The Muppet Show
is an American television program
featuring a cast of Muppets
which was produced by Jim Henson
and his team from 1976 to 1981. The show stars Kermit the Frog
, who was also a regular on Sesame Street
. Whereas Kermit was a happy, perky and somewhat avuncular character on Sesame Street
, here he is trying to keep control of the varied, outrageous, kinetic Muppet characters (and his temper), as well as keep the human guest stars happy and secure, an aspect of his personality that made it into his Sesame Street
character following the start of The Muppet Show
. The television show depicted a vaudeville
- or music hall
-style song-and-dance variety show
, as well as the backstage antics involved in putting the show on.
The show was known for outrageous, physical (slapstick), sometimes absurdist comedy, and particularly for using its puppet characters to create humorous parodies. Each show also featured a human star; after the show became popular, many celebrities were eager to perform with the Muppets on television and in film. By the end of its run, over one hundred guest stars had appeared on The Muppet Show.
Muppet performers over the course of the show include Jim Henson, Frank Oz, Jerry Nelson, Richard Hunt, Dave Goelz, Steve Whitmire, Louise Gold, Kathy Mullen, Eren Ozker, and John Lovelady. Jerry Juhl and Jack Burns were two of the show writers.
, Sesame Street
had given Jim Henson's creations exposure; however, Henson began to perceive that he was pigeonholed as a children's entertainer. He sought to create a program that could be enjoyed by young and old. Two specials were produced and aired that are considered pilots for The Muppet Show
. Neither led to the sale of a prime-time network series. However, the prime-time access
rule had just been enacted, which took the 7:30 to 8pm ET
slot from the networks and turned it over to their affiliates. CBS
suggested it would be interested in Henson's proposal as a syndicated series it could purchase for its owned-and-operated
stations, to run one night a week in that time slot.
Lew Grade, head of the British commercial station ATV, offered a deal to Henson that would see his show produced at the ATV studios in Elstree, England. ATV would network the show to other ITV stations in the United Kingdom, and its syndication arm, ITC Entertainment, would sell the show in the United States and around the world. Henson put aside his misgivings about syndication and accepted.
At first, signing guests was a challenge and producers had to call on their personal contacts. The breakthrough was the appearance of the ballet dancer, Rudolf Nureyev. His appearance on such an unusual show generated such positive publicity that the series became one of the sought-after productions to appear in. The Muppet Show premiered in 1976 and finally, after five years and 120 episodes, it went off the air in 1981 because of Henson's desire to move on to other projects and changes in the structure of ATV and ITC Entertainment.
As the show was produced in the United Kingdom it was recorded onto 2-inch videotape using the European industry standard PAL 625-line colour system. For transmission in the United States it had to be converted to NTSC 525-line system. The reason for this has never been explained as ATV's Elstree studios were the only facilities in Europe capable of recording simultaneously in both and had done so many times as ATV/ITC had a track record for exports to American television.
List of Muppet Show characters
- Kermit the Frog, director and host of the Muppet Show. Performed by Jim Henson until his death in 1990. Afterwards, Steve Whitmire performed him from The Muppet Christmas Carol onwards.
- Miss Piggy, a glamorous diva pig in dual pursuit of stardom and Kermit. In the first season, her puppeteering duties were shared between Frank Oz and Richard Hunt. Starting with the second season, Oz took over the character full-time.
- Fozzie Bear, a questionably talented but hardworking stand-up comic bear, and Kermit's unofficial second-in-command. Performed by Frank Oz.
- Scooter, the gofer. His uncle owns the theatre. Performed by Richard Hunt.
- Gonzo, also known as The Great Gonzo or Gonzo the Great, stuntman, daredevil, performance artist and "The Muppet Show's Resident Weird Person". Performed by Dave Goelz.
- The Swedish Chef, a cook with weird culinary habits who speaks a Scandinavian-sounding double-talk called "mock Swedish". Performed by Jim Henson with the hands of Frank Oz.
- Rowlf the Dog, the show's resident wisecracking piano player. Performed by Jim Henson.
- Dr Bunsen Honeydew, head of Muppet Labs, a scientist and inventor. Performed by Dave Goelz.
- Beaker, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew's hapless guinea pig / assistant. Performed by Richard Hunt.
- Camilla, a chicken and Gonzo's true love. Usually performed by Jerry Nelson.
- Sam the (American Bald) Eagle, American superpatriot and self-appointed censor of the Muppet Show. Performed by Frank Oz.
- Dr. Teeth, ultra-hip band leader, and keyboard player for Dr. Teeth and The Electric Mayhem. Performed by Jim Henson.
- Sgt. Floyd Pepper, bass guitarist and all around hip person of Dr. Teeth and The Electric Mayhem. Performed by Jerry Nelson.
- Janice, the Band's hippie-chick lead guitarist (and Floyd's main squeeze). Performed by Eren Ozker in the first season and Richard Hunt for the remainder of the run.
- Animal, the Band's savage, frenzied drummer. Performed by Frank Oz. Drumming performed by Ronnie Verrell.
- Zoot, the sleepy saxophone player in the Electric Mayhem and the Muppet Show's orchestra. Performed by Dave Goelz.
- Lips, trumpet player for the "Mayhem" added in the fifth season. Performed by Steve Whitmire.
- Lew Zealand, boomerang fish thrower and generally fish-obsessed performer. Performed by Jerry Nelson.
- Statler & Waldorf, two old men who occupy the box seat at every show and heckle the performances. Statler was performed by Richard Hunt, Waldorf by Jim Henson.
- Rizzo the Rat, a sarcastic inner-city rodent. A fairly major character in the fourth and fifth season. Performed by Steve Whitmire.
- Annie Sue, a young pig, Miss Piggy's innocent rival. Performed by Louise Gold.
- The Muppet Newsman, an energetic reporter that always had bad luck. Performed by Jim Henson.
- Louis Kazager, the enthusiastic reporter for Muppet Sports. Performed by Jerry Nelson.
- Foo-Foo, Miss Piggy's dog. Usually performed by Steve Whitmire or a real dog.
- Sweetums, a 7-foot-tall monster. Performed by Richard Hunt.
- Thog, a 9 1/2-foot-tall furry, blue monster. Performed by Jerry Nelson.
- J.P. Grosse, Scooter's uncle who owns the theatre and a tough businessman. Performed by Jerry Nelson.
- Link Hogthrob, a hunky but dim-witted pig, star of "Pigs in Space", Captain of the USS Swinetrek. Also stars in "Bear On Patrol". Performed by Jim Henson.
- Dr. Julius Strangepork, the science officer in "Pigs in Space". Performed by Jerry Nelson.
- Beauregard, the dimwitted janitor and stagehand. Performed by Dave Goelz.
- Crazy Harry, a pyrotechnician and bomb expert who enjoys blowing things up far too much. Performed in the first season by John Lovelady, then taken over by Jerry Nelson.
- Robin, Kermit's small nephew. Performed by Jerry Nelson.
- Uncle Deadly, also called "the Phantom of the Muppet Show", a sinister character who lurks around the theatre and appears occasionally on the show. Performed by Jerry Nelson.
- The Flying Zucchini Brothers, a group of human cannonballs and acrobats. Performed by Frank Oz, Jerry Nelson, Dave Goelz and Richard Hunt.
- Pops, the elderly doorman. Performed by Jerry Nelson.
- Marvin Suggs, the sadistic, crazed and flamboyant Muppaphone man. Performed by Frank Oz.
- Brewster, a wise-looking bearded fellow seen primarily on the first season of The Muppet Show and seen mostly in the audience during the rest of the seasons.
- George, the crotchety old janitor, seen primarily in the first season and performed by Frank Oz.
- Mildred Huxtetter, George's dancing partner, seen primarily in the first season. Usually performed by Frank Oz or Richard Hunt.
- Wayne and Wanda, a singing duo plagued by bad luck that prevents them from finishing their songs, but in Sam's eyes, they are the only decent act on the Muppet Show. Performed by Richard Hunt and Eren Ozker, although Kathy Mullen played Wanda in her one appearance in the fourth season.
- Hilda, the elderly wardrobe mistress. Performed by Eren Ozker. Disappeared after the first season, but made a non-speaking cameo in the "Shields and Yarnell" episode during the circus scene at the end.
- Nigel, the conductor of the Muppet Orchestra. Performed by either Jim Henson or John Lovelady.
- Trumpet Girl, the unnamed trumpeter from the orchestra (she was only called "Trumpet Girl" in the scripts). Switched to trombone due to the addition of Lips. Normally performed by Eren Ozker or Louise Gold.
- Mah Nà Mah Nà, the singer of the song by the same name, and the Snowths, the 2 pink creatures that sing Doo-doo-de-do-do!. Mah Nà Mah Nà was performed by Jim Henson on the very first episode of the show, and the Snowths by Frank Oz.
- Lubbock Lou and his Jughuggers, the jug band. Includes Lubbock Lou, Slim Wilson, Gramps, Bubba, Zeke and Lou. Performed by Dave Goelz, Jerry Nelson, Frank Oz, Richard Hunt, Jim Henson and Louise Gold respectively.
- Fleet Scribbler, the reporter for The Daily Scandal who was known for exaggerating minor happenstances around the theatre to the point of ridiculousness. He appeared in only a few episodes of the second season. Scribbler was supposed to be a recurring character, but everybody working on the show hated him so much that he was eventually discarded. Performed by Jerry Nelson.
- Alexander Beatle, a red and blue Beatle who appeared in episodes 407 and 509. Performed by Steve Whitmire.
- The Gills Brothers, a group of singing fish parodying The Mills Brothers.
- The Country Trio, a band consisting of caricatures of their performers Jim Henson, Frank Oz and Jerry Nelson.
- At the Dance – The sketch was a regular during the first season but was used less frequently from the second season onward. Muppet characters circulated on a semi-formal dance floor offering rapid fire one-liner jokes and come-backs as the couples passed in front of the camera.
- Bear on Patrol – Fozzie is an unlucky police officer and Link Hogthrob is his incompetent superior who always get into the silliest situations with the criminals brought in. The voice of the announcer was performed by Jerry Nelson.
- Fozzie's Act – Fozzie Bear gets on stage and performs his infamously bad jokes. Statler and Waldorf heckle him, in a perpetual rivalry. The sketches became less frequent as Fozzie's off-stage presence became more prevalent.
- Muppet Labs – Segments featuring the latest invention from Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, with his assistant, Beaker, getting the worst of its inevitable malfunction. The character of Beaker was introduced in the second season; during the first season Bunsen hosted Muppet Labs by himself, but the writers soon realized that another character was necessary to show Bunsen's failings.
- Muppet News Flash – A news announcer (a variation of the Guy Smiley puppet) gives a newsbrief only to have some disaster befall him (typically the same disaster he was just describing), or another strange scenario (such as the time that he ran on, stated "There is no news tonight.", and ran off). In the first season, the Muppet News Man read out news items that occasionally featured the guest star for that week playing a character that was somehow involved in the item. Muppet News Flashes often used absurdist humor; in one sketch, the announcer stated that the Atlantic Ocean had been kidnapped.
- Pigs In Space – Parody of science fiction shows like Star Trek, but also old '30s sci-fi serials. The spacecraft is called USS Swinetrek and the title voice-over is a parody of main Star Trek competitor Lost in Space. It featured Captain Link Hogthrob, Miss Piggy as first mate, and Dr. Julius Strangepork (the name a takeoff on "Dr. Strangelove"). Usually, the sketches would involve the long-suffering Piggy putting up with the wacko Strangepork and the braindead Link treating her as an inferior because she was a woman.
- Swedish Chef – Cooking show parody. It consists of the Swedish Chef, who speaks mock Swedish, semi-comprehensible gibberish which parodies the characteristic vowel sounds and intonation of Swedish. He attempts to cook a dish with great enthusiasm, until the punch line hits. A hallmark of these sketches was the improvisations between Jim Henson (who performed the Chef's head and voice) and Frank Oz (who was his hands). One would often make something up on the spot, making the other puppeteer comply with the action. Famous gags include "chickie in du baskie (two points!)", meatballs that bounce, chocolate "moose", attempting to cook Kermit's nephew and perhaps most famously, repeatedly adding pepper to a recipe.
- Swiftwits – A game show parody hosted by Snooky Blyer and featuring a contestant. The contestant in question was playing for a cute animal of some kind (dog, beaver, or rabbit). Three clues would be given after the answer was whispered to the home audience. A correct answer in the ten-second time limit would win the animal some kind of prize, while failure to supply the answer would have the animal eaten by Carl, the Big Mean Bunny. In spite of the ease of the clues given and the endeavors of the host to get them to answer correctly, only one contestant won (and he was promptly eaten, as well as the animal). Swiftwits was never seen on the Muppet Show, only on Muppets Tonight.
- Vend-a-face – A vending machine that offers unique face-changing services – usually agonizing contortions of the Muppets who feed the machine. It was originally intended to be a one-time sketch. However, because the Vend-a-face puppet was so costly to make, it was used multiple times to justify its creation.
- Veterinarian's Hospital – Parody of soap opera General Hospital and other medical dramas, consisting of Dr. Bob (Rowlf) cracking jokes in the operating room with Nurses Piggy and Janice. Each installment ends with Dr. Bob and his nurses looking around in puzzlement as a disembodied narrator tells viewers to tune in next time to the "continuing stooory". On a number of occasions, the "Veterinarian's Hospital" sketch would crossover with the cast or set of another, such as "At the Dance" or "Pigs in Space." The voice of the announcer was usually performed by John Lovelady in the first season, but Jerry Nelson originally performed the role in the Harvey Korman and Rita Moreno episodes (the first two episodes in recording order that had the sketch) before taking over the role permanently from the Phyllis Diller episode. In the introduction, Dr. Bob went from "a former orthopedic surgeon" to "a quack" who's "gone to the dogs." Nurse Janice's recurring tag line was "Fascinating, Dr. Bob".
- Wayne and Wanda – Usually introduced by Sam the Eagle, Wayne and Wanda – a slapstick tribute to Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald – are plagued by bad fortune. Every song attempted by this duo inevitably ends in disaster. It is considered an accomplishment for them to get to the chorus. They disappeared in later seasons. It was eventually revealed that Kermit had fired them, but forgot why he did and decided to rehire them. Unfortunately, seconds after they started to sing, Kermit remembered why he fired them (because they were terrible) and instantly fired them again and forced them off the stage.
List of guest stars
No guest star ever appeared twice on The Muppet Show, although John Denver appeared both on the show and in two specials (John Denver & the Muppets: A Christmas Together and John Denver & the Muppets: Rocky Mountain Holiday). Additionally, several guest stars from the show had cameos in one of the first three Muppet theatrical films.
One unusual guest star was one of the series writers, Chris Langham, who took the place for Richard Pryor when the star was unable to attend taping.
Reruns of The Muppet Show aired in syndication for many years, eventually reruns aired on TNT
for 1988 to 1992. From 1994 to 1995, reruns began airing on Nickelodeon TV Channel
instead. In 1999 the reruns moved to Odyssey Network
until 2001. Disney Channel UK
picked up the series for 2005-2007. After Odyssey Network shut down Henson's half of the channel, The Muppet Show has been off the air since 2001. Outside the US, The Muppet Show and MuppeTelevison
segments and Muppets Tonight were all put into an umbrella syndication package called The Jim Henson Hour
. In Odyssey Network's reruns, Brian Henson introduces the episodes of the show.
began marketing 'best of' volumes of The Muppet Show
for mail-order in 2001, with six initial volumes with 3 episodes on each DVD. Unique to each episode was an introduction by Jim Henson's son, Brian. Nine more volumes were added for 2002, the Muppet's 25th anniversary. The collection was available for retail in 2002 via Columbia Pictures Home Video by which time Time-Life had released its tenth volume.
Buena Vista Home Entertainment, a division of The Walt Disney Company, released the first season on DVD in Region 1 on August 9, 2005. The rights to the episodes and characters used in The Muppet Show, and subsequent film outings, were bought in February 2004 by The Walt Disney Company.
Several songs were cut from the Season 1 DVD release due to music licensing issues. There have also been some cuts in the intro sequence, and backstage scenes leading up to these songs.
- * "Stormy Weather" (Joel Grey episode) Sung by Wayne and Wanda;
- * "Gone with the Wind" (Jim Nabors episode) Sung by Jim Nabors;
- * "The Danceros" (Jim Nabors Episode) Sung by The Danceros;
- * "All Of Me" (Paul Williams Episode) Sung by Two Monsters;
- * "Old Fashioned Way" (Charles Aznavour episode) Sung by Charles Aznavour with Mildred;
- * "You’ve Got A Friend" (Vincent Price Episode) Sung by Vincent Price, Uncle Deadly and a chorus of Muppet Monsters
In addition, the version of the Joel Grey episode on the DVD is in fact an earlier edit as it does not include two Muppet News sketches and a balcony scene featuring Statler and Waldorf that were added to the episode at a later date. It is speculated by fans that this was a case of Disney simply using the wrong master by mistake.
The Muppet Show
characters went on to star in The Muppet Movie
, which was the first film to feature puppets interacting with humans in real-world locations, and later films such as The Great Muppet Caper, The Muppets Take Manhattan, The Muppet Christmas Carol, Muppet Treasure Island, Muppets from Space
, and a Muppet remake of The Wizard of Oz
The Jim Henson Hour featured many of the same characters, plus new and boldly different content. The Muppet Show format was later revived as Muppets Tonight in 1996. The first 10 episodes aired on ABC while the rest aired on The Disney Channel. Today, all three incarnations are syndicated together as a single package.
In 2005 the Muppets launched an award-winning webseries titled Statler and Waldorf: From the Balcony. The biweekly webshow created new episodes for 15 months on movies.com and starred Statler and Waldorf along with many other popular Muppet characters from their theater box from The Muppet Show. Each episode featured the duo as they discuss upcoming films, watch movie trailers and share the week's "balconism".
There is talk of a new revival of the format, with FOX being the initial serious contender. Disney considered using the America's Next Muppet mini-series to test the viability of a full-fledged series.
The hit Broadway and West End Musical Avenue Q is loosely based on The Muppets as well as Sesame Street but is required to provide disclaimers stating that it has nothing to do with the characters, particularly due to the musical's adult theme. (See U.S. and U.K. website.
The muppets were brought back in 2008 for a short on Disney Channel called Studio DC: Almost Live.