What is Mystery Science Theater 3000?
A: It was a unique comedy television program.
Q: Was? Isn't
it still being shown on TV?
A: No. The only way you can enjoy the series now is on home
video and DVD.
What is its broadcast history?
A: It first aired as a local program on KTMA-TV, a local UHF station (not, as is sometimes reported, a cable-access channel)
in the Twin Cities (Minneapols-St. Paul, Minn.)
area from November, 1988 to May, 1989. From November, 1989, to December,
1996, it was shown in the United States
on the Comedy Central (hereafter abbreviated as CC)
cable TV network (and its forebearer, The Comedy
Channel). It then moved the Sci-Fi Channel
cable network, where new episodes began running in the U.S.
in February, 1997. Its series finale debuted on August 8, 1999. The
last first-run episode on the Sci-Fi Channel
ran September 12, 1999. Reruns of its final three seasons continued for
several years on the Sci-Fi Channel, but ceased at
the end of January, 2004.
I could swear I saw it on (fill in broadcast network name here) years
What was that?
A: You are probably remembering its brief
stint in syndication. From September, 1995, to September, 1996,
it was seen on lots of local over-the-air TV stations in the U.S. as
part of a syndication deal. See Syndication for additional information.
Was it only seen on televsion in the U.S.?
A: No. From January 1998 to September 2000,
some episodes from the show's eighth and ninth seasons ran in
England (and some sections of northern Europe and Southern Africa) on a
channel called Sci*fi.
Did it ever win any awards?
A: The series won the prestigious Peabody
Award in 1993; it was nominated for eight CableAce
over six years, and nominated twice for an Emmy. See
for more information.
What was it about?
A: Although the details of its premise changed
radically over its 11 seasons, Mystery Science Theater
3000 was really always about one thing: making fun of bad
Initially, the main character was Joel Robinson,
a janitor at a top-secret research facility, Gizmonic
Institute, who had been marooned on an orbiting space
ship called the Satellite of Love (hereafter
as SOL) by two evil scientists, Dr. Clayton Forrester
(hereafter called Dr. F.) and Dr. Laurence Erhardt.
At first operating from within Gizmonic Institute itself, and later
from a cave-like underground hideout called Deep 13,
Forrester and Erhardt had an evil plan: They would force Robinson to
watch one bad movie after
another, in order to study how he would cope with such torture. Joel's
only companions on the spaceship were four
robots (often referred to collectively as "the bots")
he'd built himself: Crow, Tom
Servo, Gypsy and a camera robot named Cambot,
through whose mechanical eye we see the proceedings.
While Gypsy attended to the details of running the SOL, Crow and Tom joined Joel in the ship's screening room, the Mystery
Science Theater, as he watched the movies.
Over time, as performers departed and others were brought in to replace them, there were changes in the
characters and the premise. In the CC-era episodes,
Dr. Erhardt went "missing" and Dr. F. hired goofy lab
assitant, TV's Frank. In the middle of the
fifth season on CC, Joel managed to escape the SOL and was replaced, as
Dr. F.'s guinea pig, by unsuspecting temp Mike
Nelson. In the final season on CC, Frank
was "assumed into second banana heaven" and Pearl
Dr. F.'s domineering
mother, moved into Deep 13. In the final episode of that season, all
the characters (except Pearl) were mystically transmuted (see the Comedy Central section for more details).
When the series debuted on The Sci-Fi Channel, Pearl
was in charge, continuing
to send Mike bad movies. Pearl
acquired two sidekicks: a refugee from The Planet of the Apes named Professor
Bobo and an omniscient superbeing (whose brain resides
outside his skull in a small dish) known
as Observer (but who was often called Brain
Guy). (By this time, the entire original cast had been replaced with new performers.)
During that season, the SOL left Earth orbit and Mike and the bots
visited a series of planets, with Pearl
and her crew in a small space ship chasing them through space--and,
later, time. For the final two seasons of the
series, Pearl and her crew made their way back to
present-day Earth, and settled at Pearl's ancestral home, Castle
Forrester, while Mike and the bots again orbited overhead.
But despite the many changes in the series, essentially the same thing
happened in each episode: After some brief
preliminaries, Dr. F./Pearl sent Joel/Mike
the movie and in response Joel/Mike and the bots
yelled "Movie Sign!" and then rushed to their places
in the theater as we, the viewers, saw Cambot's
path through several strange hatchways to his place in the back of the
theater. There, Cambot watched as Joel/Mike
and the bots took their seats and the movie began. We could
see their silhouettes, sitting in
theater seats at the bottom of our TV screens and, as they watched the
movie, the three offered riotously funny
commentary, satire and general heckling.
The comments from Joel/Mike and the bots, about 700
per episode, were the real heart and point of the show.
The comments varied a great deal, from scatological silliness and
sarcastic needling one moment, to complex wordplay
and obscure references the next.
The show ran two hours, enough time to show an entire horrible movie
and sometimes a terrible one-reeler, as well.
And three times (about once every half hour) during the movie, Joel/Mike
and the bots came out of the theater
to the SOL's bridge for short comedy bits known as host
segments -- tomfoolery which may or may not have
had some connection to the film they were watching.
Who was responsible for this show?
A: The series was produced by Best
Brains Inc. (hereafter abbreviated as BBI), a production
based in suburban Minneapolis.
What does "MST3K" mean?
A: That's what fans call the show for short: MST
stands for Mystery Science Theater, and 3K
is the abbreviation for 3000.
Who played what on the show?
A: In alphabetical order:
Beaulieu played Dr. Clayton Forrester and
provided the voice and
puppetry for Crow T. Robot from the earliest KTMA
days through the end of season seven.
Brantseg provided the voice and puppetry for Gypsy
815 through episode 1013.
Conniff played TV's Frank.
Corbett played Observer (aka Brain
Guy) and provided the voice
and puppetry for Crow T. Robot in seasons eight
Hodgson played Joel Robinson.
Mallon supplied the voice and puppetry for Gypsy
from episode 101
through episode 814.
Murphy played Professor Bobo and provided
the voice and puppetry
for Tom Servo in seasons two through ten.
J. Nelson played Mike Nelson.
- Mary Jo
Pehl played Mrs. Pearl Forrester.
Weinstein played Dr. Laurence Erhardt and
provided the voice and
puppetry for Tom Servo in the KTMA episodes and
during the first national season; he also supplied the voice
and puppetry for Gypsy during the KTMA episodes.
How many episodes were made?
A: It all depends on how you count them!
Here's a complete list:
"Zero" (only seen on Minneapolis UHF station KTMA): 21 episodes
(22, if you count the short pilot episode, which did not include a full
movie and was never shown on TV.)
One (The Comedy Channel): 13 episodes.
Two (The Comedy Channel/Comedy Central): 13 episodes.
(The Comedy Channel merged with its rival Ha! to become Comedy Central during
Three (Comedy Central): 24 episodes.
Four (Comedy Central): 24 episodes.
Five (Comedy Central): 24 episodes.
Six (Comedy Central): 24 episodes.
Seven (Comedy Central): 6 episodes (7, if you count the special Turkey
Day version of episode 701, which had the same movie theater sequences
but a different set of host segments).
Eight (The Sci-Fi Channel) 22 episodes.
- 1998--Season Nine
(The Sci-Fi Channel) 13 episodes.
- 1999--Season Ten
(The Sci-Fi Channel) 13 episodes.
Totals: 197 full,
televised episodes, including KTMA. 199 episodes, if you include the
unaired KTMA pilot, and the alternate version of episode 701). 176
nationally televised episodes (177 if you include
the alternate version of episode 701).
This total also does
not include the live riffing of "World Without End" presented
in Minneapolis in 1992, the live riffing of "This Island Earth"
presented three times in Minneapolis in 1994 or "Mystery
Science Theater 3000: The Movie."
Q: Are there episode guides?
A: A list of episode titles
is included with this FAQ. A more comprehensive episode guide is available.
Yes, there are other episode guides. Foremost among them is the Amazing
Colossal Episode Guide, written
by the cast. It was published by Bantam Books (see Other media). It covers all the national episodes
through season six and briefly previews season seven. For a complete
look at season seven, written by the cast, click here.
When the series moved to the Sci-Fi Channel in season eight, the cast
continued examining each episode in a similar way,
on the Sci-Fi Channel's Web site. The text of those episode guide pages are now housed on
Were there any efforts to help save the show when it was cancelled?
A: When the announcement came, in early 1999, that the Sci-Fi Channel was not going to
renew the series, fans organized
a campaign to get the channel to reconsider, but they were
unsuccessful. See the Cancellation section for more information on this.
Were fans able to suggest movies the series could feature?
A: BBI did not accept fan
suggestions for movie choices. Complicated legal issues surrounding the
rights to individual movies prevented this.
How come they never riffed on a recent, big-name theatrical bomb?
A: For financial reasons. MST3K
would have loved to do a big-budget movie, but gaining the rights
to such a movie would have been too expensive.
FAQ | THE
BASICS | LYRICS | COMEDY
CENTRAL | THE
CHANNEL | CANCELLATION | SYNDICATION | BEHIND THE SCENES | OTHER MEDIA | MST3K -
MOVIE | MSTIE
CONVENTIONS | MSTIES | JOEL VS. MIKE
| LEGALITIES | PARTS: THE BOT BUILDING HORROR
| SUBTLETIES | WHERE ARE THEY NOW? | AWARD
| BRIEF EPISODE
GUIDE | GUEST