Jim Henson had already found success in the entertainment world, with his puppet creations having been featured on Sesame Street since 1969, but despite that he was worried that he was destined to be known only as a children’s entertainer. In an effort to create a show that could be appreciated by both kids and adults, he produced two different specials that were essentially pilots for what would become The Muppet Show in 1974 and 1975, but neither ended up in a network series — at least not in the US.
But the story didn’t end there, as the head of British TV station ATV — part of the ITV network — offered Henson a deal: ATV would produce his show in England, would broadcast the show to other ITV stations in the UK, and would use its distribution arm ITC Entertainment to sell the show around the world — including in the US.
The rest, as they say, is history, with The Muppet Show going on to air for five seasons between 1976 and 1981, spanning 120 episodes and spawning several spin-offs and feature films. The show itself was patterned after vaudeville shows of yore and the variety shows that were popular at the time, featuring musical numbers, recurring skits, and A-list guest stars. Some of the many notable guests included Bob Hope, Elton John, Diana Ross, Vincent Price, Harry Belafonte … and even the great Gene Kelly.
While Jim Henson tragically passed away in 1990, and The Muppet Show hasn’t been on American television since 2001, his creations continue to live on in movies, television, and in the hearts and minds of all of us who grew up with the Muppets. – AJW
The Muppet Show intro video
Muppet Show with guest star Milton Berle (Uncle Milty)