But what of the old cast?
This is something Joel has been adamant on, the importance of infusing fresh blood and perspectives into both the on-screen and writer’s room roles of the MST3k reboot. In terms of reaching a modern audience, that may well be the way to go in creating a show that is relevant in its humor. It’s also, however, the source of the largest sticking points of criticism among the MST3k faithful: The participation, or lack thereof, of all the other actors and writers who helped create almost 200 episodes of the original series. Those fans are understandably wondering about a whole laundry list of names: Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett, Kevin Murphy, Mary Jo Pehl, Trace Beaulieu, Frank Conniff, Josh Weinstein, Paul Chaplin, Bridget Jones, etc, etc.
There have already been pieces written trying to portray the lack of confirmed participation as a supposed rift between Hodgson and former cast members/writers, but I’m not sure this is the case, or at least not universally. It doesn’t make much sense, after all, for Mary Jo Pehl to be posting the link to the Kickstarter on her Facebook if she’s not supporting it. Likewise with Josh Weinstein and others, who noted they wouldn’t be participating but still posted the link and attempted to send patronage toward the Kickstarter in a clear show of support. Nelson, Corbett and Murphy, meanwhile, have their own movie-riffing project to manage already—it’s not like they’re about to stop doing Rifftrax, which has blossomed into a very successful and cherished organization in its own right.
Still, it feels like perhaps some aspects could have been handled better. The tweets sent out after the announcement by Nelson, for instance, seem to suggest that he and other former cast members didn’t even know anything about the Kickstarter before it went live, which begs the question of what the harm would have been in at least floating the idea of participation in the new series before it was announced. The Kickstarter organizers must have known that the second it went live, hundreds of messages would be sent toward the likes of Nelson, Corbett or Trace Beaulieu, asking if they were going to be involved. This is a cult show, after all. Perhaps if these performers and writers had been consulted before the project went live, then their responses would have been something akin to “Hoping to participate, fingers crossed!” Instead, you had Trace Beaulieu posting that a cameo “won’t be happening.”
This is all very premature, however. Hodgson maintains that they’ll be reaching out to all the former cast for potential participation, and he’s a guy who has earned plenty of goodwill from the geek community. Or in short: He’s working on it.
“You gotta remember that there’s a complicated history here, for money reasons and other reasons,” he said. “I can’t promise whether any specific person will join, but we’d like to have them all. I hope once the campaign is over, we’ll be able to have a real talk about it and make it make sense for them. Keep in mind, when we started this I was 28 years old and single, and we could dedicate all of our time to it. Now everyone has all of these different responsibilities. I feel comfortable in saying that everyone is invited back, and we’ll be reaching out to everyone and be able to pay everyone well for their time.”
The relevance of MST3k
So let’s just table that casting discussion for now, shall we? Instead, let’s ask another question that is probably more pertinent to this new show’s success: Is 2015 a good market for MST3k?
I can’t help but think the answer is “Yes.” For years, I’ve been telling friends, family and pretty much any passerby who would listen that an MST3k revival of some kind actually makes more sense now than it ever did in the early ‘90s. Perhaps not in terms of finding 2 hours of open space on a major network, but in terms of potential viewership, sure. Think back to 1990, vs. 2015. The world we’re living in today is exponentially more geeky. It is nerdier in ways that no one could ever have predicted, with bastions of nerd culture having become commonplace and co-opted by popular culture in general. This is a world where nearly every summer blockbuster is a Marvel or DC comics adaptation, the highest-rated show on cable is a zombie-drama that occasionally beats Sunday Night Football in the ratings and there’s a booming online business in cute little Cthulhu plushie dolls.
It should also be noted that MST3k is a property with a huge, rabid fanbase, but the potential untapped fanbase is even bigger. The concept of movie riffing itself is so much more accessible and instantly understood by the younger portion of the millennial generation. These are the kids and comedians who pioneered say, the art of live-tweeting in the last decade. And what is live-tweeting but simply following the formula that MST3k laid out? The original series on Comedy Central and Sci-Fi Channel was simply ahead of its time in introducing a new style of comedy. In 2015, the world has caught up. And Joel agrees:
“I totally agree with that,” he said. “It’s really weird when you think about how 30 years ago there wasn’t that much stuff for geeky people out in the open, and now it’s like the world has adjusted to it. I’ve worked Comic-Cons, and it’s a family thing now, people bringing their kids. There’s a few geeks out there reproducing, and we’re really grateful for that.”
Why, then, try to bring back MST3k via Kickstarter, possibly in an online streaming fashion, when there’s presumably a TV network out there that would take a gamble on the show with such an active fanbase? Wouldn’t Adult Swim, SyFy or say, FXX jump at the chance?
“People are definitely interested, but I think working with the fans is the right tone for the show for now,” Hodgson said. “I felt obliged to go to the fans first instead of a network. Doing this is really the path that felt like the most MST3k way, because the fans helped it so much in its original run. I was afraid that if we started out at a network, we might not get to make the show that the fans want. I certainly don’t want a network interpreting the fans for me.”
And so, what we’re left with is Joel, optimistic about his chance to deliver more MST3k to those fans, to experience that old feeling of working on the show he created for the first time since his departure during Mitchell in 1993. Filming for the reboot is planned for “January 4 at 10 a.m.,” according to Hodgson, and you can hear the excitement in his voice when he talks about hopefully having something to show at Comic-Con in July. As for where the show will eventually end up, he seems totally open to whichever platform will allow it to be seen by the largest audience and give its writers and performers the greatest amount of creative freedom.
“It’s really important that we acknowledge and cherish the past,” he said. “It’s not like we’re throwing anything out; we’re building on it. And maybe once we have proof that people want MST3k, we can take it to a network and show them that we know what we’re doing. I want to do 100 more shows, so whoever we can find who thinks the same way as we do and wants to make it happen, that will be the place.”
You hear that, Netflix? For the price of a box of hamdingers, you could make a million geek dreams come true.
Jim Vorel is Paste’s news editor, and a lifelong MSTie. You can follow him on Twitter.