‘Mystery Science Theater 3000’ creator Joel Hodgson talks new season, Kickstarter campaign, more
As the creator of “Mystery Science Theater 3000,” the cult TV show that first aired nearly 30 years ago, Joel Hodgson is a hero to lovers of “bad” movies — that is, soooo bad they’re good — everywhere. And now, thanks to a record-breaking Kickstarter campaign, Hodgson is back as writer, producer and director of a new season of “MST3K,” which arrives on Netflix April 14 .
The premise is essentially the same — a space pilot and three robot pals are held captive on a distant satellite by a mad scientists testing exactly how many bad B movies it takes to drive a man insane. (Sure, it could happen.) We watch along with our heroes, who can’t help making snarky (if affectionate) wisecracks about the films’ outrageous plots, acting and effects. The show ran on the Comedy Channel (which became Comedy Central) for seven seasons starting in 1989, then on Sci-Fi (now Syfy) for three more seasons, winning a Peabody Award and receiving two Emmy nominations. Hodgson, 57, hosted the show for the first 100 episodes, but this version features a new cast, including comedians Jonah Ray, Felicia Day and Patton Oswalt.
We don’t know each other, yet I feel like I know you. We’ve stayed up together on many a sleepless night watching bad old movies on TV. Or that’s how it felt watching “MST3K” — like you were right there in the room.
That was the original idea — you’re watching a movie with companions. So I’m happy when people feel that way.
Why did you decide to bring the show back?
I just felt unresolved about it. I wanted to get a chance to rejigger it a bit to move it into the future.
So you launched a Kickstarter campaign.
I partnered with Shout! Factory [a leading entertainment production and distribution group], and we agreed this would be a good way to do it. I felt obliged to go to the fans and invite them to be part of it if they wanted to be. If they didn’t, I understood, and we’d go the traditional route, trying to talk to networks, the way you usually make a TV show. But they responded really well. Our goal was to raise around $5 million to make 12 episodes.
And the final tally was . . .
Over $6 million, which became a new record — the highest-grossing Kickstarter campaign for a film or video in its history. We raised some additional money, which put us over the top, so we could do 14 episodes in all.
What do you make of that?
Well . . .
It’s decades since the show’s heyday, but fans were generous.
It’s a really humble show. Fans probably realized . . . well, they believed us when we said we needed the money to make the show, and that it means a lot to have autonomy. That was always important to me. When I was on the [original] show, I never had network notes. There was no network tampering.
Why did the series strike such a chord?
I don’t know. I’ve had time to think about it. I didn’t deliberately design this into it, but a rearview mirror reaction is — and this might be a little too “inside baseball” but — the show travels with its own context. The thing you’re doing satire on, this old movie, is right in front of you. It’s not like most shows acknowledging the bigger world we live in, and making remarks about that. I think that’s why it may have lasted so long.
What new elements can we expect?
We have an all-new cast, and a bunch of orphan movies that probably people have never heard of.
How do you pick the movies?
For me, it’s the quality of the film — good sound, good color, good print. You have to spend so much time with these movies, it’s hard if it’s an ugly movie, a bad print. It’s like working on a busy street.
Any favorite films from the upcoming season?
I do, but I don’t think I can talk about them.
Ohhh, c’mon . . .
I think it’s a secret. We’re like the opposite of Hollywood. We don’t billboard the movies. The coloring book version of what we do is that we point out the poor quality of these movies, but it’s really a springboard for us to do a variety show — write jokes, sing songs, do sketches. The show is what people come to see and the movies are part of the surprise. It’s like going into a rumored haunted house on the edge of town with your funniest friends. If you’ve been there before or seen it in the light of day, it’s not as good.