Tuesday, November 06, 2007

MST3K...And The Legend Continues

There's a storm a-brewin' in the Mystery Science Theater 3000 afterlife, and our resident MST3K expert Fraid is here to give you the run down...

Over the nine years following its cancellation, diehard fans of Mystery Science Theater 3000 have been rewarded with a steady trickle of content from former cast members, ranging from the 'huh' (anyone know that Dr. Forrester ended up as a staff writer for America's Funniest Home Videos?) to the sorta kinda decently cool (Mike Nelson's Rifftrax project).

Last week however, the floodgates were officially opened, when Satellite News (the semi-official MST3K news site) announced the launch of TWO major MST3K-related projects, to be released this year. First up was the peppy declaration, splashed across the top of the homepage, that "The Bots Are Back!"

Details on the upcoming MST3k renaissance/gang war after the jump...

Jim Mallon, the show's executive producer, has teamed up with former staff writer Paul Chaplin to produce a series of web cartoons featuring Gyspy, Tom Servo, and Crow. Perhaps not coincidentally, it was also announced that these "webisodes" would be featured on a brand-spanking-new MST3K.com, which would feature a brand spanking-new MST3K store.

Hours later, Satellite News dropped another bombshell: original host Joel Hodgson was teaming up with a number of original cast members for a riff-based DVD project to be released by Christmas. Called "Cinematic Titanic" (say it three times fast), it will mark a return to the silhouette-based riffing conceit, although this time around the cast will be sitting on scaffolding alongside the horizontal edges of the screen. Titanic's bare bones site features a message from Joel, claiming that their first movie will "make 'Manos: the Hands of Fate" look like 'Santa Claus Conquers the Martians' in a car wreck with 'Eegah!' with notes of peach." In the space of 24 hours, the creative team behind MST3K was neatly divided into three distinct camps.


The Players: Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, Bill Corbett, Bridget Jones Nelson
The Project: Rifftrax, The Film Crew
Strengths: Exposure, solid cast, a running start
Weaknesses: Geographic disparity (Nelson lives in San Diego, whereas Corbett and Murphy stayed in the Midwest)

The Players: Joel Hodgson, Trace Bealieu, Frank Coniff, Mary Jo Pehl, Josh Weinstein
The Project: Cinematic Titanic
Strengths: Street cred, sheer numbers
Weaknesses: Late start

The Players: Jim Mallon, Paul Chaplin
The Project: "The Bots Are Back" webisodes
Strengths: The legal rights to the MST3K brand
Weaknesses: Lack of creative firepower

Yesterday morning, Team Jim fired its opening salvo: a three-minute web cartoon espousing the efficiency of sit-up kayaks. In it, Crow, voiced rather lamely by Paul Chaplin, fishes on a pristine lake that Servo (voiced by some random dude) notes is located behind the SOL's 'Neutron Capacitor.' Crow launches into a monologue regarding the positive qualities of his kayak, which Servo promptly capsizes with a jet ski. By way of finale, Gypsy pops out of the water and delivers a limp one-liner. If this sounds like a meaningless MST3K proxy designed to cynically draw traffic to a web store, well...that's basically what it is. The animation is half-assed, the voice work is uninspired (not to mention completely unfamiliar - what happened to Bill Corbett? Or Trace Bealieu for that matter?), and the jokes wouldn't pass muster at a high school talent show. It's MST3K in name (and copyright) only.

We won't see the fruit of Team Joel's labor until Christmas. However, Cinematic Titanic will stage a live show in early December for employees of Lucasfilm. It's closed to the public, but early reviews will undoubtedly trickle out, so keep watching the blogs. As for Team Mike, there's been no official statement as of yet. However, given this flurry of new developments, the unspoken tensions between various cast members are sure to start bubbling over. Not to mention the widespread resentment many of the team apparently feel for Mallon, who has earned a reputation as a something miser and a spoilsport (he alone collects revenue from Rhino's DVD releases, and it has been hinted that he has occasionally threatened legal action if any of the former MSTers post-show projects veer too close to the original).** It'll all be chronicled here, as Geekanerd's coverage of "MST3K: The Cash-In Era" continues.

**CORRECTION 11/19/07: The author wishes to apologize for a misstatementregarding Mr. Jim Mallon. In fact, Geekanerd cannot say withcertainty that Mr. Mallon is the only beneficiary of the Rhino DVDreissues of MST3K episodes. In recent interviews, Joel Hodgson andKevin Murphy have both made reference to receiving paychecks from BestBrains Inc., which would presumably come from DVD sales. However, theessential notion that Mr. Mallon receives the lion's share of theroyalty money is still almost certainly true, and the New York Timeshas it on record that Mike Nelson does not receive a cut(http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/06/arts/television/06newm.html).


Hunter said...

My money's on Team Joel, who are sitting on almost all of the charisma. I like that mst3k.com in concept and execution is proving that Jim Mallon is as big of a piece of shit as has been rumored for so long! I like that a lot. I also like that his one line (as Gypsy) in the cartoon is "Catch and release". Stare at the fat little "LEGAL" button in the lower right corner while he says it!

Anonymous said...

I'm betting team Joel comes through with a nice little package but the whole thing is a little sad. Joel, Trace, Frank etc. all left the show on their own volition, and were always like "yeah, we're done with that, on to new ground." Turns out new ground wasn't so great.

While Rifftrax has a lot of problems, at least it's a new take on the format, not just a slightly altered retread. And Mike, Kevin and Bill have always said they would have continued doing MST if they could.

Still, we can agree Mallon sucks.

Hunter said...

Well, you know, they've actually HELD other jobs with decent pay, and that's something. Trace and Josh worked at AHV forever. There's something to be said for a change of scenery, especially if you hate your boss. And Rifftrax might not be a slightly altered retread, but the Film Crew is.

Sean (anonymous) said...

Touche. Film Crew is a lame retread. The riffing is fine. Lord help the skits.

I do respect Joel and Trace for trying new things and getting different jobs. I just know that in the past, they've been mildly disparaging (Trace especially) about Rifftrax and MST3K in general, saying things like "oh, that's done, I don't know why they're still doing that." It just gives Titanic a vague taste of desperation or something.

But yeah, I think "Cash In" is a bit harsh, geekanerd. Unless it's Mallon we're talking about. Fuck him.

Onil said...

I hope all three teams the best of luck. That being said, I thing Mike's group has the biggest advantage. They have the infrastructure, just as much "street cred" as Joel's group and they don't have to dust off any cobwebs as far the format is concerned. They also have the greatest weapon of all: the great Kevin Murphy. He is by far the best performer of all the former Brains. His Tom Servo was the most charismastic on the Satellite and his Prof. Bobo was rivaled only by TV's Frank.

I think the biggest liability in Joel's group is Joel himself. He had a tendency to rely on the props too much. It was a crutch that he went to far too often.

The X factors are Mary Jo Pehl and Frank Conniff. I can easily see them drifting from camp to camp. They seem to have loyalties to both groups and have never given the impression of being in anything but good terms with Mike and Joel.

Jim Mallon has the brand and not much else. Paul Chaplin, as talented as he is, cannot carry MST in whatever incarnation by himself. The new Tom Servo voice is atrocious.

I have supported Rifftrax and the Film Crew. I'll support Cinematic Titanic. I am disappointed by the new MST3K but I will not give up on it this early on in it's infancy.

Attaturk said...

I like Mike; I like Joel. I like everybody...okay, except for Mallon.

Rifftrax has already established itself, as has Nelson as a separate entity. It is already successful. Mike is a very funny -- and very nice guy.

I'm sure with the talent they have Cinema Titanic will work too. I think there's a structural problem, rather than a personality conflict between Mike and Joel.

A ship can't have two captains, but two successful ships can have one each.

Why would Joel come back to be second banana to Mike...and why would Mike having successfully written books and established Rifftrax be second banana to Joel?

There's room for the two of them, and I'm sure they know that. It's not a zero-sum game.

Fraid said...

Hey Guys

Update: someone unearthed an advance copy of the second "Bots Are Back" webisode, which can be downloaded here:


You need a "flv" player to run it on your computer, but any good geek/nerd shouldn't have too much of a problem finding one.

In you case you don't feel like digging it up, here's a brief synopsis: Gypsy and Servo exchange some dense, awkward jokes about meteorologists' tendency to give both a "straight" temperature and a "feels like" temperature when announcing the day's weather. Then Kramer barges in!

It is marginally better than the first episode, primarily because expectations are ratcheted so low that almost anything would be. Teams Mike and Joel, your move. Go head on.

Matthew said...

Just so you're aware, Mary Jo Pehl took a turn with Mike on Rifftrax, and Mike (at least) is definitely still in communication with Trace and Frank. Last I heard, most (if not all) of the Brains were at Mary Jo's recent wedding. I don't really think it's a matter of different teams competing. There's simply no room (and probably not enough money) for a giant cast on Rifftrax or The Film Crew. Joel would also likely not be happy working for someone else's vision, since Joel's more of a creator. It all makes sense this way, really. And I don't think there's any animousity between Joel and Mike's camps.

Jim, on the other hand? Yeah, he's a douche who's probably just cashing in on the brand that he's let slip through his fingers. If he'd not been such a dick, he could've held onto his employees and we could be seeing a REAL continuation of MST3K right now. Don't burn your bridges, Jim. You and Paul aren't strong enough to keep them up alone.

David said...

Tough call on all of this.. Having the mst3k banner under the lamest act is no picnic.

The whole crew seem to have a mix of emotions, between the enjoyment of doing what they do best and the been-there-done-that syndrome. Joel, Mike, Trace, Frank, Mary Jo, etc. do this SO well that it's held our attention for nearly 20 years and will continue to do so. I wish them well and if I had one wish for my own (and every MSTie does) is that SOMEDAY they would get together and collaborate JUST ONE MORE TIME.

Anonymous said...

I found these comments left on the official MST3K forum:


Oh man! The "all new MST3K.com" website SUCKS! Don't get me wrong – I really wanted to like it! I'm just as big a MSTY as anyone, but what a lackluster waste of an opportunity. I waited how many years for THIS!?!


Before anyone thinks that I'm simply rooting for the "other "guys, let me just say that I also think Rifftrax SUCKS TOO! Here again is a prime example of MST3K has-beens "cashing in" or at least attempting to cash in on their MST3K past. The real problem with Rifftrax is that it lost sight of what MST3K was really all about – bad movies! Their formula is to simply riff any new DVD release because of so called "availability." MST3k was about riffing bad movies, not just DVDs that were about to come out and that it could link to and collect a fee every time some doofus clicked on the link to purchase the movie by clicking here.

Further, most of the movies were older movies and added to the campiness of the show. On rifftrax, they'll riff anything (good or bad) as long as there is a buck to be made! As for the synching of an mp3 track with a DVD – Oh please, I haven't got the time to splice a jillion things together for a couple of hours of entertainment (and not much at that.) Rifftrax also relies too heavily on crude potty humor or outright language (a real sign that the writers are simply not creative or talented enough to write actual riffs or humorous dialogue). Can't think of anything funny to say? Hey, let's talk about potty humor! That always gets a laugh from the unintelligent masses!

So, in a word, Rifftrax SUCKS too!

My only hope left is that Joel Hodgson (the real and only talent behind MST3K) will dazzle us once again with his talents. And with Trace and Frank and original company along for the ride, it does look good!

MST3K.COM and RIFFTRAX – GO TO HELL! (Or at least to Canada!)

- And it's really disheartening and shameful that all of these former friends and MST3K alumni can't stand each other! Just one more hope dashed in this world that people who should be able to get along and collaborate together to continue or *gasp* perhaps make something altogether new and comedic-ally brilliant simply CAN'T or WON'T! (Go to CANADA!!)

Enuf said!

This poster then later left this comment (responding to a post from "Shad" from MST3K.COM:


From Shad (a.k.a. PUNY a.k.a. JIM MALLON)

"-Paul especially didn't want to put up "Reel Livin'" first but it was the only one done and everyone figured that if we waited until really good ones came along,..then who knows when the site would launch. All the MST3K guys have a DIY "show the warts and all" mentality that made the show so great in the first place. So...we went ahead and threw up the site as is, that animation, and then a quick store to help pay for hosting and stuff."

- I have a feeling that Shad's comments were completely AUTHORIZED by none other than Jim Mallon. (If not posted by Jim Mallon himself.) What to do if your all new MST3K.com website sucks? Why just tell the loyal fans that you KNEW it sucked too, BUT that the good stuff is coming SOON and we just posted the CRAP first because IT'S ALL WE HAD. I mean, c'mon, if "we waited until really good ones came along,..then who knows when the site would launch." (Shad/Mallons words).


Well, we wouldn't want to wait until we actually had something "good," would we? Nah, let's just post any old crap on the ALL-NEW MST3K.com. After all, it's not like we are introducing a NEW MST3K WEBSITE or anything, right? Who cares, right? We don't, that's for sure. I'm sure the fans of MST3K don't actually have expectations of MST3K being funny or 'gasp' even good. Besides, if we wait until the good ones come along we might never launch the website (therein lies your problem, guys!) It might be weeks, months, years, before anyone around here at MST3K.com could post a "good" one. Nah, let's just post the crap we got.

Or as "BathTub" put it (you beat me to the punch…)

"Well putting up stuff you suspect to be below standards is going to be counter productive. It's not like there was a huge outside demand for a Nov 5th starting date. The time should have been taken to ensure that the first one was the best it could have been. First impressions count, especially in a situation like this where you have to overcome a lot of skepticism towards the project." – Credit to member "BathTub"

From Shad (a.k.a. PUNY a.k.a. JIM MALLON)

"Plus they have to be fairly easy to animate, Jim wants to keep the episodes coming despite no network $$."

Oh right, because he's dirt poor. I keep forgetting. It's not like he makes a ton of coin off the MST3K DVDs. In fact, isn't he about the ONLY ONE who makes money off the MST3K DVDs? (Seeing as how he screwed the rest of the cast – you know, the same rest of the cast who now loath him and who unanimously decided NOT to be involved in this all new MST3K money-making greedy venture (minus just about all of the MST3K)! Oh, that's right… silly me, they weren't ASKED to be a part of this new greedy venture. Maybe that's because Mr. Jim knew they would all collectively SPIT in his face!

Ah, isn't friendship Grand! The relationships that Jim cultivated throughout the years of MST3K with all of those PUNY and INSIGNIFICANT creators and contributors known as the cast and crew have really paid off. Why they're all back to support the MAN behind MST3K, right?

No? Hmm, well, maybe someone just forgot to mention to them that MST3K was back. I'm sure Jim will get someone on that right away – right after they get something "good" in the can and posted on the website. So Shad/Mallon, the reason you have NO NETWORK $$ is because you got NO NETWORK SHOW. I guess you missed that. What you do have is CRAP and quite frankly, CRAP IS CHEAP. (Tip: Don't spend a lot of money on your crap, Jim!)

And one more thing Shad/Jim (said in my best Columbo impression)…

Don't treat us fans as if we were stupid. Websites cost almost nothing these days ($1.99 and up for hosting). The only thing you have to pay for is for someone to animate your crappy little flash toons (and hopefully you're not paying much for that crap!) I'm sure your DVD sales (YES, THEY'RE ALL YOURS!!) will probably pay for that with plently left over! And that doesn't even include your all new MST3K.COM store sales which promote your ALL-NEW MST3K.COM crap!

(I know, I know… it's just until something "good" comes along!)

Anonymous said...

Where did you get the idea that only Jim Mallon earns money from the DVDs? Joel certainly has an interest as he has stated many times that he would do well financially if MST3K continued successfully without him. The other, I believe, also hold an interest in the company. Not a *controlling* interest, but a financial one. Cast memebers who provided new material (introductions, etc.) to the DVDs also would have made money on them without question. So, although I have no respect for Mallon for allowing Best Brains to become little more than a IP holding company, I think you've got your facts wrong, there.

JohnH said...

I also think there's probably no animosity between Joel and Mike, or at least I really hope there's not. It'd be cool if they had a crossover of some sort, or played up a friendly rivalry.

You know, I'm given to wonder why the heck I care if they're on speaking terms with each other. It's just a show, after all. But really it's a bit more than that. We all hope the MST guys are the best of friends, and attend each other's weddings, and knock off work for brews together. It's really more than just a show by this point. Gosh darn it, we genuinely like these people, who are just about as un-phony as anyone in the entertainment business today.

If the MST3K cast were to disintegrate into a pile of yowling, scratching infighting, it seems like it would nearly prove it's impossible to make an entertainment show without that happening. They all have a niceness factor of, at the very least, Bruce Campbell. Hating them's like kicking a box of puppies.

John Seavey said...

I kind of assume, from comments Mike has made, that there's no personal reasons behind the "two ventures" aspect of the, um...two ventures. (I can't say I really count MST3K.com, to be honest. Without movies, puppets, 90% of the writing staff, and 66% of the classic performers, it doesn't seem much like MST3K.) I mean, the Monty Python group doesn't still do MP together, and they still remain (for the most part) friends who are willing to work together.

Personally, I remain more interested in 'The Film Crew' than in 'Cinematic Titanic', just because I think that Mike, Kevin and Bill are more polished and comfortable in front of the camera than Joel, Trace, and Frank were, and because I think they've had more practice in writing riffs and it does show. (I think that the people who worked on the movie learned a lot about what jokes to cut, for example, and it shows in a lack of weaker gags.)

That said, I'm not seeing this as an either/or situation by any stretch. I'll be picking up the first 'Cinematic Titanic' release, and I'd be surprised if it turns out to be bad. The more the merrier, I say.

courtlynnee said...

Anon 1:50, It's been stated by people involved (namely Mike and Mary Jo Pehl's husband Ron) that Jim and only Jim makes money off the DVD releases. He also owns the name Mystery Science Theater 3000 and the silhouettes and could and would sue if anyone, even Joel (probably especially Joel) if they used it.

I love Rifftrax. I will love CT. Fuck the new MST3K.com. But I still love Paul, poor guy.

Anonymous said...

From a Recent MSNBC interview:

"Nelson pronounced Mallon's site "cute." "It seems to be an after-the-fact use of the [robot] characters," he said. "It's kind of hard to see them again after all this time, and think of them in that context, so it looks completely different to me."

Less forgiving are the fans. Unimpressed by Mallon's offerings, at least one fan trotted the first cartoon over to Cuts.com, a RiffTrax site that allows users to drop pre-recorded ridicule from Nelson and company into any video clip. So viewers are now treated to the sound of Murphy heaping scorn upon the character he played for nine years.

The Video, Here: