Back in the Front Row

After leaving the show long ago, 'MST3K' creator Joel Hodgson has resumed making fun of bad movies

It's been 20 years since Mystery Science Theater 3000 creator Joel Hodgson blasted into space with his robots, Crow and Tom Servo, and started riffing on bad movies.

With the recent DVD release of Mystery Science Theater 3000: 20th Anniversary Edition (Shout Factory) came a reunion of sorts of Hodgson, who left the show as a host in 1993, and those who carried on the tradition after his departure. The DVD contains footage of Hodgson and the crew convening at Comic-Con.

Last year, Hodgson returned to "movie riffing" with MST3K alumni Trace Beaulieu (voice of Crow), Frank Conniff and others. Cinematic Titanic has shot four episodes so far. (You can download the films or buy the DVDs at

In a recent interview, Hodgson reminisced about MST3K, talked about the reasons he left the show and discussed the joys of returning to movie-riffing.

How are you feeling about all of this Mystery Science Theater 3000 reunion stuff? Weird? Nostalgic?

Seeing everyone again was great. I just feel so fortunate and so lucky, so I appreciate the hell out of Mystery Science Theater 3000. I just don't feel like I'm talented enough to have created this show. It was really like this autonomous thing. We just did what we wanted to, with no notes from the network, and it worked.

You guys taught a lot of people that movie criticism could be fun and endearing, and not necessarily pompous and vicious.

Oh, I appreciate that, man. I guess the way I felt about it was that if we were riffing on movies, I didn't want to be that guy presiding over all of the movies saying, "This blows!" or, "This shouldn't be in front of my eyes." Crummy movies kind of are a gateway to seeing how movies actually work, so I grew up really liking the crummy movies. I always felt like, because of the position we were in as far as riffing on crummy movies, we didn't want to act like we were better than the crummy movies.

On the anniversary DVD's special features, you say that you left MST3K because you were losing creative control. Was that because the network was breathing down your neck?

I was fighting with my partner, Jim Mallon. I had a deal with Jim when we started the company: I would run the creative side while he ran the business and production. When we started working on the movie adaptation, Jim came in one day and said he wanted to produce and direct the movie. So I said, "Well, if you do that, I don't want to be on camera." At that point, Jim just made it so uncomfortable for me that I decided, "This isn't going to work." If I stayed and fought with him, it would've wrecked the show. So that's what was going on, and they cut all of that out of the DVD interview.

Is there any acrimony between you and Jim? Do you get along?

Yeah, I've still got to work with him on all of this stuff. We went and did Comic-Con, and we were in the pressroom together for two days straight. Everything's pretty good, and it worked out OK. In the end, I'm content with how things worked out when I left Mystery Science Theater. Creatively, maybe that was the shot in the arm the whole thing needed? ... I don't know.

You leaving, and Trace (Crow) eventually leaving, created a big void. Mike Nelson was funny, but it wasn't the same. That's why I'm so happy about Cinematic Titanic, your new venture.

Oh, it's great. What's been weird since Mystery Science Theater went off the air is that our DVD sales have steadily grown. And it just became kind of evident that we needed fresh movies. Personally, I was really feeling like I missed it, and I felt kind of divorced from the whole riffing thing, and I wanted it back. ... Fortunately, everybody else ... wanted to do it too. Right now, Cinematic Titanic is kind of like our KTMA (the Minneapolis station where MST3K got its start) days. We're kind of feeling our way through it, and the big thing is to get the riffs where they should be, and feel like we kind of got it back. I think we've done it.

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