The History of MST3K, Told By CrowBot.

Inspired by Satellite News’ The Almost But Not Quite Complete History of MST3K

It all started with a prop comic.

That prop comic was Joel Hodgson, and he created a show about a guy and some robots riffing cheesy movies.

It started in 1988, when Joel met Wisconsin native Jim Mallon, who was responsible for that lawn flamingo prank at his college, and also directed the slasher film that MST3K really needs to riff, Blood Hook. Jim was working at a UHF TV station called KTMA (now WUCW), and wanted to find a way to fill a two-hour time slot on Sunday evenings.

The seed of the concept that would become Mystery Science Theater 3000 was planted when Hodgson returned two weeks later with a preliminary description of a program that had a person on an orbiting spacecraft viewing lousy movies with two robot friends.

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Joel asked Trace Beaulieu and Josh Weinstein to help him create a demo tape of the idea; Mallon asked Kevin Murphy for assistance. Beaulieu was cautious but willing to work with Joel. Murphy was a trustworthy, well-known entity to Mallon. The gregarious Illinois native, like Mallon, was a married father of four with roots in the Twin Cities. Both at KTMA and while Mallon oversaw Blood Hook, he had helped Mallon. As the project got underway, Murphy did a little bit of everything, including scripting, lighting, camera work, and lending his voice for the one and only time Cambot ever spoke.

The group recorded a very basic “movie sign entrance sequence,” a rudimentary host part in which Joel explains that he developed the Satellite of Love and sent it into orbit on his own will, and a theater portion that included around a half-hour of the 1969 film The Green Slime. The supporting cast includes a very primitive version of Crow (named after one of Joel’s pals), a similarly poor version of Gypsy (named after Joel’s pet tortoise or something like that), and a proto-Tom Servo character named Beeper who could only communicate with Crow through beeps.

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Hodgson and his team started improving the product right away. In addition to the robots, the group also cobbled together the sets and the initial model of the Satellite of Love. Everyone agreed that Beeper was a highly unsatisfactory character, thus that character was modified first. Joel didn’t like it, and Josh wanted to talk more on the show. By the first episode, Beeper had a voice and had adopted the moniker Servo (after a vending machine they had seen at a mall), which Weinstein eventually developed to become Tom Servo. Joel acknowledged that the robots were built during an all-nighter the day before the first episode was filmed. In reality, Joel once remarked that the “sleepiness” of his persona came from the fact that he was actually quite drowsy during the filming of the pilot episode, and “it simply stayed.”

For the first episode, the concept was also revised. In the updated version, Joel played Joel Robinson, a janitor at the top secret Gizmonic Institute. Joel was presumably duped in some way into boarding right before Gizmonic launched a rocket ship into space, as the opening theme tune revealed. His bosses, Dr. Clayton Forrester and Dr. Laurence Erhardt, were making him watch cheesy movies while he was now stranded in space.

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