15 Trivia Tidbits About ‘Mystery Science Theater 3000’

15 Trivia Tidbits About ‘Mystery Science Theater 3000’

Since first airing on Minneapolis’ KTMA-TV on November 24, 1988, Mystery Science Theater 3000 (or, as “MSTies” call it, MST3K) has been canceled a whopping four times. And yet, the show about a space guy and his robots making jokes about bad movies keeps enduring. Regarded by many as one of comedy’s deepest goldmines, there’s no doubt that MST3K has had a massive influence on pop culture — from shining a spotlight on low-budget movies to being responsible for every second movie vlogger riffing on a film while live-streaming it. 

Here are some trivia riff bits about the show that, fairly recently, produced the best promotional intro Stranger Things has ever seen...

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The Film That Got Its Big Premiere on the Show

1957’s The Dead Talk Back was shelved by its studio for reasons unknown (i.e., they probably thought it was crap). It took 36 years before the movie was finally released on home video, which is where the MST3K gang found it and gave the crime film where a man uses a machine to talk to dead people its cable premiere in 1994.

The Reason Behind the ‘3000’ in the Title

“The 3000 was a joke on all the people that were attaching the year 2000 to various programs,” creator Joel Hodgson explained. “In the late 1980s, it was everywhere: ‘America 2000’ was something that George Bush Sr. was talking about a lot, so I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if I name it 3000 just to confound people?’ But there was a lot of confusion about it. I never meant for the show to take place in the year 3000. That simply makes no sense! If it is the year 3000, then why are all the films and the references about the end of the 20th century?”

The Zoom Sequence Through the Door and Its Actual Homage

Many folks apparently thought the zooming through the movie door sequence in MST3K was an homage to the multiple doors seen in the 1960s TV show, Get Smart.

Hodgson, however, has debunked that theory, saying that the real inspiration came from The Mickey Mouse Club. “I realize that it does look like the doorway sequence from Get Smart,” he admitted, “but that was not what I based it on. I based it on the cartoon safe from the original mid-1960s version of The Mickey Mouse Club. It was the place where cartoons resided, and they had to open the safe to get to the cartoon — brilliant! So I just wanted the movie to take place somewhere other than the sort of place you would normally get. I was trying to make a visually interesting journey to the theater with a wide variety of doors and airlocks. It may be based on sequences I’d seen in old movies where there would be many curtains opening up to reveal the act that would be on stage — it could be Busby Berkeley, but I’m not sure.”

The Music Featured in the Show Was Inspired by The Muppets

When asked by The Village Voice why he decided to use a lot of music bits in the show, Hodgson attributed it to Jim Henson’s variety-sketch puppet show. “A lot of that came from The Muppets,” he explained. “When you watch The Muppets, they have a ton of music, and some of that goes with puppets, but that’s the environment we all came from. All of us were audiophiles who were interested in music. When I was in high school, the only reason I went to the library was to read Rolling Stone magazine. We all brought stuff to the table about music we liked and different skills. Also, we found ourselves singing along to the movies like He Tried to Kill Me with a Forklift. It’s such a natural thing to, instead of riffing, to sing along with the soundtrack of the movie and insert jokes there, and that lends itself to doing more in the host segment.”

The Show Was Inspired By an Elton John Album

Hodgson said that he got the idea from Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road album — specifically the song “I’ve Seen That Movie Too,” which features the silhouetted cinema effect.

Tom Servo Is in a Famous ’Star Wars’ Spoof

Troops, the hilarious Cops-style Star Wars spoof, features a cameo of the MST3K robot Servo as an Imperial droid in the hands of a Jawa.

The One ‘MST3K’ Film That Felicia Day Struggled With

After successfully raising funds through Kickstarter to revive MST3K in the 2010s, a new cast was assembled, with both Felicia Day and Patton Oswalt taking over the roles of “the Mads.” Day, who also wrote for the newly rebooted show, said that the episode in Season 13 where they feature the film Munchie “is probably one of the worst things I’ve ever had to work on. It actually hurt my soul a little bit.” 

However, she did also say that “there’s nothing better than the MST3K writers’ room because all of us are miserable watching this awfulness, and we’re brought together by that.”

Joel Hodgson Started Out as a Stand-Up Magician

Obsessed with tricks and magic since he was a kid and putting a spin on your average stand-up routine, Hodgson made his first television appearances on shows like Late Night with David Letterman and SNL, where he performed his unique sets using prop comedy and faux magic tricks. “My parents were really big do-it-yourselfers,” Hodgson once told Wired. “I started learning to build my own stuff, like magic tables and tricks. Through high school, I figured I’d be a comic magician. I thought I’d work on a cruise ship.”

The Team Was Picky in Choosing Which Movies to Feature

Art Bell, who was the executive at Comedy Central from 1989 to 1996, said that the production team of MST3K would pick only one in 10 movies the network sent over: “It seemed like we’d find the perfect movie for them, and they’d say, ‘No, that doesn’t work.’ But the fact that they were so picky helped make the show as good as it was. They honed bad-movie selection into a fine art.”

The team had a set of standards they adhered to when making their B- to Z-movie selections. “It couldn’t be godawful in terms of sound and picture,” writer (and later the voice of Crow T. Robot) Bill Corbett explained. “We also tended to stay away from super violent or NC-17 stuff.” Mike Nelson, who’d later replace Hodgson as the host, added, “You’d get, like, a box of gory Italian horror movies where there were nuns eating each other. And we’d just go, ‘We can pretty much disqualify that.’”

The ‘Futurama’ Cameo

The Futurama episode “Raging Bender” features Fry, Leela and Bender going to the movies, only to be shushed by a Crow-like robot and a Servo cameo as they sit in silhouette watching the screen.

On Robot Renaming

With the new reboot seasons, the purple robot Gypsy (named after a pet turtle Hodgson’s brother once had) had her name changed to GPC to be more culturally sensitive, as the original name is widely regarded as an ethnic slur against Romani and other nomadic people.

Felicia Day Got the Role of Kinga Forrester by Being Evil to Her Brother

The Buffy and Supernatural actor, who has always been a big fan of the show, revealed that she got the part because she was out to make her brother jealous: “I actually got the job because I went up to Joel at a convention to take a selfie with him just to rub it in my brother’s face, and then we got to talking, and he got to know my work, and that’s when he emailed me. So I have my brother to thank because I just wanted to rub his face in the fact that I met Joel, and he didn’t. My brother got me the job.”

The Show Won a Peabody Award

The coveted media award that aims to honor “the most powerful, enlightening and invigorating stories in television, radio and online media” was bestowed onto MST3K in 1993. It was the show’s first — and only — big award.

’Mystery Science Theater 3000’ Was Responsible for Making Movie Riffing Mainstream

As The Hollywood Reporter once pointed out, today’s Twitter trend of live-tweeting while watching a movie or TV show comes from “robots shouting at bad movies.” Hodgson told the media outlet that he first heard the term “riffing” refer to jazz improv and credited the comedy use of the term to Simpsons writer Dana Gould. “I liked it right away and started using it to describe the jokes we were doing on MST3K,” he explained. “It made sense because we were reacting to something, ‘riffing’ on the movie, and not exactly making jokes out of whole cloth like other shows.”

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