MST3K Part 3 – The Apology

Mystery Science Theater 3000 is back on Kickstarter. And THIS TIME IT’s DIFFERENT.

Sort of. Crowdsourcing what’s becoming more Joel Hodgeson and less the MST3K brand is what this seems to me. Let me offer some history before I dive into my thoughts about this “new” plan of Joel’s.

Joel Hodgeson and Jim Mallon were the original cretaors of the original series. 10 seasons, with about 12 eps per season. That’s a lot of material. And work. Especially for such a small team that went into creating the shows, although either by design or necessity, they were bare-bones, budget pieces of entertainment. The largest part of the shows were the movies that they riffed on. There were some written bumpers and skits to be sure, but the set and effects and talent were minimal, to be polite. Which I will admit added to the charm.

About halfway through the seasons, there was a large talent change. Trace Beaulieu took over for the Crow character and Joel was replaced by Mike Nelson, who had been a writer for the show for a long time. Dr. Forrester, who was done by Trace, was replaced by Mary Jo Pehl as his mother and subsequently as Dr. Pearl Forrester. Mike Nelson’s wife became a fixture on the show as Flavia and other characters. There was always an air of experimentation. Which I believe was because it was all just “try and see what works.” There was certainly an algorithm that could be varied with some success, but I don’t think Joel ever was able to put his hands on it fully.

I say that because when the show was finally ended, there were some bastardizations of the show Joel produced. Cinematic Titanic being one, which after about 4 or 5 episodes, sank like the Titanic, although the riffing was still funny. The premise was weak, though.

Mike Nelson, being out of a job, began RiffTrax, and brought on Bill Corbett and Kevin Murphy, who each are hilarious. All three together are great. There were and I think are still some noticeable tensions between RiffTrax and Joel, for basically stealing his idea. Except it wasn’t/isn’t done the same. The premise is the same: riffing awful movies. But that’s about where it ends. And it shows one thing: the key is in the writing, voicings, and voice “acting.” With comedy of almost any sort I can think of, the timing in delivery is just about everything.

RiffTrax is funny, and the reasons are simple to me and exemplify the “formula” Joel cannot put his finger on. Tight writing that has a liberal arts, broad, intelligent base. The hundreds of references each episode are too many to even keep up with. But they use some of the most obscure references since Dennis Miller. And that works for the audience it targets perfectly. Many people dislike the type of comedy of MST3K and Dennis Miller. I believe it’s because it’s so obscure and to “get it” you need a hugely deep and broad base of culture, history, economics, philosophy, English, and so on to pull from in an instant before the next line is delivered. That’s one thing that makes it work.

The next are the voice actors. They have to be REALLY good, be able to play off the other actors like they were all 3 watching a movie together and, importantly, not sound like one another. This was a major oversight with MST3K Part 2, which I would say was a flop, which I’ll get into in a minute.

The 3 “personas” riffing on the movie need to sound like they’re 3 guys sitting on a couch together watching and ragging on the movie together in real-time. This involves laughing at each other’s jokes and playing off one another. MST3K Part 2 failed that miserably.

I’ve reviewed MST3K Part 2 here before, so I won’t go overboard here. But what happened was that Joel H. started a Kickstarter campaign that raised more money than any other campaign to date. $8 million+ if I remember. And then as luck would have it, Netflix partnered with him and gave him what was surely no small amount of money.

And that was what went wrong. They hired a team of writers. They miscast the whole thing with awful casting choices with Patton Oswalt, some hipster 20-something for a “fresh” look, and a young weird-looking female as the antagonist.

They got 3 voice actors, including making sure to hire a black guy to be sure to be “diverse.” Problem was, you couldn’t tell the difference between who was ever speaking. And they all sounded like they were reading jokes off a card in a studio, instead of playing off one another in the same location. Some of the jokes were funny I guess, but the movies they riffed on were lame. They were bad, but they weren’t interesting.

The great thing about the first MST3K is that you can watch the episodes over and over because most of the movies (enough of them for everyone to have at least a big pile of favorites, out of 100+ episodes) were watchable over and over. And as I mentioned the references and endless number of jokes in each almost always provided a new, funny experience. Binge watching them is super-easy, which is why Netflix had such an interest.

But after 2 seasons, MST3K Part 2 was no more. The numbers weren’t ever released, but obviously they weren’t strong.

So once again Joel Hodgeson was out of a job. He did some touring and this and that, but RiffTrax was the grup that started seeing some big play. And pay. hey developed a business model that was VERY sustainable, and enviable. Especially to the creator of the whole thing, which is Joel.

Queue MST3K Part 3. With mediocre fanfare, we fans were notified last week that a NEW! Kickstarter campaign had been started by Joel. Lots of people were burned by Part 2. I donated some money myself. There are diehard fans who will support anything to do with it no matter what. The whole thing is at a point where it’s “vintage” now. Which attracts hipster types and a certain type of fan.

But here’s the thing with what I’m coining “Part3.” It isn’t an apology at all as the title of this post states. It’s a cry for money.

The idea of the new one is this from what I’ve gathered:

  • Create a “Gizmoplex” which I believe is code for putting MST3K on a streaming service for a monthly fee (Like RiffTrax Friends)
  • Create new episodes and have them available streaming (Like RiffTrax)
  • And a bunch of pipe dreams that depend on people giving money to spend on it.

As of today the project is 126% funded at $2,531,384 out of $2MM sought.

I’m a marketer, and I look at everything from that standpoint. And as such I see that there has been no marketing done with the whole concept, really, ever.

Marketing is finding out what people want and deliver that to them how they want when needed or desired in the best way. And the “product” or service should be something that is wanted otherwise you get this:

And that’s what Part 2 was. And even a lot of what the original was. But the original had SUCH strong talent(Which Rifftax does as well), and kept the wolves and vultures at bay, which was a team of writers, Hollywood types and Netflix executives and “creatives.” And branded actors. All those add up to the above “Homer-mobile.”

Part 3? It aims to not repeat Part 2, which would be nearly impossible at his point. The money and resources were all put on a silver platter, and misspent. There’s even an episode in Part 2 where Kinga, the miscast antagonist declares what they planned on doing was “blowing up the brand and selling it to Disney for a billion dollars.” Sound the wha-wha-whaaaa… trumpet sound.

This third voyage is building a sustainable income for the creator. Which he’s entitled to, but let’s be real about this venture and employ some reason and smart marketing.

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