Satellite News - The "Lost" Kevin Murphy Interview


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Issue #21 of Too Much Coffee Man magazine features a four-page interview with Kevin Murphy. But there's more to the interview than what appears in print, and we've got it. Satellite News proudly presents:

Patrick Keller, Too Much Coffee Man magazine: I wanted to ask a little bit about the show. It's been a while since it's been over. I know you must be asked a lot which is your favorite show, but I'm curious as to whether you have a favorite season.

Kevin Murphy: There are a couple of different times… the third season, or maybe it was the fourth, when we finally got a contract. It was a contract for three seasons. We finally had a bit of security. We had started getting nominated for these awards and they started flying us out to these programming events. Up fronts, they call them. They put you up at a really nice hotel and stuff you like a hog, and you just have to talk to members of the press. We were always such a freak show, we only had to talk to three or four people, and everybody else would ignore us. That was wonderful. We would stay at a Ritz-Carlton and we'd smoke cigars, and they would just keep the whiskey or champagne pouring. And you get a free breakfast and people would drive you around in limousines. There's something fun about that. It's like pretending you are a movie star for a while.

Also, it was about that time that the network started to leave us alone, and that was fantastic. We were in Minneapolis and we'd only get visited occasionally by network presidents. The fellow at the time's name was John Newton, a wonderful man. He was 100% behind our show and he left us alone. He said the best thing I can do is not tell you guys how to make your show. That was fantastic. Creatively, that was a wonderful time when we were just left to our own devices.

"They would lie to us. We caught this one woman in a lie, and she was telling us how to make our film. We got so much of that."
The only thing we would get were comments on standards and practices. I would love to do a collection of those. The things that were in our scripts that they told us we couldn't say. It's very odd but in the time Mystery Science has been off now, since 99 when we stopped making new shows, standards and practices has changed so much. They are starting to come back now and networks are getting paranoid, but you consider what South Park did to change that. It's pretty remarkable how it's changed. Not that we ever would have become a filthy show. One of our standards was that those of us with kids wouldn't be ashamed to show it to them. So we never go that off-kilter. So that time was really wonderful because we were left alone to do the kind show that we wanted to do.

When we moved to the
Sci-Fi Channel we had a couple of great seasons there, too. Again, flying us out to Hollywood, taking us on the up-fronts, and we'd get a little bit of that star treatment every now and again. They didn't leave us alone nearly as much. I think the quality of the writing that we did at that time was really good, though. We had a great, very tight group of writers and performers. It was the people who decided to stay with the show. Trace, Frank, and Joel had gone to Los Angeles. We were the ones who really said, "We really like the show and we think there's more life to it." We had probably the tightest group of writers at that time, and we just had a ball making the show.

The business that surrounds making a TV show for me is always the most unpleasant part. I was involved in the business since pretty close to the beginning and I would really rather have a root canal. It's always miserable. You're dealing with bland, humorless people whose jobs have to do with spreadsheets and bottom lines, and production executives who are the most horrid people on the face of the planet.

TMCM: I have to say that, for me, my favorite season is the seventh, maybe because it's so abbreviated. Every single one hits it out of the park. Maybe part of that is that you were practiced and knew what you were doing, but there was also a certain amount of turmoil at the time, right? Do you think that people who are almost a big on edge that way can produce better work?

Murphy: Well a lot of people would say that anxiety makes for better humor. Part of it was, we got a six show order so we knew this was it, we were going to get nothing else out of
Comedy Central. So we really didn't give a damn. I think that was helpful. We knew it was coming to an end, so we fired all of our guns and had as much fun as we could as this thing was coming to an end. I think there's some truth to that. I'm trying to remember what the hell shows we did. I'll have to reach up to my bookshelf and pull out my Amazing Colossal Episode Guide.

TMCM: The ones that pop to mind are The Incredible Melting Man, Blood Beast and The Brute Man. The Melting Man just kills me every time. Isn't that the one where you guys were doing the focus group for "Earth vs. Soup?"

Murphy: That was really delightful because it was our chance to vent our spleens over the experience of making a motion picture with Universal. I'm not ashamed of what we put out, but I know we could have done so much better of a film if they hadn't fucked with us so much. We were assigned two production executives, and they were both horrid, horrid, hateful, awful people with not a creative bone between them. And they were telling us how to make our film!

They would lie to us. We caught this one woman in a lie, and she was telling us how to make our film. We got so much of that. I think the riffs in the movie, This Island Earth, are pretty damn funny. But the frustration around how we wanted to frame the host segments in the film and how we ended up having to frame them were entirely two different things. The first thing we pitched to Universal was a musical: all-singing all-dancing Mystery Science Theater. At that time James L. Brooks had just made
I'll Do Anything as a musical, and it previewed so badly that they pulled all the music out of it. So the word around Hollywood at that time was, "Musicals don't work, don't do that." We had some great songs lined up. Mike had penned some amazing things, but they wouldn't let us make the film that we wanted to make. We were sort of stuck because we knew that were coming to an end on the TV series and we thought this is our one and only chance to make a movie. The lesson for me was don't make a movie just because you can, because there are too many people who want to piss in all of your little corners and tell you how to make it.

"I love Rhino. They do a fantastic job of packaging products and I think they've done a really nice job with Mystery Science Theater."
That's the long way around back to that particular show, Melting Man. It was so much fun to just vent our spleen. You find ways to vent your hatred while you're working with the people so that it can be more fun. So, for instance, we'd start having awful names for these people. And you will notice in that show that Forrester and his mom, they are those production executives. Trace does such a wonderful job of impersonating the guy who was in charge of the focus group. There is very little that is not true in what he did there. That was exactly how the fellow was. One fellow would always bring in a two-liter bottle of water; he always had it no matter where he went. You'll notice that in the evolution of that one show, Trace starts out with a tiny bottle of water, and by the end he has the water cooler jug that he's drinking out of. They just keep getting bigger and bigger as the thing goes along. They always had a bottle of water with them because this was Los Angeles, and Los Angeles is full of awful, horrid people.

TMCM: The movie is out of print now. Is there any chance that that's going to come out and maybe you could get some bonus features on there that talk about the ordeal?

Murphy: I don't think so, unless
Rhino wanted to do something like that. Rhino's been very successful at marketing the show on DVD. I believe I heard they are even going to discontinue the VHS and concentrate more on doing these DVD things over at Rhino. I love Rhino. They do a fantastic job of packaging products and I think they've done a really nice job with Mystery Science Theater. It would be kind of odd to put a commentary track on Mystery Science Theater, though. It really doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

TMCM: I know there were deleted scenes from the movie. There's all sorts of stuff out there that could probably go on there. And there's a lot of demand for it. I mean, I've got a copy of the DVD, but I know that there are people out there who are just dying for their own copy but can't find it.

Murphy: It's freaky. It's worth a fortune now. I was thinking I should sell my copy on eBay. But then I wouldn't have one.

TMCM: It was a $10 DVD at one point.

Murphy: It was a cheapo knock-off. It's a pretty good transfer, though not great. The sound is pretty darn good on it. Honestly, though, I still don't think that the movie is our best work. Not by far. I'm happy to see that the TV series continues to get picked up and licensed for DVD. I'm really glad to see that Rhino is continuing to do that.

TMCM: So, we can expect more sets from them?

Murphy: I think so. It sort of trickles in because what they've done so far, I think, is to get all of the films that are either public domain or otherwise are very easy to acquire, and that's why it seems sort of erratic. But it's been successful for them. It's great to see… it's one of those things that gives me a kick in the ass every time I go into a video store and there it is in the rack. I'm in the rack! Sure, I'm in the rack with a lot of shitty films, but I'm also in the rack with a lot of good films.

TMCM: Mostly shitty TV these days.

Murphy: It's true.

TMCM: Is there a certain kind of humor that came from one writer than another? Or did it sort of mold together when you were all in the writer's room?

Wait! There's more!

We have even MORE of the "lost" Kevin Murphy interview with Too Much Coffee Man magazine! Read Kevin's thoughts on going to the movies, DVD commentary tracks, and why home theaters will never totally replace cinemas. Click HERE and find out which DVD has a soundtrack so loud it scares his dog Humphrey out of the room!

Murphy: Everybody would bring their own perspective to it. Frank was always great with the showbiz jokes, the arcane showbiz jokes. And as an example of the kind of humor Mike brought, he used to do an impression of Robert Frost in his stand-up act. That's about as obscure as you can get for a stand up act. Not a lot of people at the Beef and Barrel in Minnesota are going to get an impression of Robert Frost, so he was pretty damn daring to do that. Bridget Jones would almost invariably point out something with the face, or the hair or the clothes. She would give fashion advice. But it really would all meld together, and I think we would be inspired by each other's tangents and try to explore that area a little bit with our own jokes. So in the best of our scripts, I think it would be difficult for us to identify who came up with what joke. It really became a synergy.

TMCM: It has to be tremendously gratifying, I'm sure, to know that there are people worldwide who still continue to love your work. I got my nephew to watch it when we were younger and now it's a little shared experience for my family.

Murphy: The show started in '89 and now there are kids when the show started who are seeing it because their parents turned them onto it, kids who are in college now who were just little kids at the time. I'm amazed at it whenever I've had the opportunity to talk at a college campus. I was in
San Francisco last year at this time, and I was amazed at how many of the youngsters were out there and that's great. That's great. That means that there's still some life in it for people who have never seen it before, suddenly they've become fans. Even though the show's not on the air there's still a growing fan base out there.

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MSTies, we have a special offer, just for readers of this site! The latest issue of Too Much Coffee Man magazine features an exclusive, four-page interview with Kevin Murphy, where he talks about the show, his future plans with Mike Nelson and Bill Corbett, and previously unpublished stories about the making of his book, A Year at the Movies.

But that's not all... This issue, the "best of TMCM" also features cartoons from creators like Keith "K Chronicles" Knight and Tom "This Modern World" Tomorrow, as well as Too Much Coffee Man creator Shannon Wheeler, and humorous stories about bizarre crime, oddball Passion of the Christ marketing, and the pitfalls of being Superman!

We're offering the magazine at 20% off, delivered. You can order just issue 21 for $4, or subscribe for a year for $20! Nowhere else have we offered these prices. All you have to do is drop an e-mail to or visit our store at and mention Satellite News and we'll take care of the rest!