The Muppet Show is a half-hour variety show in which Kermit the Frog and the Muppets put on a weekly musical/comedy revue at the Muppet Theater. Unfortunately for them, things never quite go according to plan, resulting in the wise-cracking commentary on the proceedings by the two old curmudgeons named Statler and Waldorf.
While Kermit had been featured extensively in other programs in the past, this show marked the introduction of a large, varied cast, including the hapless comedian Fozzie Bear, the diva superstar Miss Piggy, the lunatic daredevil artiste Gonzo, the wild drummer Animal, the unintelligible Swedish Chef, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew and Beaker of Muppet Labs, and many others.
Kermit the Frog serves as the host of The Muppet Show, and was also the director and general overseer of the performances, assisted by Scooter, the gofer who only got his job because his uncle, J. P. Grosse, owned the theater. The show's orchestra was conducted by Nigel, and musical acts ranged from solo musicians such as Rowlf the Dog, to the show's main rock and roll band, Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem.
Because it was a puppet show, The Muppet Show had the advantage of being able to include a giant array of characters with only a small number of performers. Aside from the aforementioned characters, recurring figures included Sam the Eagle, who tried to make the show more cultural; Camilla the Chicken, Gonzo's girlfriend; Robin the Frog, Kermit's nephew; and Link Hogthrob, the captain of the Swinetrek, among others.
Certain characters from the early years of the show, like Hilda and George the Janitor, fell by the wayside, while newer characters were introduced, such as Beauregard the stagehand and the boomerang fish-throwing Lew Zealand. One of the few minor characters who became a major player after the series ended was Rizzo the Rat. In addition, the generic Whatnots and a wide array of animals, vegetables, and minerals filled out the chorus.
Most of the Muppets appeared in both backstage scenes and onstage sketches and songs. For example, while Beaker was primarily Bunsen's assistant, he also frequently helped Beauregard with his backstage duties. Although Janice was The Electric Mayhem's guitar player, she also appeared as a nurse in Veterinarian's Hospital. Many characters with backstage jobs also appeared on-stage quite frequently, in group numbers and "At the Dance" sketches. However, some characters were pigeonholed into their own sketches, such as The Newsman of Muppet News Flash and Louis Kazagger of Muppet Sports.
The Muppet Show featured a mix of established Muppets and new characters. Some major characters from previous productions (Kermit, Rowlf) remained prominent, while others (Nigel, Thog) were relegated to the background or supporting status. Some minor characters from previous productions (Gonzo, Miss Piggy) became stars.
Sketches and Set Pieces
Some of the more popular famous comedic bits from the show include:
- At the Dance - A group of Muppets (some regulars, some not) dance to ballroom music while cracking puns and one-liners.
- Muppet Labs - Dr. Bunsen Honeydew pushed the cutting edge of science with his bizarre inventions, which somehow inevitably caused horrible things to happen to his assistant, Beaker.
- Muppet News Flash - The Newsman would report breaking news happening in the Muppet Theater or elsewhere in the Muppet universe. Unfortunately for him, he would often find the story invading right into the Muppet newsroom, usually to his own personal pain. (For example, a report on the stock market indicating that "beef fell dramatically" causes a cow to fall from out of nowhere onto the Newsman's head.)
- Pigs in Space - An ostensible space opera along the lines of Star Trek, the skits followed a hapless porcine crew attempting to successfully interact with alien life, or sometimes just keep the ship running. They would usually fail at both.
- Veterinarian's Hospital - Dr. Bob (actually Rowlf) operated on a variety of strange patients while cracking corny jokes with Nurse Piggy and Nurse Janice.
For a complete list of guest stars, see Muppet Show Guest Stars.
For a complete list of episodes, see Muppet Show Episodes. In keeping with the TV variety show format, each episode showcased a celebrity guest star or duo, who were the only humans to appear on the show. As noted in Jim Henson: The Works, "From Jim's point of view, this would help provide a bridge between the Muppet world and the audience. From ITC's point of view, it would make the show easier to promote." In the first season, Kermit introduced them at the start of the theme song and in a lyric after a joke by Fozzie. From the second season onward, the guest was invariably introduced in the cold open. During the first season, their involvement was limited primarily to the on-stage performances, showcases for the guest's comedic or musical skills. They also regularly participated in comedic blackouts, talk spots, and panel discussions.
As the series wore on, the guests became more crucial, becoming involved in the backstage plots, expressing dissatisfaction with the show, or as featured performers in elaborate "theme" stories. One of the more extreme examples came in the final season, with episode 507, as guest star Glenda Jackson reveals herself to be a ruthless pirate and commandeers the theater. The guest roster included a range of performers, from familiar film and television personalities and stage theater veterans to ballet dancers, country singers, rock stars, experimental pantomime artists, and even a ventriloquist or two.
The majority of the guest stars during the first season were either personal friends of the production team (for example, first season head writer Jack Burns' former comedy partner Avery Schreiber was a guest) or a client of Jim Henson's agent, Bernie Brillstein. By the second season, the show started to attract more celebrities, and eventually, celebrities were asking to appear on the show. Whenever a star was booked to appear on the show, they would be asked if there were any characters who they wanted to work with. Most of them wanted to work with either Kermit or Miss Piggy.
Some of the more memorable guest star moments include the following: Rita Moreno's performance of "Fever", backed by Animal on drums; Rudolf Nureyev dancing with a pig ballerina; Harry Belafonte singing "Turn the World Around"; Alice Cooper singing "School's Out" with the monsters; John Cleese being forced into a closing number; Gene Kelly giving Kermit a dance lesson; and Raquel Welch performing a song-and-dance number with a giant spider. In addition to showcasing the guests' familiar skills or "shticks," stars occasionally performed against type, such as Nureyev tap dancing to "Top Hat, White Tie and Tails" or screen tough guy James Coburn focusing on zen meditation and calmness.
Some episodes played on the guest's established "star texts" as specific characters, such as Christopher Reeve's Superman and Lynda Carter's Wonder Woman. Roger Moore's appearance played ironically off of his James Bond persona, as Moore preferred to do the whimsical "Talk to the Animals" over any spy heroics. Occasionally, the guest's alter-egos even appeared directly, such as Peter Sellers as Inspector Jacques Clouseau, Gilda Radner as Emily Litella, or Carol Burnett's janitor character. The most elaborate example, however, came in episode 417, as the stars of Star Wars appeared as themselves, continuing their space opera dramatics, while Luke Skywalker's portrayer Mark Hamill also appeared briefly as himself, introduced as Luke's "cousin."
Behind the Scenes
While Jim Henson had been pleased with the success of Sesame Street, that show had branded the Muppets as a "kids' act." Henson was interested in creating a show that would provide entertainment across all age groups.
Henson auditioned his characters and his concept for the show many times to the major television networks, even filming a pitch reel for CBS. By 1973, ABC had ordered two prospective pilots for a potential series: The Muppets Valentine Show and The Muppet Show: Sex and Violence. ABC ultimately passed on producing a half-hour show.
Initially, Henson and company resisted producing the program in syndication, as they feared that the show would be underfunded. However, a British syndicator named Lord Lew Grade brought a proposal to the Henson company, with an assurance that the show would have the money for the production values it needed.
The show first hit the airwaves in September 1976. While it became a hit internationally almost immediately, the show struggled in the ratings its first year in America. In the second year of the show, with the format and the characters finding their groove, and such big-name stars as Bob Hope, Madeline Kahn, John Cleese, Steve Martin, Elton John and others appearing, the show became a success in America as well. 
The show was subsequently dubbed in several languages and broadcast all over the world, which eventually led Time magazine to declare The Muppet Show "the most popular television entertainment on earth."
The show ran for five years and 120 episodes. It finally went off the air not due to a lack of popularity, but as a result of Henson's desire to move on to bigger projects, such as The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth, that would require the full energy and resources of his company. While the show never returned with new episodes, the Muppets from the program have appeared in numerous TV specials and movies, and The Muppet Show Live was presented for MuppetFest in 2001.
- Videotapes of The Muppet Show were sent to scientists manning the McMurdo Station in Antarctica.
- In a 1979 episode of Sesame Street, Telly Monster names TV programs that start with the letter M. Listed among them is The Muppet Show.
- Clips from The Muppet Show were shown in 2011's The Muppets and 2014's Muppets Most Wanted.
In the '80s and '90s, compilation videos featuring the most memorable sketches and songs from The Muppet Show were released by Playhouse Video. These compilations featured many sketches, including UK Spots, with new wraparounds of the Muppet characters.
In 1994, Jim Henson Video released two episodes on video for the first time in the release Monster Laughs with Vincent Price. This was the first commercially-available release of episodes outside of compilations, although the episodes were not complete.
In 2000, Time-Life began offering several of the most famous and popular episodes of The Muppet Show in their complete form on video (allowing American viewers to see an extra two minutes of footage that previously had only been available to UK audiences). The episodes were initially released on VHS and then re-released on DVD. These were also sold in stores under the Columbia Tristar Video label.
In August 2005, Buena Vista Home Entertainment (a Disney imprint) released a DVD set of The Muppet Show: Season One. The 24 first season episodes were complete, except in a few instances where music rights proved prohibitive, resulting in a few musical numbers being deleted from the show. A second set, The Muppet Show: Season Two, followed in 2007, featuring uncut episodes. A third set, The Muppet Show: Season Three, was released in 2008.
In episode 85 of the MuppetCast, The Muppets Studio general manager Lylle Breier confirmed that Disney is currently getting legal clearances for music on the remaining seasons. Other issues for the hold-up include the fact that backing tracks were wiped, according to Martin G. Baker. There has been no official release date for the next season.
- Writers: Jerry Juhl, Jim Henson, Frank Oz, Jack Burns (season 1), Marc London (season 1), Joseph A. Bailey (season 2), David Odell (seasons 3-5), Chris Langham (seasons 3-5), Don Hinkley, Jim Thurman (select season 4 episodes)
- Puppeteers: Jim Henson, Frank Oz, Jerry Nelson, Richard Hunt, Dave Goelz, Steve Whitmire (seasons 3 - 5), Eren Ozker (season 1), John Lovelady (season 1), Peter Friedman (episodes 111 - 115 and season 3), Louise Gold (seasons 2 - 5), Kathryn Mullen (seasons 4 - 5), Brian Muehl (season 5), Karen Prell (season 5), Bob Payne, Cynthia Adler
- Musical Director: Jack Parnell
- Music Consultants: Larry Grossman (seasons 1-3), Ray Charles (seasons 4-5)
- Musical Associates: Derek Scott, Conn Bernard
- Dancers: Betsy Baytos, Graham Fletcher, John Bottoms, Michael Coleman, Julian Hosking
- Choreographers: Gillian Lynne, Norman Maen
- Producers: David Lazer (executive), Jim Henson, Lew Grade, Jack Burns (season 1)
- Designers: Faz Fazakas, Don Sahlin, Bonnie Erickson, Calista Hendrickson (costumes), Robert McCormack (supervisor), Sara Paul (supervisor), Michael K. Frith (consultant), Amy van Gilder, Caroly Wilcox, Mari Kaestle, Jan Rosenthal, Robert Payne, Rollin Krewson, Barbara Davis, Tim Miller, Dave Goelz, Ed Christie, Leslie Asch, Nomi Frederick, Marianne Harms, Larry Jameson
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