MST3K FAQ -- Just Where Did This Crazy Show Come From?


Q: What is the history of the show?
A: Joel Hodgson first pitched the idea of the show (over lunch at a Minneapolis-area deli) in the summer of 1988 to Jim Mallon, who was then working at a small independent UHF TV station in Minneapolis, KTMA-TV, channel 23 -- the last-rated station in the market. Joel made a demo tape of the concept with the help of struggling local actor and occasional stand-up comic Trace Beaulieu and high-schooler and budding comedian Josh Weinstein (who did the voice of Tom Servo and played Dr. Laurence Erhardt, a companion evil scientist to Dr. F.). Helping out was KTMA technical guy and writer Kevin Murphy, who assisted Mallon in producing, in addition to writing, lighting, camera work, providing the voice of Cambot(!) and whatever else was needed.
The series premiered on Thanksgiving Day, November 24, 1988, and was watched by only a few thousand people (only a few of whom "got" it.) For the record, the first show got a Nielsen rating of 0.8.
The station paid the group $200 to $250 per show. Joel & company did a total of 21 complete shows for KTMA, before, in 1989, selling the concept to the old Comedy Channel cable network. Mallon and Murphy quit their jobs at KTMA, and with Hodgson, Beaulieu and Weinstein founded BBI.
They did the first season, and, after a nervous period of waiting, were renewed for another season (BBI now says that one reason they were renewed was that Comedy Channel executives were impressed by a wave of enormously positive reviews and articles in the press -- articles that made Comedy Channel executives look very good for supporting the series). In the middle of the second season, the Comedy Channel and its rival, Ha!, merged to (eventually) become CC. The series ran on Comedy Central until December, 1996. It premiered on The Sci-Fi Channel in February of 1997 and continues to run there.

Q: How did the show come to be called Mystery Science Theater 3000?
A: In his stand-up comedy act, Joel had often referred to "gizmonics" and "the mystery science lab" as the place where his inventions were created, so the phraseology had been floating around in Joel's head for a while when (accordng to an interview many years ago) the TV show he'd invented was about to debut on KTMA. "We didn't have a title," Jim Mallon recalled, "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." The show does not take place in the year 3000, however.

Q: Do the original masters of the KTMA episodes still exist? Who has control of them?
A: They are safe and sound and in the hands of Jim Mallon.

Q: What were the episodes done for KTMA like?
A: They are barely recognizable as the forerunner of the current series. Little or no writing was done ahead of time, and most of the riffs in the theater were ad-libbed. This meant that sometimes they were brilliant, sometimes they were deadly stupid, sometimes they were pointless and many times there were LONG stretches of silence. Physically, the silhouettes of J&TB were much smaller in the theater, there were many more seats and they were stuck waaay over on the right hand side of the screen.
Crow was a bit more crudely made (and had bigger eyes), Servo was silver and Gypsy looked like she was made from an erector set. In the very first episode, Servo was called "Beeper" and looked a bit different. He also spoke in annoying beeps (hence the name) that only Crow could understand. However, Josh wanted to have a larger speaking role in the show, so Beeper gained a voice and was renamed "Servo" which later was expanded to "Tom Servo."
While the KTMA episodes are somewhat lacking as entertainment, many MSTies still find them of interest for their historical value.

Q: Why doesn't somebody put the KTMA episodes on TV?
A: The KTMA episodes cannot be shown on TV because KTMA never secured the proper rights for the movies that J&TB used.

Q: Do copies of the KTMA episodes circulate? Is there any way I can get copies of those early shows?
A: Reasonable dupes of KTMA episodes 4 through 21 are circulating. No fan copies of KTMA episodes 1-3 are known to exist. One way to find what you're looking for is to visit Old Timer Billy Slater's Tape Tradin' Post here on Satellite News.
Another way is to post a note on stating what you are looking for, and somebody is sure to get in touch with you.
However, be aware that in the closely-moderated MST3K message folders on AOL, postings about trading and duping episodes (a copyright violation) are being automatically removed.

Q: How did Mike get involved with the show?
A: Mike was working as a stand-up comic (and at a TGI Friday's) in the Minneapolis area when he was approached by Josh Weinstein at the beginning of season one about doing "some typing. That was how the job was described to me," Mike later recalled. His talents were very swiftly recognized by Joel and the rest of the team, however, and by the beginning of season two, Mike was the head of the writing staff.

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