MST3K FAQ -- What is this MST3K thing, anyway?


Q: What is Mystery Science Theater 3000?
A: It was a unique comedy television program.

Q: Was? Isn't it still being shown on TV?
No. The only way you can enjoy the series now is on home video and DVD.

Q: 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.

Q: I could swear I saw it on (fill in broadcast network name here) years ago. 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.

Q: 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.

Q: Did it ever win any awards?
A: The series won the prestigious Peabody Award in 1993; it was nominated for eight CableAce awards over six years, and nominated twice for an Emmy. See
Award Nominations for more information.

Q: 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 movies.
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 abbreviated 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 Forrester, 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 ChannelPearl 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.

Q: Who was responsible for this show?
A: The series was produced by Best Brains Inc. (hereafter abbreviated as BBI), a production company based in suburban Minneapolis.

Q: 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.

Q: Who played what on the show?
A: In alphabetical order:

  • Trace 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.
  • Patrick Brantseg provided the voice and puppetry for Gypsy from episode 815 through episode 1013.
  • Frank Conniff played TV's Frank.
  • Bill Corbett played Observer (aka Brain Guy) and provided the voice and puppetry for Crow T. Robot in seasons eight through ten.
  • Joel Hodgson played Joel Robinson.
  • Jim Mallon supplied the voice and puppetry for Gypsy from episode 101 through episode 814.
  • Kevin Murphy played Professor Bobo and provided the voice and puppetry for Tom Servo in seasons two through ten.
  • Michael J. Nelson played Mike Nelson.
  • Mary Jo Pehl played Mrs. Pearl Forrester.
  • Josh 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.

Q: How many episodes were made?
A: It all depends on how you count them! Here's a complete list:

  • 1988-89--Season "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.)
  • 1989-90--Season One (The Comedy Channel): 13 episodes.
  • 1990-91--Season Two (The Comedy Channel/Comedy Central): 13 episodes.
    (The Comedy Channel merged with its rival Ha! to become Comedy Central during this season).
  • 1991-92--Season Three (Comedy Central): 24 episodes.
  • 1992-93--Season Four (Comedy Central): 24 episodes.
  • 1993-94--Season Five (Comedy Central): 24 episodes.
  • 1994-95--Season Six (Comedy Central): 24 episodes.
  • 1995-96--Season 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).
  • 1997--Season 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?
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 Satellite News.

Q: 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.

Q: 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.

Q: 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.