Mystery Science Theater 3000 (or MST3K) is the television show for which this wiki is founded. Since the show's humble UHF beginnings in 1988, it has gained a dedicated fanbase that remains to this day.
At its core, the show is about a guy and his friends watching and making fun of bottom-of-the-barrel movies. In the case of MST3K, the concept has been further refined into a hapless guy in a blue-collar job who has been stranded aboard a satellite by mad scientists; these scientists force him to watch these horrible films so they can find one that will break the human spirit and allow them to rule the world. The trapped victim has his own weapons, however: a sense of humor and the company of several homemade robot companions who help him keep his sanity by assisting him in making fun of the movies, thus ruining the plans of the mad scientists.
Sounds weird, but it all actually makes sense. And it's pretty damn funny to boot.
For a complete list of main characters, see the Character List.
For a complete list of episodes, see the Episode List.
For a complete list of specials, see the Specials List.
Or maybe you just want to feel special. We can't help you there.
Ideas for the show came from the stand up comedy routine of Joel Hodgson. The routine was basically a prop comedy routine a la Carrot Top. He was doing the routine in the Twin Cities area when he and a friend discussed a possible TV show on the local UHF station KTMA.
After working through the ideas, Joel and producer Jim Mallon put together a pilot episode to show the execs at KTMA. This pilot showed Joel in space aboard the Satellite of Love watching movies alongside his robots Crow T. Robot (voiced by Trace Beaulieu), Beeper ("voiced" by Josh Weinstein) and Gypsy (also voice by Weinstein).
For more details on what influenced and inspired Joel when he was creating and refining the concept of the show, see the Inspirations & influences page.
The show was picked up and debuted in November 1988 with two episodes airing back-to-back. Joel served as host, now named "Joel Robinson". Trace returned as Crow and Josh returned as Gypsy (sometimes referred to as "Gypsum" at this time). Beeper was renamed "Servo" and then, eventually, "Tom Servo" and continued to be voiced by Josh. Joel's "bosses" (who shot him into space) first appeared during the title sequence of the first televised episode played by Trace and Josh. They would make their first full appearances in K07 - Gamera vs Zigra as Dr. Clayton Forrester and Dr. Laurence Erhardt, respectively.
Many elements of the show were developed and established during this time. These fixtures included, the bots, the theater doors, and the Invention Exchange.The success of the show can be attributed somewhat to the underground network of tape trading. However, still many local viewers watched. From time to time, the show would play telephone messages from fans, negative and positive.
Comedy Central Era
With the start of two new comedy channels on cable in 1989, there was a scramble for material. The Comedy Channel picked up MST3K as its flagship series. With this move, the series went from an improvised style to a rehearsed, scripted production. Other changes were a new set for the SOL and the Mads, with their new digs dubbed Deep 13. Also, the role of Gypsy was taken over by producer Jim Mallon.
Josh Weinstein left the show after the first season over creative differences (apparently exacerbated by the fact that he was only 19 years old and the rest of the cast was in their early 30s). The performance of Tom Servo was taken over by Kevin Murphy and Dr. Erhardt was replaced with a new character, TV's Frank, played by Frank Conniff. By the third season, the show had become a ratings success and a critical darling. Comedy Central had also begun the annual Turkey Day marathons.
In 1993 Joel Hodgson decided to move on to new projects. He quoted that he had to "hang up his red jumpsuit and move behind the camera". It was decided to continue the show with head writer Michael J. Nelson starring as Mike Nelson. The trade-off occurred during the middle of the fifth season, with Mike arriving and Joel leaving in episode 512 - Mitchell.
Frank Conniff decided to move on at the conclusion of Season 6 and was replaced for the truncated Season 7 by Dr. Forrester's mother, Pearl Forrester (Mary Jo Pehl), a character who had been introduced previously.
In 1996, Comedy Central decided to cancel MST3K, citing flagging ratings. Best Brains began shopping the show around to other networks that might be interested in picking it up.
In the summer of 1996, while MST3K was between networks, Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie was released.
Sci-Fi Channel Era
In 1997, MST3K began a three-year run on The Sci-Fi Channel. The show underwent several changes in the transition. Most significantly, Trace Beaulieu left the show, with Crow being given over to Bill Corbett and Jim Mallon handed Gypsy over to Patrick Brantseg mid-way through Season 8. The SOL set was updated once again and Deep 13 was no more. The movie selection was limited to science fiction, fantasy or horror movies (with a few notable exceptions during Season 10).
The Sci-Fi Channel had mandated that MST3K have an ongoing storyline, so throughout the first season, the location for the "Mads" base would change. At first, it was Deep Ape, where the experiments were sent by intelligent apes Professor Bobo (Kevin Murphy) and Dr. Peanut (Michael J. Nelson), under orders from the "Lawgiver", Pearl Forrester. The action next moved to the Observer homeworld planet, where we first see the Observer who came to be known as "Brain Guy".
Eventually, things settled down with the new trio of "Mads" (Pearl, Bobo and Brain Guy) operating out of Castle Forrester, a format that would carry the show until its end.
MST3K after the end
Despite being off the air, MST3K has not gone gently into that good night. It continued airing re-runs on The Sci-Fi Channel until 2004 and in 2014 began airing them on RetroTV.
Mike and the bots would pop up from time to time, including an appearance on Cheap Seats.
In 2007, Jim Mallon launched the official MST3K.com (which previously had either forwarded to the Sci-Fi Channel or the Satellite News web sites). There, he oversaw the production of the short-lived "The 'Bots Are Back" cartoon series. Mallon continues to run Best Brains, Inc., whose main concern is now running the web site.
In 2013, the Turkey Day marathons returned via DVD manufacturer Shout! Factory with Joel hosting (as himself) and Crow and Tom Servo making cameos. All three world return in full for the marathon in 2014, with the original voice actors returning for both Crow (Trace) and Tom (Josh). A third on-line marathon took place in 2015, during which Joel promoted his kickstarter campaign to revive the show (see below).
In an April 2014 WIRED magazine article, Joel is said to be "hoping to start a new online incarnation" of MST3K with a new host.
On November 10, 2015, Joel launched a Kickstarter campaign  to bring back MST3K and produce a new season of 3, 6, 9 or 12 episodes (depending on the amount of money raised). The campaign raised more than 1 million dollars in its first 24 hours and went on to finish with a total of $5,764,229. As a result, MST3K set a new world record for the highest earning Film or Television Kickstarter in history, beating the Veronica Mars Movie Project, the previous record holder, by $62,076. The amount raised funded the production of 14 new episodes, including a holiday-themed episode. The fourteenth episode was added when $600,000 was raised outside of the project.
The description of the project stated that it had two goals: raise money to make minimum of three episodes and to prove that "the world still wants more MST3K". The second was expanded on November 18 when Joel revealed that this project wasn't intended to just make a few episodes and then stop again, but to show network executives that the audience is still there for MST3K and "giving MST3K a few hundred new episodes and a new beginning."
Production on the new season began on January 4, 2016 with the selection of the movies to be riffed, finalizing administrative details and talking with potential staff and guest writers.
On March 14, 2017, it was announced that Netflix would also start streaming some classic episodes, with an initial 20 in anticipation of the April revival premiere. It was not specified if more would be made available at a future time.
On November 24, 2017, at the end of the annual Turkey Day marathon, hosts Joel Hodgson, Felicia Day and Jonah Ray announced that Netflix had renewed the show for a 12th season. They did not give any specific release day, but said that it would drop "in the not-too-distant future." Season 12, subtitled The Gauntlet, debuted on Netflix on Thanksgiving Day, November 22, 2018, with six episodes.
On November 26, 2019, Joel Hodgson confirmed that MST3K would not be renewed for a third season on Netflix. He stated that the production team was looking into a new home for the show, but nothing was yet in the works.
Other works by cast and crew
Following each departure from the show, cast and crew typically moved on to other creative works, with several "riffing" projects among them.
Josh, the first to leave, began working in Hollywood on a variety of project, including the influential TV series Freaks and Geeks (where he helped secure work for both Joel and Trace), eventually moving on to serve as a producer/writer on the series America's Funniest Home Videos, where he hired Trace as a writer.
Joel first put together a pilot for a new show, The TV Wheel, before moving on to more conventional work in television and film. In 2007, he launched a new riffing project, Cinematic Titanic, alongside Trace, Josh, Mary Jo and Frank. They produced seven studio episodes and five live DVDs before ending production. He currently tours with his one-man-show, "Riffing Myself".
Mike wrote a column and produced several books before returning to the work of riffing. It began in 2004, with Mike doing humorous commentaries on DVD releases from Legend Films. In 2006, he and Legend launched RiffTrax, which began as a series of audio downloads intended to be listened to while watching a movie. Also in 2005, Mike, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett joined forces in creating The Film Crew, an endeavor that produced four full episodes for DVD, as well as bonus material and introductions for Legend and the Starz channel. Due to concerns from Jim Mallon over a conflict of interest with original distributor (and then-MST3K distributor) Rhino Entertainment, the Film Crew project was shelved and Mike put all his efforts into RiffTrax. The Film Crew DVDs were eventually released by Shout! Factory (before they got the MST3K license).
Since the end of the Film Crew, both Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett have joined Mike at RiffTrax and their productions have become much more elaborate. Now, in addition to the audio-only downloads, RiffTrax produces fully synched videos of riffed films, live shows with guests, music and other extras, as well as more fully-fleshed video releases with "host segments". In 2012 Nelson, Murphy, Corbett, and RiffTrax CEO David G. Martin bought out Legend's interest in the company, making it completely independent.
Kevin Murphy wrote a book, A Year at the Movies, before joining Mike at RiffTrax.
Bill Corbett wrote several plays and eventually saw a screeplay, Starship Dave, produced under the title Meet Dave.
Mary Jo Pehl has written a couple of books and has riffed alongside Mike for the RiffTrax audio-only riff of Glitter.
Bridget Jones Nelson contributed to RiffTrax's blog and the occasional riff.
Beginning in 2015, Bridget and Mary Jo have teamed up for a regular series at RiffTrax.