Joel Hodgson On Why ‘Mystery Science Theater 3000’ Had To Start Over In Order To Come Back

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As you may be aware by now, last week, Mystery Science Theater 3000 creator Joel Hodgson announced a Kickstarter to revive his cult series, after finally acquiring rights to the series with the help of Shout! Factory. And on Monday night, after less than a week following its launch, the campaign met its initial goal of $2 million for two episodes shortly after this interview (although it still has a ways to go before reaching its $5.5 million goal to bring back a whole new season).

Recently, Hodgson chatted with us and answered some questions about his goal of bringing back MST3K.

Congratulations, the Kickstarter is doing amazing. As I’m sure you’re already aware, it’s already raised over $1.6 million. How do you feel about that?

Well, it’s amazing. It’s great, and we’re trying hard not to get complacent yet because we really need to keep going. So, I don’t want to sound like we’re done at all. It’s a long way off getting to our goal.

I feel like you guys are going to do it, though. Is this in line with what you were expecting?

Yeah, yeah, it’s hard to know, but we’re super happy with the way people responded. We hoped it would be this good.

It’s funny, I was writing up the news the other day, and as I was trying to get the article out, it seemed like it just kept jumping like five grand every few seconds or so.

I know, I think we’ll hit $2 million soon, but it’s gonna be much harder to keep everybody excited all the way up to $5.5 million. We have really a lot of stuff planned. There’s going to be a lot of really fun announcements and stuff. We’ve got more videos coming, and all that.

Have you had any experience using Kickstarter in the past? Or is this your first time?

No, this is my first time! I watched in and I’ve supported other people, but never running one before.

So, if the ultimate goal for this is to get picked up by a network or a streaming platform, what would be your ideal home for MST3K?

Oh, you know, it’s really about whoever sees it the way we see it and wants to proceed the way we do. It’s just kind of like that whole thing, the deal-making process, but it’s just finding somebody who loves it, and wants to kind of keep it intact. The idea is to just partner with someone that really wants to promote it and get it in front of more people. The big thing about Mystery Science Theater and why it kinda worked is because people were able to find it.

I’m kind of surprised Netflix hasn’t jumped on it since you guys have been looking for a home, and since they have a reputation for being great about letting artists pursue their visions without interfering too much.

Yeah, well, they’re really doing an amazing job right now, and people talk about them a lot. So, we’ll definitely be talking to them. But again, I gotta tell you, we’ll choose the path of least resistance, so I don’t know who’s going to offer that.

I saw in your Reddit AMA that you’ve already got a good idea of who’s going to be playing the new host and the new characters and voice. Are they going to be familiar faces, or did you guys go an unknown route?

Oh, well, we’re actually going to introduce some of them next week, but I don’t want to ruin the surprise. [Update: Hodgson announced yesterday that the new host is Jonah Ray.]

If you look at their outlines. It’s on the top of the Kickstarter page, there’s an outline that says “next host” and “next mad?” If you look at the outline of the Mad, you can start to figure out who it is. But you can actually hear the new host’s voice in the video.

Were you anticipating or bracing yourself for the mixed reaction to the news that there would be an all-new cast?

Not really. I wanna really listen to people, but at the same time, I feel really strongly that we gotta kind of reinvigorate the brand and reinvigorate the show and, for me, the most direct way to do that is new people. And so, it’s kind of like we’ve already had two casts on the show already. There’s been a complete cast turnover twice, so it’s already happened, the show’s already taken through that, you know? My goal is for this next show and next cast to do 100 episodes, just like I did, just like Mike did. You know, it’s kind of like Doctor Who or SNL, I just wanna refill it with new people and new writers.

Did you have a plan for a third host before the original series got canceled?

Well, I just assumed that would happen, but it got canceled. I just assumed there would be a third host, but it didn’t get that far.

Any hints as to what kinds of films we can be expecting in the new series?

I tend not to tell — if you remember with the original series, we never billboarded what the movies were — and I think that’s really important in the context of the show because, to me, Mystery Science Theater needs to be like going into a haunted house on the edge of town with some funny friends. It’s like a much better experience if you don’t know what’s in there. And that kind of goes against the culture of the world that we live in, that people don’t go to a movie now unless you know what it is.

It’s different that way, and I think it works best that way. So, I’m not planning on telling people what the movies are, even the day before the show comes out. It’s going to be a surprise… A horrible surprise.

So, are you planning to space the episodes out, like, week to week? I assume you’re not going to be just dropping them all like Netflix.

I really don’t know. That’s a great question! I guess it depends on where we end up? So, I don’t have too strong of an opinion about it. I think it’s so different now, because people do like to binge-watch stuff. You know, there’s almost 200 Mystery Science Theater episodes as there are, and so if people like to binge-watch, there’s really a lot of it.

I mean, they’re so re-watchable, you can just go back and watch the old episodes.

Yeah, I don’t want to make the backers wait too long to see it, though. You know, they’re really involved. We’re just going to start to show them some of the development in the weeks ahead, some of the things that we’re thinking about, it’s just going to be really cool that they’re going to know a lot of things coming along. So, I don’t want to make them wait too long before we show them.

That makes sense. Have you reached out to any of the studios or filmmakers yet of the films you plan to feature? And do you think people will be honored to have you riffing on their work?

That’s actually interesting, I’ve talked to a few distributors that we’re licensing movies from, and then they go back and talk to the people who own them, so I don’t have direct contact with those people. But I don’t really know how they feel about it! Sometimes you hear stuff, but I think they see it as a great way to make money. It’s another place where their movies can live and be seen. It’s like a new revenue stream, I think. We don’t inhibit their right to show the movie as is. They can still do that.

You’ve been doing a lot of Q&A in the past few days. Is there anything that nobody’s asked you that you’d like to talk about?

Oh man, I don’t know if I have anything. It’s like it’s so much of just trying to listen to people and answer their questions. I’ve been doing it, like, really a lot, more than I’m used to doing. So, it’s been pretty interesting, but yeah. You know, if anybody has any more, they can come to the Kickstarter page. I’m trying to answer backer questions, like, every day.

You can contribute to the Kickstarter to Bring Back Mystery Science Theater 3000 here.

For anyone in the area, Joel Hodgson will be appearing at Philadelphia’s historic Physick House following a December 19 performance of Hedda Gabler for a discussion about “what makes a movie bad?” You can purchase tickets here.

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