Satellite News - The Almost But Not Quite Complete History of MST3K - Part 2


Back to opening screen

  MST3K-related articles

  Written by the MST3K cast!

  IRC transcripts

  Info on all MSTed movies!

  The Rhino DVD's

  List of all MST3K episodes


  Get MST3K news in e-mail!

  The historic printed issues

  Observer's Search Page

  Ten years of MST3K!

  Trade episodes here!

  Gone but not forgotten

  Visit other MST3K sites

  For obsessive fans only

  Keep in touch with us


Visit our archives of the MST3K pages previously hosted by the Sci-Fi Channel's SCIFI.COM.

Part 2: Genesis (1988)

Mallon was something of a wunderkind himself. He still holds the distinction, at his University of Wisconsin alma mater, of being the only person to be elected to the office of Student Body President two years running. He ran on a somewhat comedic platform, his "Pail & Shovel Party" handing out "tuition rebates"--pennies taped to pieces of cardboard. His fame grew after executing two elaborate pranks at the school. Making good on a campaign promise to "bring the Statue of Liberty" to the University, one morning students awoke to find what appeared to be a nearly life-size replica of the statue submerged up to its nose in a local frozen lake. (In reality, only the upper portion of the statue's head, as well as a portion of its upper arm and torch, were built. But sitting on top of the ice as it did made it appear that the entire statue had been built.) The next year, to celebrate his re-election as President, students awoke one morning to find hundreds of plastic lawn ornament-style pink flamingos on the school's common.

After college, Mallon worked at a number of jobs, and even got a chance to make a movie: He directed a low-budget "slasher" flick for Troma Studios. Called Blood Hook, it's a charming little tale of a small Wisconsin fishing village and the crazed murderer who is doing in the townsfolk, one-by-one, using a giant hook.

Mallon and Hodgson met, hit it off, and discussed the possibility of someday working together. About that time, Joel began attending an improvisation workshop, and there he met a struggling actor/stand-up comic named Trace Beaulieu. Beaulieu grew up in the Minneapolis suburbs, and after a short stint at the University of Minnesota, began a rather eclectic entertainment career: In addition to stand-up comedy, he worked as a performer at trade shows, and even spent some time in Europe touring with an ice show.

Roughly a year later, Mallon became the production manager for the independent Minneapolis UHF station KTMA-TV, channel 23 -- the last-rated station in the market. Also working at the station was a multi-talented jack-of-all-trades named Kevin Murphy. When their regular duties at the station (including presenting a pro wrestling show) were completed, Mallon and Murphy were permitted to use the station's equipment to produce home-grown comedy specials, which met with a modest amount of viewer success.

When, in the summer of 1988, Mallon's bosses asked him to find a way to fill a two-hour time slot on Sunday evenings, Mallon thought of Hodgson. He met with Joel over lunch at a Minneapolis-area deli to pick his brain for ideas. Two weeks later, Hodgson returned with a rough outline of a show which involved a human on an orbiting satellite watching bad movies with two robot companions...and the germ of the idea that was to become Mystery Science Theater 3000 was born.

Joel enlisted a wary but game Beaulieu and an enthusiastic Weinstein to help him make a demo tape of the concept; Mallon tapped Murphy for help. For Mallon, Murphy was a dependable known quantity. Like Mallon, the gregarious Illinois native was a married family man with roots in the Twin Cities area. He had assisted Mallon both at KTMA and when Mallon directed Blood Hook. As work began, Murphy ended up doing a little of everything, from writing to lighting, from camera work to providing the voice for the one and only time Cambot ever spoke.

The group filmed a very primitive "movie sign door sequence," a crude host segment -- in which Joel explains that he himself had built the Satellite of Love and voluntarily blasted it into space -- and a theater segment featuring about a half-hour of the 1969 movie The Green Slime. The supporting cast included a very rough version of Crow (whose name came from a friend of a childhood acquaintance of Joel's), an equally rough version of Gypsy (named in remembrance of a pet turtle), and a proto-Tom Servo character called Beeper, who spoke only in beeps (hence the name) -- which only Crow could understand.

Crow, Joel and Beeper

Despite the rough edges, Mallon was able to convince his extremely dubious bosses to let Hodgson give it a try.

Hodgson and crew immediately set about refining the product. The group threw together the sets, the first model of the Satellite of Love and, of course, the robots. First to be changed was Beeper, whom everybody agreed was a very unsatisfying character: Joel was unhappy with it and Josh wanted to have a larger speaking role in the show. By the first episode, Beeper gained a voice and was renamed Servo (after a vending machine they'd spotted in a mall named "Servotron"); which Weinstein later expanded to Tom Servo. Joel admits that the robots were completed during an all-nighter the day before the first episode was shot. In fact, Joel once noted that the "sleepiness" of his character grew out of the fact that he was indeed very sleepy when the first episode was shot and "it just stuck."

The premise was also re-thought for the first episode. In the new version, Joel's character, Joel Robinson, had been a janitor at Gizmonic Institute, a top secret scientific institute. As the opening theme song explained, Joel was apparently tricked in some way into getting on board just before Gizmonic launched a rocket ship into space. Now marooned in orbit, the Institute was forcing him to watch bad movies.

Only one detail remained: What to call the show? Jim Mallon described how it happened several years later:

When the show was to debut on KTMA, we didn't have a title. So I said to Joel "What do you think?" And without blinking he said "Mystery Science Theater 2000." But since we were so close to the year 2000 we decided to shift it up one thousand years.

But, years later, Hodgson explained that the number had nothing to do with a date. "I thought of it more as a series number, like the Hal 9000 computer or the Galaxy 500. I guess the difference is Arthur C. Clark and the Ford Motor Company had the vision to pick a number that couldn't be confused with a year," he explained.

| Welcome! | 1984-87 | 1988 | 1988-89 | 1989-90 | 1990-91 |
1991-92 | 1992-93 | 1993, part 1 | 1993, part 2 | 1994, part 1 |
1994, part 2 | 1995, part 1 | 1995, part 2 | 1996, part 1 |
1996, part 2 | 1996-97 | 1997 | 1997-98 | 1999 | 2000 | Epilogue |