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Joel Hodgson on MST3K Season 14 Ahead of Annual Mega Turkey Day Marathon Telethon

Like Marvel’s rascally antihero Loki, Mystery Science Theater 3000 is an impish creation that has been resurrected many times. From its humble beginnings on a local Minneapolis station to the golden era on The Comedy Channel/Comedy Central, then the slight revamp for Sci-Fi Channel, it always held its cult audience. Even when the show was cancelled in 1999, it lived on via the fanbase until 2015, when creator/original host Joel Hodgson held a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter to bring the show back for two new seasons, eventually distributed by Netflix.

Another crowdfunder was launched successfully in 2021, which saw the show being produced and distributed entirely under Hodgson’s umbrella Alternaversal via an online platform called the Gizmoplex. This 13th season of MST3K saw current main host Jonah Ray share the stage with an alternative host Emily Marsh, along with original host Hodgson.

Now Hodgson is at it again, seeking to crowdfund a new Season 14 for the Gizmoplex along with lots of promising cheesy movies for the hosts/bots to riff jokes over including Battle Beyond the Stars, Deathsport, and Plan 9 From Outer Space.

Here’s the logline for the upcoming Mega Turkey Day Marathon Telethon:

“Premiering on Thanksgiving Day like the series itself did in 1988, The Mega Turkey Day Marathon Telethon will showcase a whopping 24 classic MST3K episodes over the course of two days. The event begins at 9 am ET on Thursday, November 23rd and concludes Saturday, November 25th at 9 am ET in tandem with the conclusion of the MST3K Season 14 crowdfunding campaign. Will MST3K raise $4.8 million to produce a new season of episodes? You decide, by visiting Showmaker.MST3K.com. It’s going to be bonkers in more ways than one!”

With less than a week left in the fundraising drive, we spoke with Hodgson about what worked in Mystery Science Theater 3000 Season 13 and his hopes for Season 14, should the fans come through with the dough once again.

Joel Hodgson (courtesy Gizmonic Arts/Shout! Studios)

Above the Line: At the moment, the next season of Mystery Science Theater 3000 is around 40% crowdfunded in its current campaign. I remember when Season 11 was being funded, you had a lot of talent come out for the big telethon, with folks like Dana Gould performing to get you over the finish line. Do you have something similar in the works for this year’s Turkey Day telethon, especially now that the strike is over?

Joel Hodgson: We had already written and produced Turkey Day, so it would have meant stopping everything and trying to reproduce the whole thing. Unfortunately, because of the way the show’s distributed. It’s called Amagi, it’s the way they program all the streaming stuff, so there’s a ramp-up time to get it into the system. It takes a long time, so we had to produce it early. It can’t be last minute. We won’t be doing that because we just didn’t have enough ramp-up time, right?

ATL: But you will probably be able to get some people to post things to socials, etc?

Hodgson: Exactly. For sure, that’s absolutely true, and they’re already starting to do that. But it fell at a time when we had to work ahead and produce it, write it, and shoot it just before it was too late for us to include people as guests.

ATL: You’ve announced some fun titles so far for Season 14, from Shout Factory’s deal with Roger Corman. What makes Corman films specifically so well-suited to Mystification?

Hodgson: There’s a big array of material he made. They produced so many movies that they just fall into that category. I think that’s why we’ve always used those films, even going back to the classic episodes, we were able to do quite a few of them. He found this unique niche in the industry where they were inexpensive films made really quickly. In some ways Battle Beyond the Stars represents a high water mark for a lot of that material. It’s kind of the apex, in a way.

ATL: You’d said in the past that during the Netflix years you had to develop all the episodes at once. Now that you’re free of that, how has the development process changed for the better?

Hodgson: It wasn’t that we developed them all at once; it’s that we had to release them at once. Our process is very similar to that where you pretty much write one at a time. I think we had staggered writing rooms. Every week doing that first run, it was 14. Like a lot of shows we would stagger the writing rooms, so about every other week we’d produce a new one. We had two rooms going at the same time, which meant a lot of writers and showrunners, roomrunners, to run the writing rooms – that still goes on. For this one, it’ll run pretty much the same way. We’ll have the films hopefully all secured and cleared by the time we start, and if everything goes right that’ll be in January. It’s more that [Netflix] put them all out at once. We found that when people got involved with backing them, they wanted to enjoy it and savor it. Then during Season 13 with the Gizmoplex we were able to release them one at a time.

A scene from the MST3K Halloween Special (Gizmonic Arts/Shout! Studios)

ATL: The virtual demands of filming Season 13 under COVID protocols led to this interesting flat aesthetic to all the backgrounds, as opposed to models. Will you be continuing this or doing something entirely different for Season 14?

Hodgson: People really miss the three-dimensional set, especially for the host segments, so we’re going to do that as a real set. That was a conceit we had to do just because of, like you said, the COVID protocols. When we started, we really believed we might have to shoot everybody individually in their own homes and then composite it together. Fortunately, we didn’t have to do that. But yeah, it was pretty much a crazy fire drill for Season 13, production-wise.

ATL: I actually saw you do Circus of Horror live in Brooklyn a few years ago. That was really great. Then to see your return in the Demon Squad episode was very welcome. You hadn’t skipped a beat. How did it feel to bring the Joel Robinson character back, and do you want to keep that going?

Hodgson: I liked it. I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about it. I had hoped more than anything that those muscles would kick in. I’m not really an actor, so when I’m on camera it’s more that it’s me, but I have a little more energy than in real life. That’s usually the way I do it. So I didn’t spend a lot of time surveying it, there wasn’t time. Mostly it was physically looking okay and trying to make sure I fit into my jumpsuit and my hair looked okay. Fortunately, all that stuff came together. I felt pretty good about it. It was fun. It’s a funny exercise being the host because when you have robots that are pretty much inarticulate, like can’t really do stuff with their hands, you’re really busy holding up stuff and you’re doing a lot of the work that they would do normally. That’s really what a lot of a gig is, the unsung hero part of being a host is just how many props and stuff you are managing.

ATL: That Demon Squad episode also featured the most recent film ever on the show, a movie from 2019. A lot of movies over the years have had a resurgence as a direct effect of being on MST3K, but in this case, the filmmakers were actually able to fund a sequel on Kickstarter with double the budget of the first one. How does it feel to actually have an impact on the careers of current, living filmmakers?

Hodgson: That was a really nice thing. I’m really glad that worked for them. It’s very postmodern, the idea that we riff on a movie, and then they felt strongly enough to then mount a fundraiser. So interesting.

ATL: From your vantage point, what has been the fan reaction to Emily so far? Do you think the transition to Jonah a few years ago made the MST3K a little more open to fresh faces?

Hodgson: I think so. Part of the secret of Emily’s success is them doing that last tour, the Time Bubble tour. With them working together and doing all those shows, she was the most prepared host that we’ve ever had. Her and her cast were really strong and ready to go. It worked out really nice. To answer your question, I do think that getting to bring out Jonah and kind of break the Joel/Mike cycle was really great. He’s so talented, and he was so perfect to do that. Then to get to bring in Emily was really cool, too, just the way people reacted to her. It’s really made me happy. I did an event with her a few months back at the Puppetry Center in Atlanta, and it was really cool to get to be with her and have her tell her side of the story, what it was like for her. But yeah, very happy with Emily.

ATL: What you said about her being able to kind of ramp up into it via the live shows, it reminded me a little bit of how the Marx Brothers used to go out on the road with their movies before they shot them.

Hodgson: It’s really true. You can’t beat the feeling that you’re getting the material sorted out in front of an audience and finding where those little holes are. You simply can’t imagine that when you’re writing. So yeah, it’s really true. Stand-ups have done that for years, you have to do stand up hundreds of times to get any good at it. By the time the cameras are on, it works really great. Simply the work of getting it up in front of people and working it.

The cast of MST3k (Gizmonic Arts/Shout! Studios)

ATL: MST3K is a show that used to proudly encourage viewers to “keep circulating the tapes.” Now that your company Alternaversal is essentially making the show, have you had to clamp down on piracy?

Hodgson: It’s interesting. It’s so hard to distill that from the success of the show. The benefit of encouraging people to think like that, it’s really similar to what the Grateful Dead did when encouraging people to tape. I got the idea from Abbie Hoffman‘s “Steal This Book.” That was also a really fascinating premise, just a great title for a book. It was our version of “I want my MTV.” When the show wasn’t aired all across the country, it was only in specific markets, because Comedy Channel/Comedy Central was only in certain cable packages. It wasn’t everywhere. We learned that a lot people were recording them and sending them to their friends. It was the merger of VCR technology and FedEx at the same time, that people were sending stuff. I think that had a really great benefit for us. As far as policing it, we’ve done our best to kind of reiterate to people that we’re not Disney, we’re not Netflix, we’re not a giant, monolithic company that has lots and lots of deep pockets. If they steal a show, we’ll feel it, you know? We’ve tried our best to walk that line and be kind of like… they did help us distribute the show at a critical time, So it was really useful. But yeah, it’s kind of weird. When we did say “keep circulating the tapes,” we didn’t say “keep circulating the files.” You have to do it on tape, and you have to do it through the mail. Over time, I felt like that really helped show people how much influence they had and how they can affect something. I think it has to do to with the unique way that show’s made where you can kind of see the seams. I always wanted a big invitation, that Mystery Science Theater shows people how they can make their own TV. They felt like part of the process.

ATL: The world building on the show is always expanding. Have you and the team ever discussed a spin-off set within that world that maybe didn’t revolve around riffing but had a story/character focus?

Hodgson: Oh, that’s fascinating. We never had to work in that genre of actual real storytelling because we’ve always been attached… MST is like a variety show that’s built on the back of a movie, you know? We never had to do that. I think it’s our own unique interests in the characters that made us want to. Also, when I was originally making Mystery Science Theater, I never really made the shows to be watched in any particular order, because they’re around a movie. They’re just different. Maybe when they were at Syfy I heard that they had wanted it to be a narrative, and they wanted it to have a story arc. They were doing their own version of that. It might have started there, but when we went to Netflix, we felt that the season had a beginning and an end, we started to assign numbers to all the episodes. Sometimes people felt obliged to watch them in order. It’s that natural thing when you get a long running show for us to want to start caring about simple story arcs for each of the characters so at the end of the season it can pay off and lead to the next season, hopefully.

ATL: Hopefully the new season gets off the ground again. You guys always seem to pull it off, so definitely thinking positive!

Hodgson: We’re hoping it happens again. If not, no problem. We were thrilled to get to come back and bring it back for a couple more seasons, and it’s up to the fans. If they want more, we’ll make more. If they don’t, that’s cool too because we did the impossible already. So yeah, super happy about it. But yeah, no pressure on the fan base. No pressure.

Max Evry
Max Evry
Max Evry has been a film journalist since 2005, serving at various times as a writer, interviewer, graphic designer, podcaster, video creator, features editor, and managing editor. Past media outlets have included MTV, /Film, IGN, and Fangoria. For home video companies Arrow, Kino Lorber, Indicator, and Via Vision he has provided Blu-ray audio commentaries as well as featurettes for classic and contemporary films including “Flatliners,” “Blackhat,” and Best Picture Oscar winner “Marty.” In 2023, he released his first book “A Masterpiece in Disarray: David Lynch’s Dune – An Oral History” to considerable acclaim.[ox
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