“It’s time to get things started…”
It’s been ages since the Muppets have last graced television with a prime time series. So long, in fact, that I feel that this review needs a brief history lesson on the Muppets and their trials and tribulations with television. (Since I’m certain some of our readers were not born yet the last time the Muppets had a prime time series.)
Luckily, for me, PBS recently aired a short documentary in their new “In There Own Words” series on Jim Henson. You can watch it here! It gives a cliff notes version of the life of the man and his projects and touches upon some of the history of the Muppets. It also serves to remind those who were crying foul that yes, Henson wanted his creations to live on, and no, the Muppets aren’t acting too adult. They were always adult, you just never noticed.
Starting out as pitchmen for commercials and local TV stars in Washington DC in the 1950’s, the Muppets soon found themselves already very well known by 1969. When the Children’s Television Workshop contacted Henson to see if he could bring his Muppets to the new educational children’s show they were making he lent his team’s talents to Sesame Street. Then, after a brief stint working on a puppet skit for SNL, the passed-over pilot for a prime time muppet show (titled “Sex and Violence”) was finally picked up and The Muppet Show took the world by storm. It ran from 1976 until 1981, on CBS in the US, and ended at the height of its popularity.
Muppets then shifted to movies and Fraggle Rock became the first original HBO series. The Muppets themselves didn’t return to TV until The Jim Henson Hour on NBC in 1989. The Jim Henson Hour was a combination of a Creature Shop heavy half hour feature with a Muppet TV comedy segment. It was was canceled after 9 episodes aired. This was shortly before the untimely death of Jim Henson in 1990, and the Muppets didn’t return to TV until Muppet’s Tonight in 1996, which lasted only 10 episodes on ABC before being moved to the Disney Channel for the remaining 12. Network success has been hard for the Muppets in the last thirty-five years.
So, how did this new project finally make it to the air? “From the Co-Creator of the Big Bang Theory” certainly did the trick. While those words struck fear into the hearts of many, the co-creator in question is Bill Prady. He just happened to be a former Muppet writer from back in the Jim Henson Hour days, and moved on from the company not long after Jim Henson’s death. It’s clear Muppets remained on his mind. He had attempted to pitch a new Muppet show before he launched the Big Bang Theory. He was uniquely positioned to champion for his former colleagues with his present day success. However, he’s only the producer, not the show runner. That duty goes to a lesser known helmer Bob Kushell (3rd Rock from the Sun) and head writer muppeteer Bill Barretta (Pepe the King Prawn). Yeah, that last part is probably the bit people should be worrying about. Personally, I like Pepe but the little shrimp can be a bit overpowering.
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