Cult-beloved cult-movie series Mystery Science Theater 3000 has big plans for its crowdfunded 14th season, with a 48-hour version of its traditional Thanksgiving marathon styled as a telethon to help it reach its goal. Ahead of next week’s “Mega Turkey Day Marathon Telethon,” io9 got a chance to talk to MST3K creator Joel Hodgson to learn more.
Cheryl Eddy, io9: When Mystery Science Theater 3000 started in the late ‘80s, it singled out weird movies that were otherwise not on the radar of most fans. These days, it’s much easier to get your hands on obscure titles. Has that changed your approach to Mystery Science Theater at all?
Joel Hodgson: The origin story of Mystery Science Theater goes back to this thing I read in college, which was [1980 book The Golden Turkey Awards], written by [film critic Michael Medved and his brother Harry], and it was kind of the first time I ever saw something formally describe, like, an ironic viewing—something so bad it’s good. It listed Plan Nine From Outer Space, supposedly the worst movie ever made. I remember looking at it and saying, “Why isn’t anybody doing a show with these?” These movies are adorable. There’s something about them. They have charm. It felt like a different form of entertainment to me. That really was the catalyst for it. When we look for movies now, it’s still there—it’s really funny: even though the coloring book version of Mystery Science Theater is that these are bad movies or trash cinema, all the movies we use have to have a kind of structural integrity for them to work. So I think when we’re looking for movies now or we’re looking for movies 35 years ago, it’s the same thing.
io9: Do you think the show’s approach to humor has changed over the years?
Hodgson: For sure. I’m 63 years old; when I started Mystery Science Theater, I think I was about 28 years old. I think it’s best when it’s written by people that are mostly in their 20s and 30s. We have people of all ages that work on it—I get to work on it, but I don’t have to do all the heavy lifting as far as topical cultural references and mores that are a big part of the riffing and the talking that happens in Mystery Science Theater. I don’t feel like the way I use the media is the same as the majority of the audience right now, so I tend to shy away from that stuff and not try to be an authority on what’s happening now.
io9: The show came of age alongside the internet. What role do you think that played in the show’s lasting popularity, and in growing its fan base?
Hodgson: I think in a weird way, Mystery Science Theater happened mostly because of cable. Cable kind of represented then what became of the internet, where it just got more and more separated and stylized and specialized. Mystery Science Theater was a very boutique show for its time. But it also had a very broad audience for a show that was residing on cable. So that’s kind of my thought about it. What I think of with the internet and cable is that what started out as very broad TV shows became more and more boutique-y to the point where, now, I was just watching a video about a guy whose sole job is to make science fiction props. That would have been an absurd idea 35 years ago. But now he seems to be sustaining himself, making videos about props. People would call it segmenting or fragmenting—but in some ways, if it services a big enough fanbase, those people can have a job. I think maybe we anticipated the boutique-y-ness of the internet that was to come.
io9: Have you ever encountered cult movie fans who don’t like the idea of “making fun” of these sorts of movies?
Hodgson: Every now and then it happens, and I can completely respect that. I can completely respect when people go, “Uh, wait a minute, I don’t know if I want you to do this.” But surprisingly, I would say there’s only been two people in over 200 episodes that have deliberately complained. I’ve heard stories about producers who complain—but then they ultimately will make a deal to license the films, and so they’ll make money on it, and ultimately they decide it’s OK to do.
io9: Mystery Science Theater has found great success with crowdfunding. The season 13 drive in 2021 was such a huge success. What was your response to that as it was happening?
Hodgson: I’m always just super grateful. Getting to do the one prior to that, season 11, which then spawned season 12, both on Netflix—then to do 13 on our own platform, the Gizmoplex, was extraordinarily cool. It just shows the world we’re in where you can actually use the technology to have your own platform if you want to. Getting to do that was amazing, and I think it’s just indicative of how other properties and other brands will work. Even if they’re independent, they can kind of create their own streaming service if they wish.
io9: The “Mega Turkey Day Marathon Telethon” represents the final stretch of the crowdfunding campaign for season 14. We know there are going to be “24 classic episodes,” but what else can you tease for us about the special?
Joel Hodgson: The big thing we’re doing is, in the Gizmoplex we started a program we called “Surgically Enhanced,” which takes the 480p originals and revs them up to 1080p—so they’re much more fun to look at, and it’s really an amazing process. So we’re showcasing some of those that we’ve up-rezed. We’re also showing four episodes from the Gizmoplex from last season so people can see the new material. And then among that is the usual Mystery Science Theater served up hot on Turkey Day, which is what people are familiar with—it’s just much bigger because we thought the fundraiser would need to extend through Thanksgiving and into Black Friday. So we just decided to make it twice as long.
io9: What can you reveal about season 14?
Hodgson: We’ve been announcing the movies we’ve cleared. We actually had to clear all the movies for this season [to determine the budget]—that’s how we got to the [crowdfunding] number we needed to reach. We’ve announced some of the titles. The first one we announced was Battle Beyond the Stars, which is a kind of very dreamlike, Star Wars rip off movie. It’s super cool. And then the next one we announced was David Carradine in Deathsport, which is not to be confused with Death Race 2000, which he also starred in. [Note: you can keep an eye on the crowdfunding page, where more season 14 titles will be added as Hodgson announces them.]
io9: The special will be streaming on Shout! TV, the MST3K Channel, and the Gizmoplex—is there a preferred place to watch it?
Hodgson: You know how it is: everybody has their favorite channels and favorite ways of watching. We recommend for people to go to MST3K.com to look at the things that they’re familiar with, hopefully. But there’s lots and lots of ways to watch it.
io9: Thanksgiving is a traditional day for people to gather and now we have multiple generations of people who’ve grown up with Mystery Science Theater showing it to their kids. When you started the show in the 1980s did you ever think it would stick around this long?
Hodgson: No, I didn’t! And it’s gotten to the point where it’s clearly ridiculous this is still going. I’m still really thrilled to get to keep working on it. It was especially exciting to bring the brand back and be “Fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes, and to be one of the top comedies on Netflix was really amazing. It was a really cool experience for us to get to come back to it and know that people still cared about us. So I’m thrilled and creatively sated, finally.
The Mystery Science Theater 3000 season 14 crowdfunding page is here. The MST3K “Mega Turkey Day Marathon Telethon” kicks off at 9 a.m. ET on November 23, and ends November 25 at 9 a.m. ET. Stream the special on Shout TV, the MST3K Channel, and MST3K’s Gizmoplex.
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