This Thanksgiving, Joel Hodgson has plenty to be grateful for.
Eleven days ago, Kickstarter received a strange visit from “a guy named Joel” — accompanied by his two robot pals, Crow and Tom Servo. The creator of “Mystery Science Theatre 3000” asked fans to fund an online comeback, and within two days he’d raised over $1.5 million dollars. Within the next five days, he’d crossed the magic $2 million threshold, with over 20,000 of the show’s fondest fans fully funding the production of three brand new episodes.
“We’ve got movie sign!” Hodgson posted on Twitter, in a gracious thank-you. Fans of the series remember that beeping signal that always sent Joel and his robots scrambling back into their theater, where over 11 years they appeared as silhouettes to heckle 197 especially bad movies. Now with three weeks left in the new campaign, Hodgson hopes to fund even more shows — three more episodes for every additional $1.1 million raised. And his video hints that they’re also hoping to get picked up for an even longer run by another cable TV network — “or an online platform, so a whole new generation can find it. Like you did.”
He’ll be celebrating this Thanksgiving by hosting another online marathon of classic episodes, with new footage of Hodgson and also some new letters from fans. Last year, over 100,000 people tuned in, according to a Kickstarter update posted by Hodgson.
It’s a tradition that started 27 years ago, when the show first appeared on KTMA, a local TV station in Minneapolis, on Thanksgiving Day of 1988. Hodgson was just 28 years old, but he soon graduated to 30-hour Thanksgiving marathons when the show was picked up by the new Comedy Central network in 1991.
It was one of the network’s first shows, six years before they’d even aired the first episode of South Park, and a year before Jon Stewart launched his TV career as the co-host of “Short Attention Span Theater” in 1992. After “MST3K” was cancelled on Comedy Central in 1997, fans staged a write-in campaign which impressed the Sci-Fi channel enough to save the show, where it ran for another three seasons. It finally ended in 1999 — though reruns still continued until 2004. (At the time, fans had launched another attempt to save the show — even paying for an ad in “Variety” magazine — but it was unsuccessful.)
While the original actors have all been invited to make cameos in these brand new episodes, there’ll be new actors supplying the voices of the robots and another “host” for the show. That’s already been announced as Jonah Ray — one of three hosts from the Nerdist podcast (who has already been appearing in silhouette in the Kickstarter videos).
“For the good of the show, it’s time to freshen things up,” Hodgson explained in a Kickstarter update. Both Joel and his later replacement, Mike Nelson, each filmed more than 100 episodes, and “We need a new host for a new generation.”
Of course, some other entities are also benefiting from this campaign, too. Of the first $2 million, $160,000 goes to Kickstarter and a credit card processor, according to an update by Hodgson. That’s 8 percent, while another 27 percent is going just to fund and ship all the t-shirts and coffee mugs being given as Kickstarter “rewards” to people who contribute more than $25.
Crowdfunding has successfully revived other TV shows, including “Veronica Mars,” “Reading Rainbow,” and “Super Troopers,” and Joel makes his case in an online video, saying he’s spent the last five years working on reviving the show.
“Now it isn’t up to me or a conference table full of executives. It’s really up to you. Now the fans have the power!”
It’s a theme that dates back to the show’s origins in 1988. “Even while it was still on KTMA viewers … started taping it to show to their friends,” remembers the official MST3K Wiki. “This was a major impact on getting people to tune into its odd time spot. During the first few seasons of the Comedy Central years, a tribute was given to these early promoters with the credit reading ‘Keep Circulating the Tapes.'”
Now launched into a new world 27 years into the future, MST3K’s Kickstarter campaign has a new slogan: “Keep circulating the URL”
Images from MST3K.