1 9 7 6 – 1 9 8 1 (UK/USA)
130 x 25 minute episodes
Even children’s educational shows have spin-offs. After seven years on Sesame Street, Jim Henson’s Muppets made a move to Saturday Night Live but he was not able to interest any American networks in his creation.
The impasse was broken when they came to Elstree in the UK to appear in a Julie Andrews special for ATV. Lew Grade was tremendously taken with what he saw and told Henson that the Muppets could have a series of their own, which Grade then sold back to the US network CBS.
The comedy/variety show, hosted by master of ceremonies Kermit the Frog, the incomparable star of stage and screen Miss Piggy, and a cast of over 4,00 Muppets, became the most popular syndicated series in TV history.
Music was provided by Floyd and The Electric Mayhem Band, featuring Animal on drums (who made Keith Moon seem conservative by comparison – and whose percussive noises were in reality supplied by the great Ronnie Verrell) and the cool and spaced-out guitarist/Sax player Floyd.
As host of the show, Kermit tried valiantly to maintain control over a weekly half-hour of chaos and confusion as his motley cast of unruly animals, monsters and an often bemused human guest star (including John Cleese, Liberace, Peter Sellers, Brooke Shields, Steve Martin, George Burns, Roger Moore, Elton John, Julie Andrews and Raquel Welch), threatened to reduce every big production number into a chaotic shambles.
Regulars included the loud and karate chop-inclined wannabe star Miss Piggy; Rolf, the shaggy canine piano player; comically challenged stand-up comedian Fozzie Bear; the maniacal and incomprehensible Swedish Chef and the ubiquitous Gonzo, who always had his attempts to open the show with a trumpet fanfare thwarted by his trumpet breaking, exploding, flying away or generally behaving in a totally unexpected (and un-trumpet-like) way.
The show also featured several mini soap operas, notably Pigs In Space, in which handsome Captain Link Heartthrob of the starship Swinetrek fought off the evil plots of Dr Strangepork and the advances of Miss Piggy.
The two heckling old geezers, Statler and Waldorf, observed the on-stage antics with a vocal mixture of scorn and disdain from their box seats.
The genesis of The Muppets lay in Jim Henson’s lifelong love affair with the art of puppetry which began as a child. Henson first created Kermit in 1955 – as a lizard. He was made from Henson’s mother’s coat and two halves of a Ping-Pong ball.
Henson also coined the phrase ‘ Muppet’ to describe his unique combination of marionette and puppetry.
The series spun off five feature films – The Muppet Movie (1979), The Great Muppet Caper (1981), The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984), The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992) and Muppet Treasure Island (1996) – and on the wave of its success also spawned a television sequel in the 80s, Fraggle Rock.
Jim Henson passed away in 1990. Few people will forget the amazing memorial service in St Paul’s, London on 2 July, the cathedral decorated with silver birch and foxgloves and the puppets singing at the altar rail to a congregation of adults and small children standing on seats to get a better look.
In 1996, six years after the untimely death of Henson, the show was revived as Muppets Tonight! Which saw the introduction of several new characters.
The Muppet Show was seen in more than 100 countries by an estimated audience of 235 million viewers between September 1976 and its final edition in 198.
Kermit the Frog
Sam The Eagle