Of course, there’s one good explanation for coming up with that kind of money: paying the people who worked so hard on the show what they’re worth. And this may be the area were MST 2.0 falls shortest, because at the moment, the single, solitary member of the Mystery Science Theater team, from either the Comedy Central or Sci-Fi eras, as either writer or performer, is Joel Hodgson. “Mystery Science Theater has already refreshed itself once with a completely new cast, so I think it deserves to do that again,” he told Entertainment Weekly, which is true — by the time it ended, the host, robot voices, and primary antagonist (Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, Bill Corbett, and Mary Jo Pehl, respectively) were entirely different than when the show began on The Comedy Channel, aka Comedy Central (Hodgson, J. Elvis Weinstein, and Beaulieu in a double role). But they were also vets who worked their way up after contributing to the show for years (in Murphy’s case, since its beginning); more importantly, they were eased in one at a time, giving the audience to chance to get to know them, and eventually love them.
And they did, so much so that after MST folded up shop, they kept riffing on movies. Nelson, Murphy, and Corbett do both mp3 commentaries for big hits and all-in riffs on terrible B-movies via Rifftrax; Hodgson, Beaulieu, Weinstein, Pehl, and “TV’s Frank” Coniff spent years doing a live-performance variation called Cinematic Titanic. Those ventures landed because of the affection and attachment fans had towards those particular performers — not just the movie-riffing concept, and certainly not just the “stranded on a space station with robots” framework.
“The original cast is going to be invited back to write, produce, and do cameos as their mad scientist characters, and then there’s a new cast with new talent,” Hodgson told EW, and Shout Factory confirms, “While it’s true that Joel is the only member of the previous cast or writing team formally involved so far, many of previous team members just haven’t been invited yet.” But if the original cast will “be invited,” it doesn’t sound like many of them are all that into it.
“I’m not involved at all with the Mystery Science Theater 3000 reboot,” Nelson noted on Facebook, and then followed up: “I loved my time at MST, but I was in essence a hired gun. The brand does not belong to me, and I make and have made (almost) zero dollars off it since it stopped production in 1999.” Bill Corbett concurred: “No, I am not involved in this.” J. Elvis Weinstein “won’t be participating.” Trace Beaulieu: “Not involved at all,” and the kind of Dr. Forrester cameo Hodgson alludes to “won’t be happening.” Mary Jo Pehl is not involved. Frank Conniff hasn’t yet commented publicly; neither has Kevin Murphy, but considering his ongoing relationship with Corbett and Nelson, it seems safe to bet he isn’t in either. (It sounds like there may be some ill will over residuals from the old show —when I reached out to Rifftrax about their recent addition of old MST3K episodes to their streaming library, I was told that, among its benefits, the new syndication gave “Mike, Kevin, and Bill a chance to see direct economic benefit from MST, where since the show stopped airing, they have received either very limited, or no compensation.”)
So what, exactly, is Hodgson making here? From the looks of it, something akin to New Monkees , a beloved property resurrected without the participation of those who made it great. The number of performers involved in the original series, and the well-reported (and much speculated-upon) personality clashes between them probably made the idea of an all-hands reunion/super-MST a practical impossibility, but some semblance of love for those performers (and, from the sound of things, an overdue payday) would’ve made a lot more sense than this Joel-approved third-team iteration. There are options out there for fans who miss Mystery Science Theater, in the form of live appearances, the old DVDs of the sadly defunct Cinematic Titanic, or the admirably prolific Rifftrax crew. They’re continuing the good work that began on the Satellite of Love — and for a damn sight less than five-and-a-half million bucks.
[UPDATE 11/13/15: A few hours after this piece went live, Joel Hodgson posted a Kickstarter update addressing some of these concerns–some satisfactorily (the total cost of the episodes makes a bit more sense), some less so (the comments about inviting former cast to participate don’t jibe with the statements of non-involvement most have already made), some not at all (it’s still not clear why fans are being asked to shoulder the entire cost, but that’s an ongoing question with celebrity-fueled Kickstarters). At any rate, you can read it here.]