtime MST3K writer Michael J. Nelson. Both Crow and Tom Servo have had two masters (Trace Beaulieu and Bill Corbett for the former, Josh Weinstein and Kevin Murphy for the latter), and the villainous mad scientists also saw some turnover. But its legacy has continued on: Sales of MST3K DVDs have always been steady, and the online revival of Turkey Day (the Thanksgiving MST3K binge-watching tradition) has drawn huge streaming audiences.
Since the end of MST3K on television, many of the cast members have kept busy with offshoot ventures: Nelson, Corbett, and Murphy produce Rifftrax, wherein they provide hilarious commentary tracks for blockbusters (their takedown of the Twilight franchise is particularly excellent), while Hodgson toured with a handful of MST3K vets as Cinematic Titanic, a live movie-mocking show. With the show that launched a million riffs returning, Hodgson says he’s in for the long haul: The first goal is to make three episodes, then hopefully get enough support for a full 12 episode season. No word yet on what movies will be targeted (Hodgson is keeping that a secret) or how distribution will be handled (though Hodgson promises both digital and DVD releases of shows), but Hodgson is in it for the long haul. “We want to make a show that is sustainable so we can do another 100 episodes,” says Hodgson. “We don’t just want to take a shot at doing six.”
For more details, an introductory video, and to contribute to the Mystery Science Theater 3000 crowdfunding campaign, go to Bring Back MST3K. And keep circulating the tapes!