The Secret History of the Muppets
May 6, 2005 4:20 AM   Subscribe

42. I had always wondered why Jim Henson did The Muppet Show in England, after years of successful collaboration with The Children's Television Network in NYC. As a then 9-year old, I felt a kind of betrayal that I couldn't exactly put my finger on. As some little punk kid, what did I know about the financing of entertainment?

This analysis of The Jim Henson Co. as a globe-trotting band of gypsies goes a long way to explain the oddness of The Muppet Show and the change in tone that resulted when the puppets moved from Sesame Street to Lew Grade's London soundstages.
posted by vhsiv (26 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
From the article:
[In 1975] Henson was unable to get funding in the US for his new project, The Muppet Show. Eventually, having made several distress calls, he was finally offered a deal by Lew Grade at ATV, on the understanding that Henson came over and filmed The Muppet Show in the UK... Where it crosses the border into righteous apocrypha, however, is on the night that they landed in the UK, when Henson’s people started unpacking the Muppets. As they celebrated their new project, and discussed ideas for the forthcoming shows, they are said to have carefully removed from the heads of their Muppets a generous supply of the best psychedelic drugs the West Coast had to offer. Dr Teeth and The Electric Mayhem were devoted to prime West Coast marijuana while Kermit, apparently, had the acid.
posted by vhsiv at 4:22 AM on May 6, 2005

Listen to Henson on a bad trip with Raymond Scott here.mp3.
posted by _aa_ at 4:34 AM on May 6, 2005

Lots of weird factual errors in that article. Most are, ironically, in the pursuit of wisecracks.

For example, Robinson Crusoe was never on Treasure Island... things like that. He kind of just clumps things together.

And I think his information on Pixar-Disney is out of date, markedly so.
posted by jscott at 4:57 AM on May 6, 2005

What is it with drugs and unbridled creativity? Did Rimbaud have it right all along?

And the Pixar-Disney split is over a year old. But here's a question - is it possible to create anything new these days without prepackaging it with focus-groups and other such crap? It seems to me that Henson moved over there and just set up a remarkable creative community - a veritable Woodstock East. But I suppose the final word on that would have to come from Brian Henson or one of his siblings...
posted by vhsiv at 5:04 AM on May 6, 2005

Jim Henson was a genius. Without that genius, the people behind the muppets have managed to do some fun stuff, but it's not the same. Disney or no Disney.

It is nice, however, that a lot of the old stuff is finally being issued on DVD so my kids can see it.
posted by Outlawyr at 5:14 AM on May 6, 2005 [1 favorite]

Writing about this sort of subject in the broadsheet newspapers is generally full of factual errors, which seem largely to stem from the writer assuming that because it's "popular culture" they know it all already and not really important enough to get the facts straight on (which can't be difficult to research these days, what with the internet and everything).

Sooner or later newspapers will realise they can save a lot on paying writers and just publish the press release as they receive it rather than have it marginally rewritten.

Which is a bit of a digression from this particular article, but accuracy isn't really the strong point of this kind of article in this kind of paper.

Robinson Crusoe was never on Treasure Island... things like that. He kind of just clumps things together.

To be fair-ish I think the cllumping together was an attempt at a sort of humour rather than ignorance. And the writer, Caitlin Moran, is a she.
posted by Grangousier at 5:37 AM on May 6, 2005

When we found out that we were pregnant, people started giving us Teletubbies and Barney videos. They went straight into storage or the trash or became store credit.

Because when my wife turned thirty, I gave her the big-ass Time-Life box set with over 45 episodes of The Muppet Show. And that's all the children's videos that my child needs.
posted by ColdChef at 5:38 AM on May 6, 2005

As for the article: it was good enough considering the number of errors. Has anyone read a Jim Henson and or Muppet history/biography that they would recommend?

My kid is ten and has seen very little of the Muppets. That's sad to me. I'm very excited about the DVDs. I cherished the show as a child. One of the most depressing days I had as a child of six was when the TV caught fire during the Muppet Show. It was even harder to deal with no Muppet Show for the time it took the TV to be repaired. Now I can relive all of the glory!

The Raymond Scott website is incredible. Thanks.

P.S. Fraggle Rock Season 1 is coming to DVD too!
posted by horseblind at 6:05 AM on May 6, 2005

Dad, what's a muppet?
posted by sour cream at 6:38 AM on May 6, 2005

What's a muppet?!? Sour Cream, I done raised you better than that! Go to your room!
posted by Dallasfilm at 6:53 AM on May 6, 2005

Has anyone read a Jim Henson and or Muppet history/biography that they would recommend?

Jim Henson: The Works by Christopher Finch. It's a massive, full-color coffee table book that spans Henson's whole career, and it's loaded with photos (many rare) and written with care and love.

This is not PepsiBlue, just the personal recommendation of a lifetime Muppets fan who happened to find a really good book.

(And on preview, Dallasfilm, the correct response is, "Well, it's not really a mop, and it's not really a puppet, but oh, man!" It's a Simpsons reference.)
posted by Faint of Butt at 6:55 AM on May 6, 2005

Has anyone read a Jim Henson and or Muppet history/biography that they would recommend?

I second the recommendation of The Works. An awesome book, written by People Who Were There. Also discusses (in detail) many of the lesser-known projects (both Muppet stuff and Henson's little know live-action films) that you might not have known about.

If you are a muppet fan of any kind, you should also know about Muppet Central which is the Muppet site on the web. Be sure to check out this Muppet Central article about the upcoming release of season-by-season Muppet Show boxed sets and the release of Muppet Stamps in September.

Jim Henson would be 69 years old this year. He's been dead for 15 years. The world has been a bleaker place.

posted by anastasiav at 8:57 AM on May 6, 2005

Yeah, strangely out of date. Maybe it's an update of an older article?
posted by me3dia at 9:17 AM on May 6, 2005

The Muppet Central piece says that the season sets will be unedited. Given the amount of music on the show I find that amazing: they really got every single song cleared? No WKRP style substitutions?
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 9:27 AM on May 6, 2005

posted by jjg at 9:43 AM on May 6, 2005

From the article:
Henson died, suddenly, of pneumonia in 1991, and someone else does Kermit’s voice now. When The Muppet Show comes back, for the first time, it will not be Henson who says: “It’s The Muppet Show — yeaaaaaah!”

Correct me if I'm wrong here, but it will be Henson saying that -- not just the Henson.

I was under the impression that Kermit was being voiced by Jim Henson's son.
posted by thanotopsis at 9:50 AM on May 6, 2005


It's a reference to the Burkiss Way I think, an old radio series that Douglas Adams wrote a few pieces for. They did an episode that parodied the Muppet Show.

(Okay not really, and I don't know what the 42 is doing in this post, but there are multiple occurances of the number 42 being used for addresses and things in the Burkiss Way years before the Hitchhiker's radio series aired. Interesting, no?)

posted by PinkStainlessTail at 10:01 AM on May 6, 2005

Actually, Steve Whitmire (voice of Rizzo the Rat and Beaker, among others) does the voice of Kermit now. I think his first movie was the Muppet Christmas Carol. He's gotten better with time, but it's still not the same.

That being said, I'm not sure that the Disney takeover was the greatest idea, even if Jim Henson was in talks to have Disney buy the property even before he died.
posted by KoPi_42 at 10:18 AM on May 6, 2005

I always thought this an intersting fact, and tell it to anyone who ever mentions the Muppet Show to me. I majored in Radio, TV, and Film at University of Maryland, same as Jim Henson, though I would guess it was at least 25 or 30 years earlier when he was there.

I took Television Production with a gruff, old professor who said he and another equally gruff and old professor (dead by the time I attended) were the basis for the old guys in the balcony on the Muppet Show. Having spent a couple of semesters with him, I can tell you it had to be true.

He also claimed to have seen the first Kermit, a green sock on Jim Henson's hand.
posted by poppo at 10:23 AM on May 6, 2005

Key quote:
Indeed, as if to illustrate this point, when I contacted Disney its vice-president of corporate communications for Europe replied: “Disney has deemed irreverence as one of the five core equities of the Muppets (humorous, heartwarming, puppet-inspired and topical being the other four).”
posted by tingley at 11:04 AM on May 6, 2005

I was under the impression that Kermit was being voiced by Jim Henson's son.

Nope. Kermit is now performed by Steve Whitmire, the same guy who performs Rizzo.
posted by Robot Johnny at 11:16 AM on May 6, 2005

42 in the original Douglas Adams sense of the concept, not the confab Disney-produced hackery.

HONESTLY, now - that article answered a lot of unanswered questions about Jim Henson and the Muppets phenomenon for me. I had no idea that he was an informal participant in the electric kool-aid acid test. It also goes a long way to explain Brian Henson's passion for Farscape. I think it's a love-letter to his Dad.
posted by vhsiv at 11:19 AM on May 6, 2005

Yeah, the "five core equities" made me hurl as well.

Jim Henson was the great storyteller. Even with his post-muppet TV efforts, his passion for telling good stories came through. I must admit though, Brian Henson has exceeded his dad in the technique, but still hasn't matched his dad for story.

Although less well known, Fraggle Rock should be remembered as one of the first children's television shows designed for multi-lingual distribution.

Does anybody else remember Alice Cooper on the show with the Muppets in Alice Cooper face paint?
posted by KirkJobSluder at 3:14 PM on May 6, 2005

Another thumbs up for Jim Henson: The Works
It's great.
posted by Outlawyr at 6:07 PM on May 6, 2005

>And I think his information on Pixar-Disney
>is out of date, markedly so.

The writer of the article is a woman not a man.

I'm amazed she thinks Pixar is a Disney subsidiary, when everyone knows it's just a company that has some deals with Disney.
posted by w0mbat at 11:37 PM on May 7, 2005

Just gotta say, when May 16 rolled around, I was gutted by Jim Henson's passing, but also by the complete overshadowing that took place with Sammy Davis Jr's passing away at the same time. There was so little mention of Henson in the press.

And the special that came after, with the muppets singing "the Rainbow Connection" while the camera pans skyward had my sobbing uncontrollably.
posted by dreamsign at 2:16 AM on May 8, 2005

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