My favorite television show of all time is undoubtedly Mystery Science Theater 3000 (or MST3K for us enlightened ones.) It ran for 10 seasons from 1988 through 1999. If you're unfamiliar with the premise of the show, I could tell you all about it but it's just easier to link you to the Wikipedia article. For those of you who have never seen it, I weep for you.
In September of 1997, my wife (Tundra Girl) and I celebrated our 3rd wedding anniversary. Like most young couples in love, we wanted to do something romantic to remind us of the sacred vow of marriage we had taken before God Almighty. So, we hopped in our car and drove the 250 miles to Eden Prairie, MN (a suburb of Minneapolis) and toured the Best Brains studio where MST3K was filmed.
Touring the studio, I was in hog heaven. I felt like the apostle Peter at the transfiguration; if they would have let me set up a tent and stay there I would have. The tour, guided by the MST3K info club poobah Barb Tebben, took approximately an hour. They showed us every room in the building, and let us handle the props.
During the tour we snapped some photos, which I am sharing here. Note that these pictures predate the era of digital photography, which means that they were taken on a really cruddy 35mm camera and later scanned. Also in the old days you paid for each picture both in film and developing costs, so we rationed the number of pictures that were taken. Nevertheless, let us continue on...
When we first walked through the door we were immediately greeted with props from episodes. The entire building was filled with them. I suspect that over the years they started to run short on storage space, and began using the props as decorations. The entry foyer contained, among other things, the robotic controls that Mike would use to manipulate the robotic arm outside of the Sattelite of Love.
The same room looked like it doubled as a conference room. (I'm going off of memory from 12 years ago here, so don't take everything I say as gospel.) In another corner was the Hubble Telescope and the steering wheel Mike would use to guide the ship. The black board was full of interesting scribblings.
In the main halway of the studio, the walls were lined with pictures of the cast and show. At the end of the hallway was one of my favorite pictures of a monsterous Crow squishing numerous small Tom Servos. This was used in an episode where Tom was displaying his artwork, all of which just happened to express his feelings of oppression from Crow. I offered to buy this painting from them, but was denied. Seriously, I would love to have this hanging in my house.
This is the editing room where each episode was sliced and diced until they produced the final product that we saw. We were there on a Friday, and because no filming was being done that week, no editing was happening either.
We then moved into the main studio room where the filming was done. The room was large, and was divided into two parts. One was a mostly permanant set of the inside of the Sattelite of Love. The other part was more dynamic and would get changed around more often. This was the area where the "mads" would be filmed. The cameras were all located in between the two, so when it was time to film a different portion of the show they would just spin them around. Here's my wife on the deck of the Sattelite of Love. You can see the hexfield view screen right behind her. Note that the mechanical looking surface of the sattelite is actually common objects glued to the walls and painted. By her left arm one can see an upside down Darth Vader and a portion of the Millenium Falcon.
In 1997 they were filming season 8, which was the first season on the Sci-Fi network. This was the season the old "mads" (Dr. Forrester and TV's Frank) were transitioned over to the new "mads" (Pearl Forrester, Bobo and Brain Guy.) Here I am holding Brain Guy's pan. Looking at this photo makes me thankful that I've since lost 80 lbs!
Most of the cast were in New York doing a press thing the day we were touring the studio, so we didn't get to meet them. There were a few people milling around, however. I believe that this guy (on the right) was the guy who did Gypsy.
We then moved from the set into the props room. This was the room where all of the "magic" of the show was created. It was great seeing the props up close that I would recognize from different episodes. Most of them were pieced together from assorted recycled junk, which made them even more endearing. The first thing I noticed sitting on the shelf were the Nanites.
The whole room was full to the brim. All sorts of treasures could be seen. Up on a shelf I spotted the model they used for the exterior shots of the Sattelite of Love.
Off in another corner on a makeshift stand, sat Gypsy.
Each robot had their own dedicated workbench. Here's the bench for Gypsy. I'm not sure why she was sitting all by her lonesome on the other side of the room. There are multiple parts and pieces of each robot. You can see a smaller version of Gypsy in this picture. I don't remember for what purpose the small one was used.
The main Crow and Tom Servo puppets were in New York with the cast, so I didn't get to see them. However, the blacked-out Crow that was used in the theater scenes was sitting on the bench. I believe this was also used in one episode where they made "evil Crow."
Tom Servo's bench was full of bits and pieces. There was a partial Servo sitting there in an elf costume, and variations of his head all over the place. You can also see his "trucker body" sticking out from what looks like a giant toaster strudel.
From the prop room we moved into the costume room. In the middle of this room was where they stored Pearl Forrester's VW bus. Lining the outside of the room were hangars and hangars full of costumes used throughout the series. I found Torgo's hat (from the Manos The Hands Of Fate episode) and got a picture of me wearing it, but I can't for the life of me find the photo.
The bus had all of the windows removed to facilitate easier filming.
From the costume room we moved down the hall to the makeup rooms. For some reason I haven't found the pictures of those rooms either. From there we made our way to the writing room, where most of the action in creating the show would happen. The room was full of living room furniture with a large TV in the corner. The writers would then sit and watch the TV show over and over as they made comments. There was a computer workstation (slightly visible at right) where the comments would be logged along with the respective time code for when the comment should be made in the movie. If I remember correctly, each episode had somewhere around 800 comments that would be included. I'm sure countless gems never made it to film.
The agenda for the day was written on a blackboard in the writing room. This made me laugh.
The tour finally ended back out in the lobby area. Many more props were stored out in this area. Here's one of the "personal tanks" that Dr. Forrester and Frank used during an invention exchange.
More props that I vaguely recognize, but don't remember the specific episodes in which they were used.
The spinning MST3K globe that was used during commercial transitions was sitting here on a table.
On the top of shelve was the Gizmonics building that was featured in the opening credits during the show's Comedy Central years.
Finally, here's a picture of one of my favorite invention exchange ideas, the Tragic Moments Figurines. This one was "By The Fire's Glow". They had made two others not on display: "Sparky's Last Romp" and "I'll Get It". These two eventually wound up being sold on eBay.
My other favorite invention exchange item which I would have loved to see up close was the Unhappy Meal ("this one has a game on it where you try and get the motorcade past the book depository.") I was unable to locate it amid the countless other gems.
This page last updated on 07/11/2018