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 and on television… and in the hearts and minds of all of us who grew up with the Muppets. – AJW
Muppet Show with guest star Milton Berle (Uncle Milty)
Vintage Muppet Show with guest star Ben Vereen
Muppet Show with guest star Steve Martin
Vincent Price and Kermit on a vintage Muppet Show episode
Harry Belafonte on The Muppet Show
Muppet Show with guest star Bernadette Peters
The Muppet Show cast with singer Debbie Harry of Blondie
WATCH THE MUPPET SHOW AGAIN: Get it at Amazon
From The Muppet Show’s debut: New pals join The Muppets on their own TV show (1976)
By Austin Philips – The Town Talk (Alexandria, Louisiana) August 14, 1976
“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.
And look for guest stars, such as the following, to romp with The Muppets: Florence Henderson, Joel Gray, Ruth Buzzi, Lena Horne, Jim Nabors, 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 vintage Muppet Show was a show within a show
The format of The Muppet Show will present viewers with a show within a show. Onstage, 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.
Henson’s invention of The Muppets
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.
As of the last tally, The Muppet Show had 100 characters — and still counting. Jim creates ’em as he needs ’em.
“I have to,” he explains. “We’re doing a show to entertain the entire family. That means we need a big family.”
Seems likely that the Henson-Muppets family of fans could burgeon, too, in the new show’s prime-time fall spot.
Muppet Show opening credits, closing & theme song
Muppet Show theme song lyrics
One of several versions (this one is as shown in the video above)
It’s time to play the music
It’s time to light the lights
It’s time to meet the Muppets on the Muppet Show tonight
It’s time to put on makeup
It’s time to dress up right
It’s time to get things started
It’s time to get things started
On the most sensational, inspirational, celebrational, muppetational
This – is – what – we – call – the – Muppet Show!
Elton John on the Muppet Show
Kermit with Dale Evans & Roy Rogers on the vintage Muppet Show