With the Wednesday opening of Disney’s The Muppets quickly approaching, your Managing Editor (moi) thought he would sit down and dissect the curious popularity of these cloth beings over the course of many decades and fess up to which Muppet is my favorite.
Now, creator the late Jim Henson had been working with his puppets since the early days of television, appearing on such programs as The Ed Sullivan Show, The Dean Martin Show (Rowlf the Dog was a semi-regular on the piano) and even Saturday Night Live’s first season, but it was the advent of Sesame Street that made the Muppets a cultural phenom.
And then there was The Muppet Show. When I was attending the Universityof Kentucky in the late 1970s, the Student Center would come to a halt for three things: Wildcat basketball games, the nightly news and The Muppet Show.
The unique program of was, byronically enough, a British import produced by the creative Henson. After two pilot episodes were produced in 1974 and 1975, the show premiered on September 1976, and five series were produced until March 1981, lasting 120 episodes. The series shows a vaudeville-style song-and-dance variety show, as well as backstage glimpses behind the scenes of such a show.
Of course, Kermit the Frog stars as a showrunner who tries to keep control of the antics of the other Muppet characters (and his temper), as well as keep the guest stars happy. The show was known for outrageous physical slapstick, sometimes absurd comedy and humorous parodies. (Who could forget the Star Trek parody, Pigs in Space?) Each episode also featured a human guest star. As the program became popular, many celebrities were eager to perform with the Muppets on television and in film: by the end of its run over 100 guest stars had appeared.
Henson and the producers were known to ask guest stars what they would like to do on the “show,” what other talents they had besides those for which they were known. I will never forget opera soprano Beverly Sills, looking like she was preparing to belt one out, when all of a sudden she began … tap dancing! You can’t find entertainment like that these days.
In an interview with SpinOff Online, Disney’s The Muppets’ Nick Stoller (director, Forgetting Sarah Marshall and its spinoff Get Him to the Greek) said the genesis of The Muppets movie began with that 2008 romantic comedy, which starred his co-writer Jason Segel as a composer working on an all-puppet rock opera.
“Jason just had a meeting with Disney around the release of Sarah Marshall, and they asked him if there were any properties he liked, and he said, ‘What are you guys doing with the Muppets?’ They said, ‘We don’t know,’ which is strange for a giant corporation!” Stoller laughed.
This worked to Segel’s benefit, as he immediately pitched Disney a Muppets film. “He called me afterwards and said, ‘Do you want to write it?’ and I said yes!” Stoller recalled.
The plot of the movie, according to Stoller, centers around the fact that the Muppets must “get … back together … They have to save the studio from an evil oil baron.”
Everyone has his favorite Muppet – Stoller said he had a Beaker obsession as a kid – but Kermit has always been my main frog. From the first time I saw him as a Sesame Street reporter, to his sometimes soul-stirring renditions of It’s Not Easy Bein’ Green to playing that guitar and singing Rainbow Connection on a log, I have always had a fascination for the little guy.
I hope Disney’s The Muppets is even half as enjoyable as the old TV show. Now that was entertainment!