Mystery Science Theater 3000, the most popular show about riffing on bad movies, began in 1988 on local TV station KTMA in Minneapolis, Minnesota. It ended after 7 seasons on Comedy Central and 3 seasons on the Sci-Fi Channel. Of course, MST3K is getting a lot of press right now for being renewed on Netflix after a successful Kickstarter campaign. But before that, the original cast and writers utilized their talents together for three additional projects outside of the official MST3K franchise.
In the mid-2000s, after MST3K was canceled, original cast members Michael J. Nelson, Bill Corbett and Kevin Murphy formed the comedic group The Film Crew. At first, the comedic group was seen introducing movies on movie channels like American Movie Classics, Sundance Channel, and Encore. But then, the group decided to move into providing commentary tracks on B-Movies, and in 2006 produced the 4 initial episodes (to be released on DVD) in association with Rhino Entertainment, who held the rights to MST3K at the time. The premise was that the three men worked in a basement reviewing bad movies for their insane boss, Bob Rhino. Unfortunately, Jim Mallon, a producer on the original series who also held the rights the show, thought the new idea was too similar to the original MST3k and threatened to pull the original series, and the DVDs were never released with Rhino. Fortunately, Shout! Factory agreed to release the DVDs (which were looped for the boss to be Bob “Honcho” instead of “Rhino"). However, due to the delay in between the production of the show (sets destroyed, cast moving on to RiffTrax) and release, the short-lived show will probably never be revived.
Mike Nelson created RiffTrax in 2006 in collaboration with Legend Films, a company which at the time specialized in restoration and colorization of films. Nelson came up the idea of making commentaries for movies separately from the movie itself on the website RiffTrax, after realizing that releasing DVDs with the commentary would get him sued. Of course, that meant that the viewers would have to provide the movie themselves, but that didn’t stop Nelson. RiffTrax turned out to be a success, and soon Nelson was joined by Corbett and Murphy again many times with a guest performer. They were also able to release public domain shorts with commentary because there were no legal repercussions. In 2008, two significant changes happened to RiffTrax. The first was the introduction of live shows, which continue to this day, where the three men comment on a film live in front of a studio audience. The second was giving the ability for anyone to make a commentary track, called IRiffs. After several years of Riffing on B-Movies in live shows like Plan 9 from Outer Space, Reefer Madness and Night of the Living Dead, RiffTrax started the first of several successful Kickstarter campaigns to do more live shows. RiffTrax continues to release content online, for B-Movie Riffs, Short Riffs and separate commentary for popular movies and continues to do live shows.
Cinematic Titanic was created by Joel Hodgson in 2007, the original creator of Mystery Science Theater 3000, and utilized fellow cast members Trace Beaulieu, J. Elvis Weinstein, Frank Conniff, and Mary Jo Pehl. Done both as a live show and as DVD releases, Cinematic Titanic shows B-Movies with the actors riffing from silhouettes on either bottom corner of the screen, just like MST3K. The idea is that some unknown organization is making the actors, playing themselves, watch B-Movies just like in MST3K. The organization has a powerful military force, which keeps that cast from rebelling. Cinematic Titanic folded in 2013, due to the fact that each of the cast members lived in different cities. Twelve physical DVDs were made of B-Movies with Cinematic Titanic and many live shows from 2007 to 2013 some of which were released on DVD. Following the end of Cinematic Titanic, Hodgson is now working on the new season of MST3K.
Mystery Science Theater 3000 may be the best and most well known of the “riffing on movies” concept, but the cast members can tweak the format to their own successes. Check out these post-MST3K projects by MST3K cast members.