It’s understood that most kids adore puppets. Adults, on the other hand, don’t usually pay much attention. Under the masterful guidance of Jim Henson, however, a weekly variety show called The Muppet Show emerged in September of 1976 and proceeded to win the affection of millions of fans of all ages. Still enormously popular, the 120 episodes of The Muppet Show that were produced will likely be viewed (and cherished) by children and adults alike for decades to come, for making us laugh ourselves silly in a way that few other variety shows have ever achieved. Today, let’s take a look back at this unforgettable series.
Jim Henson, creator of the term “muppet” (a hybrid of a puppet and a marionette), had already endeared himself to countless preschoolers, thanks to the popular characters he created for the PBS educational show, Sesame Street. But the artist wasn’t satisfied catering to such a small demographic and felt that his talents could appeal to all age groups. To this end, he sought to develop a weekly variety show, one that featured a different guest host each week, who would perform alongside hundreds of his handmade Muppets, both in musical numbers and in slapstick-laden sketch comedy. ATV Entertainment, located in the UK, agreed to produce the show, and CBS Television liked the idea enough to syndicate the series for American audiences. The results exceeded everyone’s expectations.
What gave the Muppet Show credibility from the outset was the surprising caliber of celebrities willing to appear on such a seemingly silly show. Dancer Rudolph Nureyev’s appearance in one of the early episodes enticed other A-list celebrities to follow suit and soon after, everyone who was anyone wanted to appear on the show – such as Candice Bergen, Lena Horne, Peter Ustinov, Vincente Price, Elton John, Milton Berle, George Burns, Julie Andrews, Peter Sellers, Liberace, Dizzy Gillespie and Diana Ross, to name just a few. Here’s a great clip of Elton appearing with his new band on a season two episode:
The Muppet Show’s endearing emcee was a celebrity in his own right – Kermit the Frog from Sesame Street fame, performed by none other than Jim Henson himself. Contributing to the comedic chaos were a parade of peculiar, but equally-lovable Henson creations, such as the irrepressible Miss Piggy, stand-up comic Fozzy the Bear, strange stuntman extraordinaire Gonzo, and so many memorable others including The Swedish Chef, Dr. Bunson Honeydew and his assistant Beaker, frenzied drummer Animal, piano-playing Rowlf the Dog, and of course, Statler and Waldorf, two elderly occupants of one of the theater’s box seats who delight in heckling the performances of their co-workers.
The overwhelming success of The Muppet Show led to a string of equally successful feature-length films, as well as a popular animated Muppet Babies television series. For their efforts, The Muppet Show garnered a total of 21 Emmy Award nominations, of which they won four. The show also won a prestigious Peabody Award in 1978. Sadly, The Muppet Show ended in 1981, and although it lived on in syndication through much of the 90s, it hasn’t been on television since then. Thankfully, much of The Muppet Show is available on DVD.
If you faithfully tuned in each week to The Muppet Show, we’d love to hear your fond recollections of the series in our comments section. Share your favorite skits or characters with us, or tell us which guest host you found most memorable, as we tip our hats to a truly classic show, one that will hopefully live on for generations to come.