While in high school, Joel Hodgson bought Elton John's 1973 album "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road". The album had accompanying artwork for each song in the liner notes. The artwork for the song "I've Seen That Movie Too" showed a silhouetted couple watching a film in a dark theater. Hodgson thought a series about silhouetted people talking back to the film would make a great idea for a series.
The show gained popularity after fans taped episodes and gave them to their friends. In seasons 2-4, a line at the end of the end credits says "Keep circulating the tapes." That ended after Best Brain's lawyers questioned the show's support of piracy.
The Crow and Servo puppets used in the theater segments were spray-painted black, to ensure that they appeared completely black in silhouette, and to prevent the film from being projected through Servo's transparent head. The black Crow puppet was used in a host segment as Crow's alter ego, Timmy.
Kevin Murphy has said that for every film used, 10 to 20 were screened and rejected. For just over 200 episodes, the writing staff watched over 2,000 films.
Shortly before his death in 1993, Frank Zappa planned to make a film with this show's cast.
Creator Joel Hodgson revealed in an interview how the robots got their names. Crow got his name because Hodgson thought it would be cool if one of the robots had a Native American feel. Servo was named after a candy dispenser called Servotron. J. Elvis Weinstein, who played Servo for the first two seasons, gave him the first name Tom. Gypsy was named after a pet turtle Hodgson had as a child.
The original name suggested by Joel Hodgson was Mystery Science Theater 2000. It was changed to 3000 to sound more futuristic.
In its first year, as a local show on KTMA-TV, producers never got the rights to use the films shown. For that reason, many early episodes can't be rebroadcast or released on video.
Kevin Murphy was the longest-lasting crew member. He started as a writer during the KTMA days, and stayed until the final episode, Mystery Science Theater 3000: Diabolik (1999).
The Satellite of Love set was made entirely of toys that the show's creators bought at Goodwill. All of the robots were made from common household items. Items on the interior walls include: a toy Millennium Falcon from Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977), a Darth Vader action figure holder, a plastic reindeer cut in half and glued over the theater door, plastic toy trumpets, silverware trays, bundt cake pans, and extra bowling pins that would've served as Crow's beak.
In an interview, Joel Hodgson said he left the series due to creative differences with executive producer Jim Mallon over a proposed film version of the series. Mallon and Hodgson argued about who would direct it. Hodgson felt that by leaving, the series could continue.
On KTMA, Joel and the robots' riffs were completely improvised. After the move to Comedy Central, all of the riffs were scripted. The writers would watch the movie together twice to write jokes. In the scripts, each joked is timed to the second.
At ComicCon 2008, the cast and crew revealed that the only film they refused to satirize after viewing was Child Bride (1938).
Joel's sleepy-eyed appearance was a holdover from the pilot, which he recorded after not sleeping for four days.
According to Mike Nelson, many amateur filmmakers who were fans offered to make bad movies specifically for the show.
Writer/star Kevin Murphy said in an interview that creator Joel Hodgson seemed to have a number of different philosophies behind the show whenever he was questioned about it. Murphy said Hodgson often made them up on the spot during interviews.
When the show ended production after its 10th season, the set and props were auctioned on eBay.
Until his departure in Season 6, Frank Conniff was mostly responsible for choosing the movies to be watched. When he left, this duty was given to writers Paul Chaplin and Mary Jo Pehl.
Mike/Joel and the bots' spaceship is called the Satellite of Love, after the song by Lou Reed.
Joel Hodgson revealed in an interview that he considered pitching the series to Jerry Seinfeld for him to host. However, he was busy with his own series, Seinfeld (1989).
The show was conceived as a parody of Silent Running (1972). Joel was a captive on a satellite going nowhere, wearing a blue jumpsuit with patches all over it. The robots were companions to help him keep sane. The first episode was more of a direct parody.
In the first season, the Hexfield Viewscreen's iris mechanism ranged from nothing, to a window shade, to a slightly more advanced window shade. Shortly into production of season 2, Jim Mallon saw a magazine ad for a person who manufactures large irises. The builder was located near Best Brains' offices. He turned out to be a fan of the show, and built the Hexfield for the cost of materials.
When the Sci-Fi Channel picked up the show, network executives demanded a "story arc", so Mike and the Bots constantly travel to new planets during season 8. The executives lost interest in the idea by season 9, so the space and time traveling motif was dropped.
On December 11th, 2015, the "Bring Back MST3K" campaign became the biggest Film and Video Kickstarter ever, raising $5,764,229. The official goal was $2,000,000 for 3 episodes, but they hoped for $5,500,000 for 12 episodes.
Episodes frequently featured characters from the films parodied, such as Torgo from Manos: The Hands of Fate (1966).
Best Brains and Rhino Video considered continuing the show directly on video, but it was too expensive.
All of the original cast members from the first season were gone the by the final season. Kevin Murphy started playing Tom Servo in season two.
The lyrics to the opening theme were changed four times during the show's run, mostly to accommodate story changes required when key cast members left.
Joel Hodgson's original concept for the show was a post-apocalyptic series based on The Omega Man (1971). Entitled "You Are Here", Joel and a robot named Rex the Robot would watch movies together. Joel decided the concept was "too dark".
At Comedy Central, the cast and crew had the freedom to choose whatever film they wanted, and total creative control over scripts. At the Sci-Fi Channel, executives demanded only science fiction films, and every script had to go through the network's standards and practices department, which limited which words could be used.
Jim Mallon said one of his inspirations for the show was Fractured Flickers (1963), in which silent films from the 1920s were overdubbed with comic dialogue.
Joel and Dr. Forrester were originally employees of Gizmonic Institute. When Joel Hodgson left the show, he wanted to use "gizmonic," which he had trademarked, for his own projects, so it was never mentioned again. However, Gizmonic Institute was rarely mentioned before that. The first episode on Comedy Central began with the revelation that Forrester and Erhart were conducting the experiment without their employers' knowledge.
Charles Band was executive producer of Mystery Science Theater 3000: Robot Holocaust (1990) and Mystery Science Theater 3000: Laserblast (1996). Both movies used the same theme music, composed by Richard Band. Despite several jokes made during Mystery Science Theater 3000: Laserblast (1996) about the music's similarity to 1980s hard rock bands, the recycled theme music went unnoticed.
Pearl calls Crow "Art" because in an earlier season Joel introduced the bots the same way Jackie Gleason would introduce the cast of The Jackie Gleason Show (1966), with Art Crow instead of Art Carney. A fan then sent a picture calling Crow "Art".
A green screen was used behind the first door to the theater because the set for the long tunnel was a model about four feet tall. Nearly every member of the cast and crew operated a part of the model while the camera was pushed through with a two by four.
Nearly every minor character was played by either a central cast member in another role or various members of the production crew.
According to Barb Tebben, the second Info Club Poobah, the "classic" Satellite of Love set, used until the end of Season 7, was built for $200. Many of the same pieces were used when the set was remodeled for Season 8.
Trace Beaulieu based Dr. Forrester on some club owners he'd encountered on the stand up circuit.
Michael J. Nelson and the crew tried to secure the rights to Moment by Moment (1978), but the rights were revoked at the last minute.
Ranked #11 in TV Guide's list of the "25 Top Cult Shows Ever!" (30 May 2004 issue).
Trace Beaulieu wears the same oversized horned rim glasses as Gene Barry in The War of the Worlds (1953)
Whenever the characters see the "movie sign", a blue-screen sequence shows the camera moving toward the theater through a series of doors. When the characters exit the theater, the "doors" footage is played backward to show the camera moving away from the theater. The props in the hallway (such as flames) also move in reverse.
Over-sexed Rugsuckers from Mars (1989) was one of the films that was rejected by the writers.
After the end credits, a five-second clip from the movie is shown, highlighting a particularly stupid moment. The cast and crew called them "stingers." The first, aired with Mystery Science Theater 3000: Rocket Attack U.S.A. (1990), featured a blind man saying, "Help me." The stingers appeared until season 8. Three episodes replaced the stingers with a repeating clip of the Observers holding their brains up to the camera. Mystery Science Theater 3000: The She-Creature (1997) shows a clip of Professor Bobo lying on an asteroid in pain after falling out of Pearl Forrester's space-traveling van. The four "stingers" followed Sci-Fi's strict new story arc guidelines for the show.
Mary Jo Pehl revealed during a convention conference that the character Pearl Forrester was loosely based on her mother.
Many of the inventions in the Invention Exchanges were created by Joel Hodgson for his stand-up act years before.
The last episode produced was Mystery Science Theater 3000: Diabolik (1999), which aired on August 8, 1999. The last new episode to air was Mystery Science Theater 3000: Merlin's Shop of Mystical Wonders (1999). It was originally scheduled to run early in the 10th season, but was pulled from the schedule due to problems securing rights to the film. It aired on September 12, 1999, as a "lost episode". The Sci-Fi Channel did not renew the show's contract in January 2004, canceling it for good. The network aired Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Screaming Skull (1998) on January 31, 2004, as the last episode to air on TV.
The MST3K Crew was ranked #13 in TV Guide's list of the "25 Greatest Sci-Fi Legends" (1 August 2004 issue).
The invention exchange at the beginning of each episode ended shortly after Joel Hodgson left the show, since Joel always came up with the inventions. The tradition continued after Mike arrived, but only for a few episodes.
In a list appearing Spectrum issue #22, dated April 2000 of the best TV series of the 1990s, John Thorne ranked this show as #2.
The black synthesizer guitar Joel uses during the skit segments in several episodes is a Casio DG-1.
Fans usually list the first season of the show, which aired on KTMA in Minneapolis, as season "K". Joel Hodgson says that the KTMA season was a "workshop," and the show's official history starts with the Best Brains production years, when it aired on cable TV.
A continuation of the series was released on Netflix on April 14th, 2017, starring Jonah Ray, Felicia Day, Patton Oswalt, Baron Vaughn, and Hampton Yount.