While Kermit and friends are gearing up for their Muppets Haunted Mansion, the creations of Jim Henson have just celebrated the 45th anniversary of The Muppet Show, which launched on 5th September 1976 kicking off a five year run of 120 episodes that would cement the crazy, colourful characters into entertainment history forever. While some of Henson’s puppet characters had been on television for a number of years prior to The Muppet Show, in the likes of Sesame Street and Saturday Night Live, the show’s arrival after two pilot episodes managed to bring something to primetime television that had never been seen before and in many ways never has been since.
The Muppet Show was in essence a double-deliverer: it was bright, energetic and crazy enough to entertain younger audiences, but had its home in the almost forgotten world of Vaudeville and brought in celebrity guests who were both current (at the time) or from the 1940s and 1950s, which delivered something for the older audiences to appreciate. There has never been such a combination put together, and it is probably because of this that the show has never been matched by subsequent Muppet productions in the main.
As a child growing up watching syndications of the series, I vividly remember the puppet characters, but if I had never seen it again, I would have been hard pressed to relay any of the actual content. While I have seen some episodes again over the years, it is only with the (almost) entire collection of Muppet Show episodes arriving on Disney+ last year that I was able to reconnect with one of the shows that influenced me greatly, and it is only from watching as an adult that I really learned why.
The humor of the show is built directly on the frustrations of Kermit the Frog, essentially a floor manager trying to hold together a live show as it all goes wrong around him. There are big name stars such as Steve Martin, John Cleese, Elton John, Roger Moore and Mark Hamill, and old hands like Milton Byrne, George Burns, Vincent Price and Ethel Merman, and they all share one thing: they all appeared on the show knowing that they would be playing second fiddle to handfuls of fabric and thread, and in most cases would be made to look foolish for it.
And that was the magic of The Muppet Show. There were egos, but no one appeared on The Muppet Show thinking that they were going to be front and center. In fact, many of the stars who appeared on the first series of the show did so as a personal favor to Jim Henson, mainly due to the series filming in the UK. A number of Saturday Night Live regulars were happy to appear, as well as those veterans who were just pleased to be getting back on prime time, but it was when world class ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev made an offer to appear on the show that things changed and suddenly The Muppet Show became the series everyone wanted to appear on.
After a short while, the show picked up a regular rotating slate of sketches such as the Swedish Chef’s cooking segment, Fozzie Bear’s failed comedy act, Muppet News Flash, Muppet Labs, Pigs in Space and music provided by The Electric Mayhem. With no guest star ever appearing on the main show twice, there was always something new, always a new name to bring something unique to each episode and never a pause for breath in during the five seasons that were produced.
While there have been a number of successful movie outings, most notably A Muppet Christmas Carol, and various other TV series, something has almost always been missing and just never quite lived up to The Muppet Show‘s achievement, which was so great that it has sustained its cast of zany characters through over four decades. Although there have been years spent in the doldrums, the Muppets are so ingrained in pop culture that even when new outings are met with so-so reviews, there is always someone waiting in the wings to attempt and revive them again.
Jim Henson, and his legacy, has led to many great movies and series, while his impact on the industry was so far reaching that his characters are still the inspiration and reference point for many other puppet based shows of the last two decades, and with the Jim Henson Company being behind more future projects, it will clearly continue to do so for many years to come. In most part, that was all made possible because of The Muppet Show. Here are just some of the social media posts celebrating the milestone achievement
Muppets Haunted Mansion arrives on Disney+ this October, while The Muppet Show and various other Muppet series and movies are also available on the platform.