On November 24, 1988, a tiny Minneapolis TV station called KTMA launched an original program that would soon become a small-scale cable TV phenomenon. The enigmatically named Mystery Science Theater 3000 kicked off with a premise absolutely irresistible to the couch potatoes of the world: a wisecracking slacker and his robot pals would sit in the corner of your screen to make well-timed jokes during the course of a terrible two-hour movie. Simply put, nothing like it had ever existed on TV before, making it must-watch viewing for anyone who accidentally stumbled upon it.
Mystery Science Theater 3000 eventually closed up shop in 1999 at the end of its tenth season, but on April 17—nearly 18 years after its cancellation—we’ll soon have new episodes and a new cast thanks to a Kickstarter campaign spearheaded by its original creator. And with this new blood in the mix, there’s always the question of who will be returning, who won’t be, and what everyone’s been up to in the passing two decades. That said, here’s everything you need to know about the creative forces who originally brought you MST3K—and if we miss an important detail, you should really just relax.
Joel Hodgson (Joel Robinson)
The true creator of MST3K, Joel Hodgson originally pitched the premise to KTMA producer Jim Mallon, who would help him put together those original, shaky episodes of the show. Once the series moved to the Comedy Channel (which would soon become Comedy Central), Joel stayed on as host “Joel Robinson” for five-and-a-half seasons before leaving in the fall of 1993 thanks to a dispute with Mallon over who would direct the upcoming MST3K movie—which would eventually be released in 1996.
Following MST3K, Hodgson kept a low profile, and mainly stuck to low-key acting roles and small writing gigs. In 2007, he launched a project everyone had been waiting for since he left MST3K: Cinematic Titanic, which reunited him with the majority of his former peers. After a few years of subsisting off of single DVD releases, Cinematic Titanic would drop its slight framing device and instead focus more on live shows. Joel formally ended Cinematic Titanic in 2013, just a few years before Kickstarting the MST3K reboot. While Hodgson will not have an on-camera role in this new version of the series, he still serves as its executive producer, meaning his unique comic voice should still find a way to shine through.
Michael J. Nelson (Mike Nelson)
After signing on to essentially transcribe jokes in the MST3K writer’s room, Mike Nelson proved his comedy chops and quickly rose to the rank of head writer. This role would continue for him even after becoming MST3K’s new host in the fall of 1993. Following MST3K, Nelson took on several writing projects, including the website, Timmy Big Hands (alongside fellow MST3K peers Bill Corbett and Kevin Murphy), and books like Mike Nelson’s Movie Megacheese, Mike Nelson’s Mind Over Matters, and Mike Nelson’s Death Rat!
His most notable post-MST3K project, though, is none other than Rifftrax. While this enterprise started as Nelson simply doing comedic commentary tracks for popular and public domain movies, it wouldn’t be long before Rifftrax became much more MST3K-like with the addition of former castmates Bill Corbett and Kevin Murphy. These days, Rifftrax’s selections usually amount to Z-grade movies or educational shorts in video-on-demand format—making the former stumbling block of syncing a commentary track a total non-issue. Now in its eleventh year, Rifftrax has eclipsed the original run of MST3K seasons and can be regularly found in theaters thanks to simulcast live shows promoted by Fathom Films. If you can forgive the lack of shadows and puppets, Rifftrax is basically like MST3K never ended.
Trace Beaulieu (Dr. Clayton Forrester, Crow T. Robot)
From the series’ very beginning, Trace Beaulieu portrayed two of MST3K’s most iconic characters: the failed, petty mad scientist, Dr. Clayton Forrester, and the puckish Crow T. Robot. Beaulieu would leave the show in 1996 at the end of MST3K’s Comedy Central run, choosing not to come back in 1997 for its return to the Sci-Fi Channel (now Syfy). After spending nearly a decade writing for America’s Funniest Home Videos, Beaulieu joined the Cinematic Titanic crew in 2007 and stuck with the project for its entire run. Currently, he tours as part of The Mads, a two-man movie-riffing project with former MST3K peer Frank Conniff, who also helps him host the podcast Movie Sign with the Mads. As of now, Beaulieu will not be contributing to the MST3K reboot.
Frank Conniff (TV’s Frank)
After joining MST3K in season two as Dr. Forrester’s new assistant, TV’s Frank, Frank Conniff would stay on the show as a performer and writer until the end of the show’s sixth season. Following this, he picked up writing roles at shows like Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Invader Zim, and would join Joel Hodgson for Cinematic Titanic in 2007. Though he won’t be part of the MST3K reboot, you can catch him with Trace Beaulieu in the projects mentioned above, or read his new book, Twenty Five Mystery Science Theater 3000 Films That Changed My Life in No Way Whatsoever.
Kevin Murphy (Tom Servo, Professor Bobo)
Though he was with MST3K from its very beginning, Kevin Murphy didn’t go on to define Tom Servo until the second season, when he picked up puppeteering duties from the departing Josh Weinstein. He would stay on as both a writer and performer for the entirety of MST3K’s run, and would eventually do a lot more on-camera work with the introduction of Professor Bobo in season 8. After writing the book A Year at the Movies: One Man’s Filmgoing Odyssey—in which he sees a different movie in a different part of the world every day for a year—Murphy joined Mike Nelson shortly after the start of Rifftrax and has remained with the group ever since. For the MST3K reboot, Murphy will be reprising his role as Professor Bobo, though we don’t yet know how big a part this old character will play in the show’s revival.
Mary Jo Pehl (Pearl Forrester)
After joining MST3K in season 3 as a writer, Mary Jo Pehl replaced TV’s Frank in season 7 as Dr. Forrester’s new foil—but in the form of an overbearing mother rather than a human guinea pig. Pehl would go on to play Pearl Forrester as the show’s main antagonist for its final three seasons, reshaping her character into a madwoman bent on world domination. Along with being a part of Cinematic Titanic, Pehl has published two books: I Lived With My Parents and Other Tales of Terror, and Employees of the Month and Other Big Deals. Pehl also occasionally contributes to Rifftax, and will reprise her role as Pearl Forrester in some capacity for the upcoming MST3K reboot.
Bill Corbett (Crow T. Robot, Observer)
Bill Corbett joined MST3K as a writer in season six, and soon found himself thrust into the role of Crow T. Robot after the Trace Beaulieu left the show. Despite some subpar puppet-work in his early episodes, his crankier version of Crow T. Robot was soon accepted by the show’s audience, who at that point had been used to major changes. Corbett joined Rifftrax shortly after its start and remains one of its trio of performers. For the MST3K reboot, Corbett will be reprising his role as Observer (or “Brain Guy”), one of Pearl Forrester’s lackeys from the Sci-Fi channel era.
Josh Weinstein (Tom Servo, Dr. Laurence Erhardt)
Though Josh Weinstein was with MST3K from its beginnings at KTMA, he wouldn’t be with the show for very long. After playing the roles of Dr. Forrester’s first sidekick, Dr. Laurence Erhardt, and Tom Servo, he left the show at the end of its first Comedy Channel season in 1990. Following MST3K, he wrote for TV shows like Malcolm & Eddie, Freaks and Geeks, and Later with Greg Kinnear before joining Cinematic Titanic in 2007. As of now, Weinstein will not be contributing to the MST3K reboot.
The Mystery Science Theater 3000 reboot launches April 17 on Netflix. And if you’d like to check out past episodes of the show, you can watch a good number of them for free on the official Mystery Science Theater 3000 Youtube channel.