Mystery Science Theatre 3000’s Joel Hodgson on Season 13, the Gizmoplex, and Leaving the Show in Good Hands

Mystery Science Theatre 3000’s Joel Hodgson on Season 13, the Gizmoplex, and Leaving the Show in Good Hands
Joel Hodgson is the one who isn't a robot puppet. (Image: Satellite of Love, LLC)
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After creator Joel Hodgson launched a new Kickstarter, it took just over a day for Mystery Science Theatre 3000’s legion of fans to bring back the show (again). This shouldn’t have surprised anybody — there’s a reason why MST3K has stuck around for more than 30 years, and that’s because people love watching robot puppets make fun of bad movies.

I’m one of them, which is why I leaped at the chance to talk to Hodgson about the show, the (ongoing) fund drive, and more. With a 13th season, an expanded cast, and a new online portal dubbed the Gizmoplex on the way, MST3K’s future looks bright yet again — it just won’t always have Hodgson in it.

Rob Bricken, Gizmodo: Besides making season 13, the focus of the Kickstarter is also to create the Gizmoplex. Can you talk more about it?

Joel Hodgson: What we’re going to do is try to take a platform and make it more like MST3K. So even when you’re browsing the Gizmoplex it’ll be more of an experience, and it’ll be more social, and hopefully, more fun. It’s not going to be clicking on tiles, and then it’ll play another recorded episode of the show. It’s the idea that when we premiere these events, they really will be an event. No one hangs out on Netflix or Hulu, you just go there to watch content. So that’s the idea — that’s what I think is pivotally different about the Gizmoplex.

Gizmodo: It sounds like each new episode and live event are going to be social events as well.

Hodgson: I really feel that way. And then that will be recorded, and that’ll be kind of available throughout the weekend for people to watch and be part of the Gizmoplex they can look at. But, in my mind, if something premieres on a Friday, I’m expecting everyone to watch it that weekend, you know. It’s us kind of shaping the [experience] a little more.

Gizmodo: A major feature of the Gizmoplex is that people will be able to watch shows together. Did that come out of the success of your live tours, or the pandemic, or both?

Hodgson: It’s just this natural thing that I think is happening. The technology’s there. The idea of, “Oh, I’m going to squirrel away alone with my favourite videos and look at them” — it feels like everybody’s kind of done that. So I think it’s natural that people want to have an event and especially during covid, it just lends itself so naturally for [group viewings] to happen.

Gizmodo: What did you learn from making seasons 11 and 12 on Netflix that you’re going to bring to 13?

Hodgson: The biggest thing for me was learning how to do a Kickstarter, and how wonderful it was that after 15 years [since the show went off the air in 1999] the Kickstarter could focus all the MST fans that wanted to get involved, and more. I guess there were 50,000 of them that threw in. You must know we broke the world’s record for most-funded Kickstarter for a film or video?

Gizmodo: Indeed, I was part of it.

Hodgson: Yeah, right. So that was a huge, huge thing, and we were so lucky. A lot of that has to do with the guy who manages our Kickstarter, Ivan Askwith, who’s brilliant. Seeing him do it a second time is just as amazing as the first time. But I learned it focuses us and the community in an amazing way. We rallied so many creative people that got involved with us. We effectively rebooted the brand, and here we are, doing it again. So that was the biggest thing.

Also, how we made the show changed. The way the show used to be done was on a campus and everybody gathered in the room. I mean, we played around with remote writing back in the [Comedy Central] days; people sent us their scripts, and someone would sit in the writing room and read the riffs as we went through the movie and adding their jokes. Seasons 11 and 12 were the first times we really wrote remotely pretty much exclusively. We have writers in Chicago and Minneapolis and Los Angeles and in Pennsylvania.

Currently, we’re in the same boat [for season 13]. I mean, we’re outpacing the first Kickstarter, but it’s not a done deal at all that we’ll reach our goal of $US5.5 ($7) million, not in the least. It’s confusing on Kickstarter, because you have to do that initial goal, and I think people look at it and go, “Oh, they made their goal, they made $US2 ($3) million. It’s a done deal.” And it’s really not true. We want to do a whole season.

Gizmodo: You brought back the show with an all-new cast in season 11. Season 12 had the “Gauntlet” and now season 13 has the Gizmoplex. Do you have more big ideas like these for season 14 and beyond?

Hodgson: I don’t know if conceptually there are more big ideas, but you never know. I couldn’t tell you. My feeling is if we do the Gizmoplex, and it works properly, this could last as long as everybody enjoys it and has fun with it. There’s no reason why not, you know? It’ll become a model that’s really about us pleasing the audience and them backing it as time goes on. It’s so direct — we really don’t ever have to wonder about what a network’s going to say or do about what we make.

Gizmodo: Will this be the new model for the show going forward? A Kickstarter for each new season?

Hodgson: I’m not sure about that — we’ll have to feel our way through that.

Gizmodo: I’m very satisfied with the idea of paying you periodically and getting the new Mystery Science Theatre in return.

Hodgson: Ah, thanks.

Gizmodo: As a fan, it seems crazy to me that as desperate as streaming services are for content, they wouldn’t pick up MST3K which has a small budget and fans so fervent they’ll put their own money up to make more.

Hodgson: Yeah, it’s weird for me, too. It’s very peculiar. It’s like, “What have we got to do?” It’s even changed so much in the last six years I don’t know if I even really understand what all these platforms do. I mean, obviously, it’s to get subscriptions and all that, but I think they just want their splashy, big shows. I feel like networks kind of always look past us. They always go for the more obvious choices for shows that they’re really going to promote.

But that’s lucky for us, and that’s how we were able to own the show when we started because none of the networks thought to try to buy us out or to force us into a production deal where they would own it. So the nature of MST3K allowed us this unique position. I have friends that have created really incredible shows that I know are a little bit envious, because we don’t have that hype, but we have autonomy. It allows us to keep functioning. Our footprint is still pretty small, so we can blithely change as things change.

The way we’re looking at it, we’re really ahead of the curve for the idea of an entity like ours having its own platform. We’re really at the vanguard of that right now. Every brand is going to end up doing what we’re doing, I think. It makes sense — why wouldn’t you get more involved in the expression of the people who get to see your show? When you think about all the things that they Comedy Central would wrap around Mystery Science Theatre, all the ads, the on-air promotion… Now we get to kind of participate with the viewers very directly, which is going to be really fun.

Joel Hodgson, Jonah Ray, Crow, and Tom Servo make their pitch on the new Kickstarter. (Image: Satellite of Love, LLC) Joel Hodgson, Jonah Ray, Crow, and Tom Servo make their pitch on the new Kickstarter. (Image: Satellite of Love, LLC)

Gizmodo: Does that mean it was difficult working with Netflix?

Hodgson: It was really disorienting the way that we had to do it, where all the episodes came out at once. And I know that was a big trend, but it didn’t exactly serve us. It kind of burnt through this massive amount of material so quickly that it just wasn’t that fair. It didn’t feel right, ultimately, but it was just a huge trend, and at the time Netflix was the biggest platform in the world, and we were really happy they wanted us on there.

The really cool thing, however, is nearly 50% of the people that are pledging to the new Kickstarter now all got there through Netflix. They’re new people. This is profound for us. It’s like a perfect mix of old diehard fans that that liked the show and have stayed with us for 30 years and all these new people that have become fans in the last five or six years. It’s huge.

Gizmodo: Did you expect to raise $US2 ($3) million in 25 hours? I kept a very close watch on the tracker.

Hodgson: I know you were watching really close because it really was 25 hours. You know, we felt comfortable saying we did it in a day, but it really was 25 hours, not 24.

Gizmodo: I was giving my Gizmodo co-workers hourly updates of how fast it was going up. It was very satisfying.

Hodgson: It was amazing, and it took us a week to get that far last time. So it was really great because let’s face it — that may not have happened. It just made us feel like fans still trusted us.

Again, it’s because of the Netflix shows — we’re 100% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes and we really made good on our promise of what we were going to do [with seasons 11 and 12]. I know you can remember this: What did the world look like before we brought the show back? What did people imagine those new episodes would be like? Some fans were like, “You have to go back to Minneapolis, you all have to go into that light industrial park in Eden Prairie, you have to fabricate every prop and every set piece and make the show exactly the way like it was done before.” And that’s just not possible. It was hard. I realised that I had a vision [for the show] that a lot of the people didn’t have, but they trusted me.

It’s similar now with the Gizmoplex, and that I have a vision. [The funding] has been incredible and we’re grateful. And we’re not done — the way to do [the Gizmoplex] so it’s least stressful is to reach all 12 episodes. Getting a full season changes everything, so it’s really important that we get there. And it’s not certain that we will. If people think [season 13] is a done deal, it’s not.

Gizmodo: You’ve had a really long career that’s included a lot more than Mystery Science Theatre 3000. What brought you back to the show in 2016 and made it such a focus for you these past few years?

Hodgson: I was frustrated with the [show’s] legacy. I was frustrated with the way it went that I had to leave the show. I didn’t like where it was left. There was no reason why it had to stop in my mind because it was an inexpensive show and there are always lots of bad movies. So I wanted to get involved again and it just really fixed my position with the show, too. I think because I had to leave, there were a lot of unanswered questions about that. So coming back to [MST3K] really helped clarify that.

I just couldn’t let go of it, and now that everything’s kind of sorted out, it’s much easier for me to see an end to it. Like how long I’ll be involved with it and finding other people who want to take care of it and stuff. It’s much easier now. So as far as I’m concerned, I’m really satisfied with getting it to come back and showing people what I was thinking — showing them what I thought MST3K should look and sound like, you know?

Gizmodo: Well, it sounds like there’s a future for Mystery Science Theatre 3000 beyond your involvement.

Hodgson: Yeah, we’re setting that up now. Obviously, just the idea that I don’t have to be on camera is really important, you know. People are going, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, Jonah is awesome, we’re going to back it.” It’s a great feeling, and a lot of that has to do with Jonah. He’s a really good case study, because he’s one of those goofy 13-year-olds that found MST3K just like so many other people and had a good experience with it, and he wanted to pursue that kind of stuff. When I look at that guy, he’s like, way more suited to being a host than I am at this stage. He’s talented, and he’s taller than I am. He’s got everything. You know how people defer to tall people, like they go into that kind of dog-pack mentality like, “Oh, that one’s bigger than me. I should do what he says.” When he’s in the room, I just follow him around and do whatever he wants me to do.

I do care about the show so much. And it’s because I care about it so much that I won’t always be able to care about it so much. You know what I mean? And what’s nice is there’s a lot of really brilliant people that are going to work for us now that are really talented and ready to go. So it’s going to be fun.

At time of publishing the Mystery Science Theatre 3000 Kickstarter sits at $US3,471,152 ($4.5 million) with ten days left.