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Satellite of Love News 25

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Satellite of Love News
 · 22 Aug 2019


From Mon Jul 13 15:50:11 1992
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Date: Mon, 13 Jul 92 15:49:44 EDT
From: (Richard Kulawiec)
Posted-Date: Mon, 13 Jul 92 15:49:44 EDT
Message-Id: <>
Subject: Satellite of Love News #25
Status: OR

A note from your editor:

Please remember to include "MST3K" or "SOLN" or "Satellite of Love"
in the "Subject" lines of your letters. I tend to get quite a bit
of mail, and incoming items that aren't appropriately marked tend
to get lost in the shuffle. Please don't include a large "signature",
because I'll wind up shredding it anyway.


From: patrickd@WPI.EDU
Date: Sat, 13 Jun 92 13:03:05 EST
Subject: JOEL ALERT!

I think that we MiSTies should start "Joel Alert".
A rapid alert system through which we can alert one another that Joel will
be on television (other than the obvious MST3K).

Here's how it works...
John sees a commercial for A&E's Night at the Improv. Joel is one of the
comedians that night. John sends a message to the "Joel Alert" command center
and then that same message is sent out to all the other "Joel Alert" subscribers

Any appearance of Joel (other than MST3K) could constitute an alert...
...repeat of him on Saturday Night Live...
...him on a talk show...
...him on a comedy show...

Whadda ya think sirs?

-Patrick (The MST Sounds Man)

[ Personally, I'll pass, but perhaps some of the more obsessive fans
will be interested. ---Rsk ]


From: (Larry Hastings)
Date: Fri, 3 Jul 92 03:43:38 -0700
Subject: The "Louis Nye" guy from Catalina Caper

Remember the "Louis Nye" guy from "Catalina Caper"? ("Oh, that's my waaatch.
It does that every half hooooour.") This guy is apparently a "working actor"
who did every two-bit role that came along. I saw him on "Dragnet (In Color)"
as a lunatic who they hauled off, and tonight he's on "Get Smart" (both of
these on "Nick At Night") as Agent 38.

Just keeping you informed... reporting from the "Second-Rate Actor Newsdesk",
I'm Larry Hastings. Good night.

larry hastings, the galactic funkster,,


From: Mark Holtz <mholtz@sactoh0.SAC.CA.US>
Date: Sat, 4 Jul 92 12:38:04 PDT
Subject: Slate from "Being from Another Planet"

Well, on the 4th of July, I was at home (for once), and manually started my
VCR right at the end of Short Attention Span Theater. Lo and behold, instead
of the Comedy Central logo, on the West Coast feed, we see the following

+------------------------+ Mystery Science
| (Still store shot | Theater 3000
| from the movie) |
| | SHOW
+------------------------+ #405

reel #1, D-2 broadcast master, mixed audio both
channels, logitudinal time code-29.97D1
4/07/92 NSTC, Dolby-C NR

While this slate is on the screen, we hear Joel saying "*SNIFF* Mystery
Science Theater Three Thousand Show Four Oh Five Reel One"

Apparently, MST3K is on two 1" reels of tape, and was shot at the beginning
of April. And, guess what...we viewers never see this's for
on-air operators and other production personnel eyes only.

Either that, or CAMBOT (pan left) has a lot more programming than meets the

Mark Arthur Holtz
UUCP: PacBell.COM! -> mholtz!sactoh0


From: Mark Holtz <mholtz@sactoh0.SAC.CA.US>
Date: Mon, 6 Jul 92 13:26:44 PDT
Subject: July MOVIE SIGN!!!! Includes July 19th airing

Direct, off the phone from Comedy Central....

"Experiemnts on Joel and the Bots in JULY!"

[EDITOR: If this was printed already, say Gypsey ate it!]

Fridays (act. Saturdays) @ 12:30a: Saturdays @ 10a and 7p:
3 - Teenage Caveman 4 - Being From Another Planet [NEW!]
10 - Gamera vs. Zigra 11 - Space Travelers
17 - Viking Women and the Sea Serpent 18 - Attack of the Giant Leechs [NEW!]
24 - Star Force 25 - The Killer Screws [NEW!]

Comedy Central's Christmas in July Marathon:
19@7p - Santa Claus Conquers The Martians

Also: July 19th - Joel appears on a old SNL.

Mark Arthur Holtz
UUCP: PacBell.COM! -> mholtz!sactoh0


From: ( Robert DeMillo )
Date: Mon, 13 Jul 92 09:21:49 EDT
Subject: Re: Satellite of Love News #24

Defending myself:

> > The sequence of travelling down the long corridor with all of the
> > doors to the "movie theater" was actually ripped off from a
> > sci-fi spoof film called "Dark Star."
> I'm afraid that this isn't correct at ALL. No such sequence happens
> in "Dark Star"-- it sticks to a good sense of realism, and the dungeon-like
> sequence from MST just wouldn't have fit anyway. Wherever the sequence came
> from, it wasn't from "Dark Star."

Beg to differ...but I have seen "Dark Star" during my college
days more times then I care to count. Check out the movie
and look for it...its near a sequence when they are
talking to the the bomb for the first time...

- Rob DeMillo

"Operation Goofy now in effect!"
--- Tom Servo, "Gamera vs. Gaos," Mystery Science Theater 3000

[ I think this discussion has now officially hit the "it is/it isn't"
point, so I urge the participants to take it elsewhere. ---Rsk ]


Date: Mon, 13 Jul 92 00:21:03 EDT
Subject: NPR interview transcript


Joel Hodgson and Mike Nelson
by Lee Anne Hansen

Broadcast on the Sunday Weekend Edition radio show on National Public
Radio, on July 12, 1992. NOTE: All errors of spelling, punctuation,
and fact are intentional. -SPM.

(MUSIC: MST3K Love Theme.)

LEE ANNE HANSEN: In 1988, TV viewers in Minneapolis who were not in
the mood for 60 Minutes on Sunday night could tune their sets to KTMA,
a small UHF station, and watch a low-budget science fiction comedy
show, called "Mystery Science Theater 3000." Today, MST3K is a
Saturday night hit on cable's Comedy Central.

Here's the premise. Joel is a lab technician. He works for a mad
scientist, who has sent him and his robot pals into outer space as
part of an insidious experiment.

(MUSIC: MST3K Love Theme, foreground.)

We'll send him cheesey movies,
The worst we can find.
He'll have to sit and watch them all
Then we'll monitor his mind.
Now keep in mind Joel can't control
Where the movies begin or end,
Because he used those special parts
To make his robot friends.
Robot roll call...

LH: During the film, Joel and his robot friends - Tom Servo, who looks
like a gumball machine welded to the top of a fire hydrant, and Crow,
a kind of Erector-set dinosaur - sit in silhouette on the lower
right-hand corner of the screen. Joel is comic Joel Hodgson, who
created the show. Headwriter Mike Nelson says both of them have had a
soft spot for cheap movie monsters since childhood.

MIKE NELSON: We used to, I lived in, I grew up near Chicago, and there
was Creature Features. I saw a lot of them. I used to get up at 10:30
at night and I would watch those.

JOEL HODGSON: I grew up in Green Bay, Wisconsin. They had a show
called "Eerie Street," which was the same kind of a show with a host

MN: That's a great name, "Eerie Street."

JH: Yeah. "Eerie Street."

LH: E-e-r-i-e?

JH: Yeah. I actually met the guy who hosted it at a picnic once. His
name was Alexander.

LH: Did you tell him what a great fan you were?

JH: Well, I didn't really know how to talk to monster people back
then. I was really kind of wigged out to meet him.

MN: Now Joel does better with monster people.

JH: Yes. I move freely among all types of monster people.

LH: The monsters in this Saturday's feature show are leeches from the
1950s film, "Attack of the Giant Leeches," which actually look more
like big squid.

(CUT TO: Attack of the Giant Leeches.)

JH: Looks like the cave of Dr. Calimari.

LH: Joel, Crow, and Servo keep their sanity during their torturous
movie sessions in space by making sarcastic remarks which sound
spontaneous, but are carefully scripted.

AOTGL: (Unintelligable voice, sounds like talking underwater.)

JH: (sounds like talking underwater) Do you ever feel like you're in a
Gary Larson cartoon?

SERVO: Leeches are just guys in fancy ponchos.

CROW: They're not leeches, they're Scientologists.

JH: They're Sears ponchos.

(CUT TO: Interview.)

LH: Now you all have to see a film, what, eight times, before the
dialogue is actually set?

MN: Yeah there are actually probably about eight times by the time
it's ready to air, because we watch it again after the dialogue is
originally laid down on tape, and then we can go back and tweak it a
little bit.

JH: We start writing on our very first viewing of the thing. Actually
that's a really good time to start writing it, because you've got your
immediate impulse, which is usually your strongest, of what these
characters are, what they're really saying, and what they mean in
today's context. So we start writing immediately.

(CUT TO: Writing session.)

MALE VOICE: So he's the killer.

FEMALE VOICE: No, that's letch.

MV: Letch. The killer letch.

FV: Attack of the Killer Letch.

SECOND FEMALE VOICE: Yes, divorced 45-year-old men have infiltrated
this bayou. They need to eat...

MV: Yes, Attack of the Killer Letch. (All crack up.)

(CUT TO: Voiceover.)

LH: In their offices at Eden Prairie, just outside Minneapolis, MST3K
writers Trace Beaulieu, a puppeteer who plays the part of Crow, and
Kevin Murphy, a puppeteer who plays Tom Servo, Mary Jo Piel and
Bridget Jones watch "Leeches" for the first time. Heide LeClere
transcribes the comments on her word processor. This is the first
stage of a process that takes eight days.

(CUT TO: Writing session.)

MV: Lulu could pop up behind some corn. Grandpa Jones says to me the
other day, he says...

FV: This is the Hee Haw writing show.

MV: Ha, ha, ha, that's great. A story session for Hee Haw.

FV: He could pop up behind some corn...

(CUT TO: Interview.)

LH: Headwriter Mike Nelson.

MN: The comments, a lot of them come from the characters of the
writers, and then are tailored to fit the characters in the show.

JH: This is after we have written the lines, though. Then we'll go and
assign who says them. As unromantic as that sounds, we have 700
remarks per film. So that means that there can be an immense traffic
jam of lines if we don't delegate who says what. So it's kind of an
amalgam of assigning a line to a character that would say that. I
think it's mostly just also the way people read them. You know, Kevin
Murphy, who does Tom Servo, and Trace Beaulieu, who does Crow, are
really good at what they do. They can take a line and make it really
sound like those characters.

(CUT TO: Attack of the Giant Leeches.)

SERVO: Wait a minute, wait a minute. Sounds like a Hee Haw writing

CROW: I was thinking that Lulu could pop up behind some corn.

AOTGL: Now that's funny.


AOTGL: Les...

JH: Is more.

AOTGL: Did you hear me tell?

(SFX: Honky-tonk piano from AOTGL.)

JH: Tell little Jerry Lee to hold it down in there.

(CUT TO: Interview.)

LH: Joel, you basically created these characters, did you not, of
Servo and Crow?

JH: Well, that's kind of complicated. I would say that I created the
concept for the show, and I maybe built the first puppets and stuff
like that. But really, we've done so many shows that it's so mixed up
that it's really everybody. I came up with the idea of a guy in space
with robots, and I, you know, figured out the names for everything,
and, you know, those type of things. But it's ta... TV is such a big
job, you know. There's a lot of people involved, so it's really Best
Brains, kind of.

LH: Best Brains is the name of your company.

JH: Yeah.

LH: I noticed that Servo and Crow did change physically, from the old
days at KTMA.

JH: Yeah, they changed, you know. We went in and fixed them up for,
you know, we upgraded them so they looked a little crisper.

MN: Chopped them and channeled them and added Thrush pipes and...

JH: Yeah. Trace maintains and adds animations to Crow and takes care
of Tom Servo. But I really don't have much to do with them anymore.
Each guy has his own little bench and they suit them up before the

LH: Ah.

MN: And it's really beautiful to see a man working on his puppet, if
you haven't seen that.

LH: I bet.

JH: It's folksy. It's kind of like whittling.

LH: Whittling?

MN: Like people in Foxfire books.

JH: People sitting around working on their puppet makes you feel good

LH: Especially when the puppet is kind of candy apple red, with a
fetching black and white ice skating skirt, you know...

JH: That's his hoverskirt.

LH: A hoverskirt. I love it. I love it.

JH: He's bowlegged. That's why he has a hoverskirt.

LH: Now I wondered about that.


I know we talked about the feature film, but often because the feature
films aren't long enough for the program, you will put in these little
shorts. Given that the premise of this is that Joel and Servo and Crow
are forced to watch something absolutely awful on the screen, I must
bring up a short that was used, I think it was before the movie,
"Attack of the Colossal Beast." This is a little short called, "Mr. B

MN: I knew you were going to bring that up.

(CUT TO: Mr. B Natural)

BOY: Mr. B what?

MR. B NATURAL: Natural. Shouldn't be surprised, boy. Whether you know
it or not, you sent for me. When you reach for that music over there
to make you feel better, I got your message. You awakened the spirit
of music inside you. That's me.

SERVO: He played the Devil's tritone.

MBN: That's my name, boy. Mr. B Natural.

(CUT TO: Interview)

JH: A lot of our shorts come from a man named Rick Fralinger, who had
the foresight to go in and buy a lot of these things when nobody was
thinking about it. So he's got a huge library of all these educational
shorts and training films and stuff.

MN: They're from all different sources, and that's bizarre, you know.
That's an advertisement for Kahn Instruments. I mean it's weird to see

(CUT TO: Mr. B Natural)

MBN: B Natural. Talk out what you feel with music. Look here. Do you
think this is just a trumpet? No!

JH: It's a bong!

MBN: The feelings you want to feel. The things you want to say to the
world. Put a trumpet to your lips and it becomes pride! Confidence!
The mood of a happy king!

(MBN: Trumpet fanfare.)

CROW: Oh, my God. Say this isn't happening.

(CUT TO: Interview.)

MN: There are some of these films that you wonder where they came
from. You know, you see the credits and everything, but the whole
overall tone makes you feel like it came from space, or like you're a
little kid and you're in somebody's weird house and you feel bad.
That's what some of these films are like.

JH: Just as an example, just to see Mr. B Natural explain to the
little 12 or 13 year old boy that playing a trombone makes you feel
like a happy king. You just want to lash out, because no thirteen year
old wants to feel like a happy king. He wants to feel like he's some
kind of bad scout, hanging out.

MN: If you're thirteen and you want to feel like a happy king, you
know, it's time to get therapy.

LH: Especially if Mr. B Natural is showing up in your bedroom.

JH: Yeah, that's a bad sign.

LH: Do you think success is going to spoil MST3K?

JH: Definitely.

MN: Let's hope so.

LH: In what way?

MN: I think we need some success before we can worry about that.

JH: You know, there's a lot of people who don't see our show. A very
big number of people. We were up for an ACE award this year. And in
LA. And at the big party afterwards, nobody knew who we were in the
least. Everybody's crowding around Richard Lewis, and we just were
kind of looking at him, going, they just don't know. So we feel like
it's really unknown. And the nice thing about the show is that people
discover it on their own. That's why we have such interested fans is
because they discover it at their own pace. There's not a lot of
promotion. We're really happy with where it's at, and the people we
like think we're cool, and that's good. And if it gets bigger, we'll
have to handle that when it comes.

LH: Mystery Science Theater's creator and star, Joel Hodgson, and head
writer, Mike Nelson. Episode 406, "Attack of the Giant Leeches", can
be seen this Saturday, on the cable channel, Comedy Central.

(MUSIC: MST3K closing theme.)


From: (jenkins lisa)
Date: Thu, 25 Jun 92 8:55:07 CDT
Subject: MST3K--more articles!

This one is long, but it's worth it. *Trust me!* }B-)

From: Corporate Report Minnesota
Date: April 1991
Headline: The Million-Dollar Sight Gag
Subline: Joel Hodgson and partner Jim Mallon have parlayed a comic bit using
robots, B movies, and smart-alecky commentary into a lucrative cable
TV deal
Photo(s): Hodgson (front) and Mallon: "*Okay*, Mr. White Male Reality!"
(Photograph by Bill Miller.) [Gypsy, Crow and Servo surround Joel
and Jim on the Satellite of Love, bathed in a light purple glow.]
Author: Brauer, David
Page(s): 40-43, 45-46
Note: Interview with Hodgson and Mallon on the business side of Best Brains.

This is an unauthorized reprint.

PERHAPS THE ONLY stand-up comic never to do a relationship or drinking joke,
Joel Hodgson gained an enthusiastic local following in the late 1980s with a
wild array of home-made props and sight gags, including a turntable base for
his fishbowl. "I use it when I want to give my goldfish a rest," he quipped.

Another bit featured a book of replies to dumb bumper stickers. Hodgson's
response to the ubiquitous "I (heart) my dog" was "I (club) my seal."

There were also flame-thrower boutonnieres and easy-to-make Halloween costumes
(cut out the side of a milk carton, stick your face through, and go as a
missing child). Hodgson made a pretty good living with his creations, but
soon grew tired of crisscrossing the country in one-week stands.

So he returned to his St. Paul studio and built a whole new array of toys. He
created a robot puppet family out of wire hangers, cut-up pingpong balls, and
gum-ball machines. Then he secured a bunch of low-budget Japanese horror
movies from a UHF station in northeast Minneapolis and convinced his friend,
the station's production manager, to let him go on air with his mechanical
pals and rip the bad movies to shreds in a dead-end time-slot opposite _60
Minutes_. It was 1988, and Hodgson got $100 for each episode of _Mystery
Science Theater 3000_.

Don't laugh. This year, his company will gross more than $1 million.

In less than three years, Hodgson's show has risen from the low-budget
confines of local independent television to become a prize in a hard-fought
comedy-channel war waged by the nation's two largest cable television
programmers, Time Warner and Viacom International. Time Warner's Comedy
Channel has an option for two more years of _Mystery Science Theater_ to be
produced by Hodgson's Eden Prairie company, Best Brains Productions--escalator
clauses built in. Not only that, but a major financial backer is close to
signing on for a _Mystery Science_ feature film.

Hodgson's premise is stunningly simple--if it's fun to ridicule bad movies, it
will be even funnier when top-notch comedy writers do it. But the show
succeeds primarily because of, as they saw on the coasts, "the concept."
Hodgson's character, a well-meaning janitor at the Gizmonics Institute, has
been sent into outer space by evil scientists who want to study the effects of
bad movies on humans. Too pass the time and keep his sanity, Hodgson uses
spare parts to create robots, and together they lampoon the trash they are
forced to watch. Viewers see them superimposed in the lower corner of the
screen, as if they were in a movie house. "It's easy to be cynical and just
rip up movies," Hodgson says. "But we get some sympathy because we're
*trapped* up there."

Hodgson and his robot buddies (puppet operated by writer/performers Trace
Beaulieu and Kevin Murphy) are made to watch movies like the incomparably bad
_Rocket Ship X-M_. In that forgettable 1950s space epic, a fuzzy-cheeked
Lloyd Bridges, an even younger Hugh O'Brien, an older actor resembling Mr.
Whipple, and a long-since forgotten actress with an improbable Eastern
European accent starred as astro-scientists who lose consciousness on their
way to the moon and somehow land smack dab in the middle of Mars. Typical
breathless dialogue goes something like this:

Whipple: "My god, we're millions of miles off-course!"

Long-since forgotten East European actress: "Doctor, zat cannot be, I'll re-
check ze calculations."

Whipple: "There's no need! I've re-checked them myself!"

Hodgson: "*Okay*, Mr. White Male Reality!"

As important as his character is to the project, Hodgson realized that
creativity alone would not deliver the show on-time and on-budget. By
entering into a partnership with Jim Mallon, the UHF production manager to
whom he originally pitched the show, Hodgson assured that the business side
got its due.

"It's a rare partnership. We work well together because we have a little bit
of both sides in us," Hodgson says. "I wasn't just the creative guy, I was
the guy who pitched it to the Comedy Channel. But Jim isn't just a business
guy who doesn't understand the creative process, either."

Indeed, Mallon, Best Brains' president and primary business manager, knows
something about sight gags, too. Folks around the University of Wisconsin in
Madison fondly remember him as a founding member of the Pail and Shovel Party,
which rode to power in student government in 1978 after promising to bring the
Statue of Liberty to Badgerland and to fill Madison's Bascom Hill with pink

"Everybody thought it was a joke campaign," says Mallon. "But we won, and we
did what we promised."

On his office walls are two posters attesting to the fact: One features a
fairly convincing, large-scale replica of Liberty's crowned head and torch-
bearing arm protruding from the ice of Madison's Lake Mendota, a la the final
scene of _Planet of the Apes_. The other features a lovely green hill topped
by a Romanesque building that somehow has been overrun with lithe, pink birds.

"It was the height of the _Animal House_ era," Mallon says. "We did things
like throwing the world's largest toga party, or a Halloween bash that filled
the Capitol Mall. Now those may sound like goofy pranks, but we had 20,000
people at the toga party and maybe 50,000 on the Mall. It takes quite an
organizational effort to pull them off. We had lots of stories done on us--
_NBC News_, _Washington Post_, you name it--but not one saw behind the
flippant mask to ask how we'd done it."

Similarly, visitors to the Best Brains production facility in Eden Prairie's
Tech 5 Center may be blinded to the well-run business within, noticing only
the large stuffed iguana on the receptionist's desk and the twin lime-green
1950s-era hair dryers across the way.

"They're diligent," John Newton, executive vice president of the Comedy
Channel, says of Hodgson and Mallon. "They under-promise and over-deliver,
rather than the classic show biz reverse."

HODGSON CAME UP WITH the idea for _Mystery Science_ in 1980, his senior year
in college. "I'd written this strange show that was kind of about a guy after
the apocalypse, all by himself, who was trying to communicate with people on
TV shows that were left over. He was kind of on his own, and there were
robots in it, and mutated creatures of the apocalypse." Laughing, Hodgson
adds that "the post-apocalypse thing had really run its course"--after a
decade in film that opened with _Planet of the Apes_ and closed with _The Road

He dropped the idea when his career in stand-up comedy began to take off, but
it was resurrected in 1985--in appropriately mutated form--when Showtime cable
executive Stu Smiley asked Hodgson to write his own show, a very short-lived

"I came up with this concept of a combination between a talk show and the
_Prisoner_," Hodgson says, referring to the classic '60s television series
about a former intelligence operative imprisoned on an unknown island. On his
show, he says, "the host would be in a controlled environment, and guests
would come in and leave through a portal. It was too weird, a 15-minute
variety show."

At the same time, Hodgson's burgeoning stand-up act prompted him to make the
inevitable career move to Los Angeles. But he soon became disillusioned by
the travel and incestuousness of big-time comedy, and moved back to the Twin
Cities. "I thought I was going to be a carpenter," he says with a shrug.

Hodgson retired to a workspace in Minneapolis's Colonial Warehouse, which
happened to be right next to the film production studio of Jim Mallon.

Mallon, who had left Madison after working in Wisconsin public television, was
making a low-budget feature film called _Muskie Madness_ (later given the more
lurid title of _Blood Hook_ by its distributors). When Hodgson heard that
Mallon was working next door, he made sure a meeting took place. Mallon's
stunts at the University of Wisconsin, it seems, had inspired a certain small-
town Wisconsin boy to run for high school president. "I won, too," Hodgson
says, smiling.

The two hit it off and discussed working together, but didn't have an
opportunity until a year later, when Mallon was hired as production manager at
Minneapolis independent station KTMA-Channel 23.

"I'd met people at KING-TV in Seattle who said I should tap into the local
comedy scene because they were all angling to get on TV," Mallon says.
"That's when I remembered Joel."

Mallon's bosses agreed that the station needed some good press to set it apart
from all of the other cable and independent alternatives, so they let him put
Hodgson in the 6 p.m. Sunday slot. Hodgson says he quickly realized that
substituting old movies for the talk in his aborted Showtime concept would
fill the two-hour slot nicely. But even after _Mystery Science Theater_ came
together, Mallon and Hodgson faced an uphill battle.

Normally, UHF stations buy old reruns as cheaply as possible and stick them in
the program schedule. "It costs $500 to show an average film," says Mallon.
"But making _Mystery Science_ costs between $2,000 and $3,000 per episode.
That's six times more, and that's what you're up against when you're trying to
make your own show."

Cost restrictions forced _Mystery Science_ to adopt the low-budget, cobbled-
together look that remains one of its chief charms. The crew could afford
only the cheapest, worst movies around, including one with a bargain-basement
Godzilla named Gamera. As for the rest of the set, Hodgson says, "It wouldn't
be right to look much better than our movies."

Following the show's November 1988 premiere, the station got what it wanted--a
ton of free publicity. The _Star Tribune_, _Pioneer Press_, _Twin Cities
Reader_ and _Skyway News_ all did lengthy features on the otherwise obscure

_Mystery Science_'s ceaseless sarcasm, and perhaps it's jerry-rigged style,
connected with viewers. Over 1,500 pieces of fan mail poured into the station
during the show's brief nine-month run.

But Mallon remained frustrated. "I learned at KTMA what it was like to work
for an undercapitalized station [KTMA eventually filed Chapter 11]. You learn
how much it costs to do TV--we couldn't have done it without their $300,000
production set-up, yet we knew we had to get out. They had no money for
films, salaries, anything."

While still working at KTMA, Mallon and Hodgson began approaching the networks
with episodes that had already aired. Then, in October 1989, they signed a
deal with the Comedy Channel. Hodgson wasn't entirely surprised to be offered
the five-year agreement, because the channel's vice president in charge of
original programming was none other than Stu Smiley, who had weathered
Hodgson's talk show idea at Showtime.

"Stu remembered me from that weird idea I pitched him," Hodgson says. "It
didn't hurt that I'd also done [David] Letterman and _Saturday Night Live_ in
the meantime."

"It wasn't like [Hodgson] was some guy off the street," the Comedy Channel's
Newton adds. "Besides, he had something to show us."

It had always been Mallon and Hodgson's plan to use KTMA as a testing ground
and then take the show national. "We didn't have to go into hock and bring
something to shop around to the networks," Mallon says. "We didn't have to
spend a dime until someone said yes."

Hodgson says having product in the can also turned out the be an invaluable
bargaining tool. "If we wouldn't just brought them an idea, they could've
changed it all around," he says. "But _Mystery Science Theater_ worked and it
had a track record--1,500 pieces of fan mail at Channel 23 was really
convincing to them. And fortunately, the Comedy Channel was just getting
started and they needed to fill 24 hours of programming a day, so I think we
also got lost in the shuffle before anyone could mess with us."

Actually, both Time Warner and Viacom (which owns HA! TV) were starting up 24-
hour cable comedy networks, and the competition was causing problems.
Everyone agreed that cable had room for an all-laughs channel, but it
definitely couldn't handle two: Cable operators wouldn't pick up either
channel lest they offend an owner of one of the biggest movie-channels on the
planet (Time Warner owns Home Box Office; Viacom owns Showtime, HBO's chief

Finally, after Viacom filed a $2.5 billion anti-trust lawsuit against Time
Warner, the exhausted combatant gave up the battle. They agreed to create and
share equally in a new entity called Comedy TV, which will begin this spring,
according to Newton.

After signing the initial deal with the Comedy Channel, Hodgson and Mallon set
up Best Brains, for which their low-budget apprenticeship proved to be good
training. Best Brains wowed the Comedy Channel by producing 13 two-hour
programs for about $344,000--approximately one-third the cost of a single
_Saturday Night Live_ episode.

Mallon, who produces _Mystery Science_, says it is cheap even compared to
other locally produced programming. KTCA-Channel 2's _Newton's Apple_, for
example, cost more than $60,000 per half-hour episode of _Mystery Science_.

The virtues of such frugality were made clear when Mallon and Hodgson visited
the Comedy Channel's New York headquarters. "The whole place was art-directed
like a 1930s newsroom. They must've spent millions to meticulously refurbish
this period furniture," says Mallon.

"Smoked glass and everything," Hodgson interjects.

"Our eyes just went wide. Here we were, back in Eden Prairie, sitting on
chairs we borrowed from Kevin's dad's basement," Mallon says.

Hodgson says that his time on the West Coast also helped him to realize that
fiscal restraint equals freedom for a creative enterprise. "It's really hard
to come up with a new concept, especially on the coasts, where they've got so
much overhead to cover you can practically see the writers trembling in their
boots worried about failure," he says. "When you think about big TV hits in
the last few years, you've only got _Roseanne_ and maybe _America's Funniest
Home Videos_."

Best Brains is relatively debt-free, having used a $123,000 advance on the
first season's $344,000 license fee to pay for the space they sublet from
Beaulieu's brother's company, a few assemble-them-yourself Techline desks, and
a single phone line. Hodgson and Mallon each own 45 percent of Best Brains;
Trace Beaulieu and Kevin Murphy split the remaining 10 percent.

With cash flow tight for the first season, Best Brains had to be especially
conscientious in delivering its product on-time. Hodgson says Best Brains
usually gets one-third of its annual license fee up front; the remaining two-
thirds is doled out per episode on an eight-day schedule--half when a show's
script is delivered, the other half when the finished product arrives at
Comedy Channel headquarters in New York four days later. The result, Hodgson
jokes, is that the company "Operates on a just-in-time production schedule."

_Mystery Science_ was a cable hit almost from the beginning. As at KTMA, fan
mail began to pour in to the Comedy Channel. Hip and irreverent, _Mystery
Science_ has generated more fan mail than any other show seen on the Comedy
Channel, according to Newton.

"Measuring success on our channel is complicated," he says. "We operate on
the basis of subscribers, not individual show ratings. But I can tell you,
it's gotten more attention than anything on our channel, or the competition."

The show's success even lured HBO Chairman Michael Fuchs to fly-over land to
schmooze the brains behind Best Brains. "He said we were exactly what Home
Box Office was all about," recalls Mallon, "G-rated but with an edge."

DESPITE THE SUCCESS, all was not well as Best Brains began cranking up the
production. The company was able to minimize long-term debt, but its start-up
phase exacted a painful toll in other ways.

"We worked seven days a week, 12 hours a day to build sets, design robots,
write the shows in the beginning," says Hodgson. "We went six weeks at the
start without a paycheck."

The economic tensions were to be expected--many of the crew had suffered
through the catch-as-catch-can world of stand-up comedy--but Mallon says the
creative tensions were worse. The number of quips per show, for example, has
been raised from 150 to 750, says Hodgson.

"For all our success, we did create this business backwards," Mallon says.
"Most companies set up their structure and then sell the product; we did it
the other way around. It led to some horrible confusion, because there
weren't any rules. Everyone was working their butts off, but somebody would
leave to go to do their laundry or something perfectly understandable, and the
rest of us would look at him like it was a betrayal."

After a while, the uncertainties of the company's pecking order also erupted.
And Mallon and Hodgson, though friends, realized they did not fully trust each
other--each thought he was shouldering more of the burden.

"It's weird, it's like a [romantic] relationship," says Hodgson. "We'd
clearly gotten to an impasse--we were just not getting anywhere. I knew that
we were kind of dysfunctional because every time we had a meeting it would be
this big deal. We'd often discuss everything in front of everybody, and it
would always end in [Mallon and I] facing off."

In a relationship filled with unspoken frustrations, Hodgson suggested a
logical solution--therapy. Specifically, business therapy.

With the help of a non-profit consulting firm called Minneapolis Mediation
Program, Hodgson and Mallon talked through their problems and received
counseling on basic business rules. Says Hodgson, "Jim had never been to
therapy before, so he was kind of nervous about it, but I had had a little
experience in talking things out in a therapeutic environment, so I knew it
would be okay."

Today, Mallon is an enthusiastic booster. "I suppose any MBA knew all this
stuff, but it was a real eye-opener to me. I mean, when I was making a movie,
we worked a crew all-out for 35 days, but here we were working at that pace
for a year-and-a-half. We had to add structure. I believe creativity excels
within structure." They wrote job descriptions, he says, and instituted a 9-
to-5 work schedule to prevent the kind of burnout that was plaguing Best

"There were other simple things," Mallon adds. "Joel and I have lunch
together alone once a week, which, believe it or not, was something we'd never
done before even though we were partners. We now have regular staff meetings.
We have a policy about how creative disputes are handled on-set, a policy on
personal use of company resources. It really eased the tension."

Hodgson says that in addition to establishing rules, they have been able to
re-establish trust. "Ultimately, our notions of where the company should go
were exactly the same," he says. The mediation process helped him, Hodgson
says, "to see that we were both sacrificing to help the company."

Best Brains is now poised to take advantage of its growth, Mallon says. As a
condition of the merger, the Comedy Channel has agreed to provide the new
Comedy TV network with five originally produced programs, and _Mystery Science
Theater 3000_ is one of them. Sources say Time Warner originally hoped to
sign Best Brains to a contract with HBO, rather than share its program with
Viacom on the Comedy TV channel, but it soon dropped the idea because it was
counter to the spirit of the agreed-upon merger.

Best Brains will deliver 24 shows in the coming production schedule, earning
approximately $50,000 per show in license fees, almost double the fees paid
for the original season and "slightly higher than the escalator clause in our
contract calls for," notes a pleased Mallon.

That adds up to revenues of more than $1 million. After paying expenses and
salaries for Best Brains' 11 full-time employees last year, the company had
enough to buy a $150,000 editing bay that will reduce the reliance on outside
companies to help with post-production work on the show.

Hodgson adds that the financial reward to the company should be even greater
in future years. "Most television is made by deficit financing," he says.
"Making shows is so expensive that big producers like Aaron Spelling spend a
lot of money up front and gamble on recouping it when those shows go into
syndication. That's why Hollywood production companies need to be so big--to
be able to afford the financing.

"But we're paying for our show now with sweat equity," Hodgson says. "Instead
of buying a chair for $40, we'll make it ourselves for $15. That way, when we
go into syndication, [the revenue] will be all profit."

The Comedy Channel has an option for two more seasons of _Mystery Science
Theater_, and Best Brains is planning for rapid expansion. Not only has the
company added a full-time business manager, but it also has invested in a
sofa, loveseat, and chair--brand-new and made of green leather.

Could this mean they'll soon be on the road to high overhead, paved in
leather? "Believe me, it's something I've thought of," says Mallon. "But the
truth is, we've earned those couches. We didn't buy them the first season
when we couldn't afford them. But now that we can, there's no reason why we
shouldn't get them. That's why we've just now added a business manager, so I
can concentrate on new projects and not try to figure out how to fill out a
tax form. It's time all of us took off some of our hats and concentrated on
the thing we know best."

Now that the cable company war is over, Best Brains could really be on the
verge of the big time. When the Comedy TV station premieres this spring,
_Mystery Science Theater_'s audience will effectively double, and most Twin
Citians will be able to get it for the first time since KTMA's demise. As
additional cable systems come in from the sidelines, _Mystery Science_ could
become as big a part of the $20 billion cable landscape as your average MTV
video. If cable can turn Milli Vanilli into a hit, just think what it could
do for guys who *admit* they overdub.

Mallon and Hodgson hope that their skyrocketing audience base will help launch
a _Mystery Science_ feature film (in which HBO is reportedly very interested),
and more new cable projects. Sometime this summer, Mallon adds, Best Brains
will probably add its first creative-side employee who will focus solely on
new, non-_Mystery Science_ projects.

"If you talk to me a year from now, I hope we have another show in
production," he says. "We want to give people like Trace Beaulieu a chance to
do their own projects. Now we've got the experience and the track record to
make it happen."

Mallon says the company has no plans to leave Eden Prairie. "When we first
started doing _Mystery Science Theater_, the Comedy Channel insisted that we
move to New York where they could keep an eye on us," he says. "That was when
we saw the smoked glass and the '30s furniture--it was almost a deal-breaker.
We told them we felt more comfortable back home, and they let us prove we
could still put out a good show from here.

"We were just out in Los Angeles," Mallon adds, "and you know, everybody told
us their dream was to get big enough in the business so they can move out of
town and still have the clout to sell shows. We have, in essence, reversed
the whole process. We get to have a real life in the Twin Cities and do what
we want to do right from the start."

From: The Washington Post
Date: June 5, 1992
Headline: Defying Gravity
Subline: TV Preview: Comedy Central's Wonderful Bad Movies
Author: Shales, Tom
Page(s): Style [?]

This is an unauthorized reprint.

It's show time. You grab your bag of Cheetos, find your favorite chair, make
yourself nice and comfy and sit back to enjoy the movie.

Then three people plop themselves down in front of you and proceed to make
wisecracks all through the film.

Sheer hell? No, sheer heaven, at least on Saturday mornings, when cable's
Comedy Central presents _Mystery Science Theater 3000_, the patently
irresistable show in which abominable old movies are eviscerated by Joel
Robinson and his smartalecky robot pals Crow and Tom Servo.

After months of reruns, MST3K returns tomorrow morning at 10 with a new season
of 24 shows. Comedy Central is now seen in about 24 million cable homes;
Montgomery County's cable system added it in December and Jones Intercable of
Alexandria may be adding it at the end of this month.

If it's not on your system, well, throw a fit.

In the weeks ahead, Joel and the 'bots will wreak havoc on such mouth-
watering, stomach-churning titles as "Attack of the Giant Leeches," "Hercules
Against the Moon Men," "First Maidens From Outer Space" and "The Beatniks."

Most of the MST3K films are B movies at best, but the new season starts with a
big-budget bomb: Gregory Peck, Gene Hackman, Mariette Hartley and other
shockingly recognizable names in "Space Travelers," a recut (and mercifully
shortened) version of the 1969 snoozer "Marooned," which was just shown in its
original version last night on the TNT network.

Ironically enough, or maybe too ironically, "Space Travelers" is about people
stranded in space, also the premise of MST3K. Exiled to permanent orbit in a
satellite by "evil overlords" at the Gizmonic Institute, Robinson and his
robotic cronies are forced to watch the films as part of an open-ended and
essentially pointless scientific experiment.

Dr. Clayton Forrester, head evil overlord, tells the victims tomorrow, "The
presence of Gregory Peck or Gene Hackman does not diminish the pain in any

The robots continually but understandably confuse James Franciscus, who is in
the movie, with Anthony Franciosa, who is not. They also get Lee Grant mixed
up with Lou Grant. When Franciscus, as one of the astronauts, looks out the
porthole and sees clouds over Florida, he says, "Somebody's gonna have a
hurricane," and Joel and the 'bots astutely respond, "Subplot! Subplot!

MST3K comes not out of Hollywood or New York but out of Minneapolis, where it
is put together with affectionate malice by writers and producers Jim Mallon,
Mike Nelson, Trace Beaulieu (who also plays Forrester and is the voice of
Crow), Kevin Murphy (the voice of Tom Servo), Frank Conniff (who brilliantly
plays Frank, Forrester's softheaded assistant) and series creator Joel
Hodgson, who plays Joel Robinson.

Reached at Best Brains Productions in Minneapolis recently, Hodgson sounded
tired and cranky, but he always sounds tired and cranky, at least when

"The new shows look really good," Hodgson boldly declared. "We've been able
to get really high-level movies, for us. We've got our ducks in a row." He
confessed there had been some dissention among the staff and said his
temperamental behavior was the cause of it.

But that's over now. "They just confronted me one day and said, 'Don't do it
anymore. It's really uncool and unprofessional,'" a chastened Hodgson said.

Actually, Hodgson and his cohorts were "ready to start delivering new shows in
January." But Comedy Central chose to delay the return until the summer,
because of what Hodgson suspects was a "budget crunch." Much of the
programming on Comedy Central consists of monotonous excerpts from stand-up
comedy acts. MST3K is the channel's crown jewel, its "Masterpiece Theatre"
and "Sesame Street" rolled into one.

Fans, who call themselves Mistees, are growing in number and dogged in
devotion. A couple thousand lucky ones will be able to see live performances
of MST3K that Hodgson and his collegues will give on July 10 in a Minneapolis
movie theater. Hodgson also said that a movie version of the show is being

Comic and talk show host Dennis Miller recently cited MST3K as one of his
favorite shows in a _TV Guide_ interview. And it was named among the top five
cable programs by critics responding to an Electronic Media poll.

It is, in short, a joy, a treasure, a golden voyage of discovery, a sweet-
natured celebration of human fallibility. And it can run forever, because new
bad movies are made ALL THE TIME. Imagine--Joel and the 'bots meet "Far and

Though its cast is perhaps not as auspicious as that of "Space Travelers,"
Hodgson and company have another classy (for them) title booked for the new
season: "City Limits," showing June 20. Its cast includes James Earl Jones,
Kim Cattrall and Robby Benson. Leonard Maltin's "TV Movies and Video Guide"
describes the 1985 sci-fi flop as "an incoherent mess set 15 years in the
future after a plague has devestated the planet."

I can't wait.

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