New pals join The Muppets on their own TV show (1976)
By Austin Philips
“PLEASE DO NOT FONDLE, MOLEST, HANDLE, TOUCH or TWEAK THE MUPPETS”
The sign hangs on the outside of the door where each day videotaping proceeds on a new all-family comedy-musical-variety series making its debut in September. It’s “The Muppet Show,” the latest offering of the Muppets’ creator, Jim Henson.
The ITC series, sold on a viewing market-by-market basis, will air nationally in prime time.
The reason for the warning sign is obvious once a visitor spots the many characters Henson will offer during the new season on “The Muppet Show.” You instinctively reach out to touch them. They are particularly tweakable.
Henson’s creations have long enlivened television. Most notable, perhaps, are the characters he has provided for “Sesame Street.” Unlike “Sesame Street,” however, “The Muppet Show” is not directed primarily at children, but to the entire family.
The Muppet Show – Opening theme song and closing credits (video)
And look for guest stars, such as the following, to romp with The Muppets: Joel Gray, Ruth Buzzi, Lena Horne, Jim Nabors, Florence Henderson, Harvey Korman and a host of others.
Henson also is introducing many new Muppet characters and bringing back some long-established friends, all of whom — of which — will be presided over by Kermit the Frog as host. Kermit’s cronies will include Rowlf, the engaging mongrel; Wayne and Wanda, who fancy themselves as today’s Nelson Eddy-Jeanette MacDonald singing duo; Hilda, a somewhat acerbic and disenchanted wardrobe lady; The Great Gonzo, a vaudeville entertainer, sort of; Dr Teeth, the rock music group leader; Piggy Lee, a voluble songstress who’s crazy about Kermit; Fozzie Bear, a stand-up comedian, and many more.
The format of The Muppet Show will present viewers with a show within a show. On-stage, Kermit the Frog will play host to a famous guest star — a different personality for each program. Backstage hilarity prevails as Kermit and the Muppets prepare for the show.
Making all this happen requires an abundance of gifted talent, and “The Muppet Show” has that. The program itself is a combined venture of Independent Television Corp. and Henson Associates. It was developed in cooperation with the five CBS owned and operated stations.
The people responsible for the creative aspects of “The Muppet Show” are not exactly amateurs. Jack Burns. the front half of the Burns and Schreiber comedy team. is the producer. and writes the show with Jerry Juhl. Marc London and Jim Henson. The multiple Emmy-winning producing-directing team of Gary Smith and Dwight Hemion are ITC’s creative consultants. David Lazer is executive producer for Henson Associates.
Jim Henson is the man
The executive producer for the entire series is Jim Henson, and Jim’s quite a man. Born in Mississippi, Jim started in puppetry while attending high school near Washington DC, where his family moved when he was just a sprig. Before he even had time to enroll at the University of Maryland, he was working a capital TV station — doing puppet shows.
While studying acting, directing and scenic design at the university. Jim — still in his freshman year — was offered a late night series of his own, to be called “Sam and Friends.” He took it, and signed a new partner to replace the one he’d been working with. “Sam and Friends” ran for eight years, winning Jim his first Emmy in the process. And the new partnership he’d set up flourished, too. In fact, Jim married his partner, Jane. They’re still happily married and have five children.
Before long, Henson developed his own distinctive style and created a new word — muppet. It is a combination of marionette and puppet. After graduation, the Hensons and their muppets attracted the attention of network television in New York. Soon there followed bookings on the “Today” and “Tonight” shows as well as many TV variety shows. They became regulars on “The Ed Sullivan Show” for five seasons and Rowlf the Dog became the resident comedian on “The Jimmy Dean Show” for three seasons.
From there it’s been all up to the regular status on Sesame Street and television specials produced and/or directed by Jim. During this time, Henson has been a multiple Emmy winner, a five-time Grammy nominee and an Oscar nominee.