On Saturday November 16, at Noon, the Museum of Broadcast Communications marked the 25th anniversary of Mystery Science Theater 3000 with a cast reunion and live program celebrating all things MST3K. (Ticket information here.)
The shorthand “MST3K” either brings an instant smile of recognition, or a genuinely puzzled look. For those in the latter group, here’s a quick primer on a 1980s television series that became a true pop culture classic.
Mystery Science Theater 3000 (MST3K) offered an irresistible hook: talking back to the screen.
Long before social media gave home audiences forums to vent, the trio of Joel Robinson and his robot buddies Crow T. Robot and Tom Servo sat in for viewers and mercilessly skewered the truly awful movies they played on the show. While the films ran, their character silhouettes were shown seated in the “screening room,” riffing on the movies, or whatever else struck them.
This subversive mocking of a long-time television staple (any old film as filler) had previously been embraced by such performers as Ernie Kovacs in his classic comedy specials and Jerry G. Bishop and Rich Koz when playing horror show host Svengoolie. Mystery Science Theater 3000 took the hook to another dimension, the world of cheesy science fiction.
The premise was any television fan’s deepest nightmare: being forced to watch bad movies. Marooned in outer space on the “Satellite of Love,” Joel and his companions were part of a mad experiment by an evil scientist (of course!), Dr. Clayton Forrester, along with henchmen Dr. Laurence Erhardt and TV’s Frank.
Multiple times each day the imprisoned trio had to march off to the screening room for another dose of bad cinema, with only their collective wits keeping them sane.
Rounding out each episode of MST3K, Joel and the robots also engaged in banter and skits outside the theatre in their own quarters. The result was a savvy mix of genre mockery and fan appreciation that connected with anyone familiar with spending far too much time immersed in far too much media.
Mystery Science Theater 3000 originated on KTMA in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 1988 and reached a national audience successively on the Comedy Channel, Comedy Central, and the Sci-Fi Channel, through 1999. The program received a Peabody Award in 1993, a pair of Emmy Award nominations, and was listed in 2007 as one of Time magazine’s “100 Best TV Shows of All Time.”
Affection for MST3K endures, further boosted by video repackaging and online streaming. In 2013, there was a knowing reference to the program slipped in with the Google Chromecast video streaming device. Along with the Chromecast’s model number of H2G2-42 (a reference to the series The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) the bundled power adapter was identified by the number MST3K-US, the Mystery Science Theater 3000 shorthand.
Fans attending the November 16 MBC reunion will had the chance share such appreciation in person. And, as space allowed, enthusiastic companion robots as well.
Text © 2013 by Walter J. Podrazik