Help me understand something re. the genesis of "The Muppet Show" please...

Discussion in 'Visual Arts' started by ParloFax, Apr 20, 2017.

  1. ParloFax

    ParloFax Forum Resident Thread Starter

    As a fan, I am a little ashamed to have discovered only recently and through Wikipedia that, after the refusal by the studios of two successive pilots in its home country, it finally got produced by ATV in the UK. I had always felt that it was as American as apple pie, like they say... Though in hindsight, the setting of the Show is indeed quite vaudevillian, in the English tradition I gather.

    Now if I, as a French speaker, can dig the Muppet Show, surely the English public could too, no question about any of that. But given the cultural differences in those days, was there some sort of UK version of this show, some characters dubbed with a British accent perhaps?

    I mean it was so American, what with all those typical (or so I think) USA afternoon TV soap parodies, the Sam the Eagle character, etc. If it was not adapted in any way, how did the UK public react to it back in the day?
    Last edited: Apr 20, 2017
  2. misterjones

    misterjones Forum Resident

    New York City
    Ashamed that the show was initially rejected for broadcast in US or ashamed you only recently discovered this?

    I was not aware of any difficulties the show had in getting its legs as a more adult show after years of catering to small children learning how to read on Sesame Street. But I certainly can understand the problems inherent in making such a transitition, as well as the reluctance of a production company (US or otherwise) to put money into such a venture. Kudos to Henson for pulling it off. He wasn't the first or last person with an excellent/creative idea to run into a few initial brick walls.

    I loved the show and went to see the movie immediately when it came out. And the guests willing to appear with puppets but not people!
  3. Thievius

    Thievius Blue Öyster Cultist

    I always figured the genesis for the show was the appearance of the muppets in the early days of Saturday Night Live.
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  4. ParloFax

    ParloFax Forum Resident Thread Starter

    ^^Ashamed to have discovered only recently that...

    Well from the producers' POV it should have been apparent from the start that this was not what Henson and his team had been doing as part of the "Sesame Street" pre-school educational program. As a matter of fact, the Muppets were most often (always?) featured before Sesame Street in adult programs like The Ed Sullivan Show and a few others. There was already indeed a bit of a "sick" side to their humor...
    Last edited: Apr 20, 2017
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  5. Dubmart

    Dubmart Forum Resident

    Bristol, UK
    As far as I'm aware there was only one version and we watched what the rest of the world watched, thinking back it was slightly strange to have a "US" show that was made here, but as a kid I didn't really think too hard about that.
    Louise Boat, goodiesguy and ParloFax like this.
  6. ParloFax

    ParloFax Forum Resident Thread Starter

    I wasn't aware of that.
  7. misterjones

    misterjones Forum Resident

    New York City
    But still, a comedy show entirely with puppets (except for the guest)? Hard to fault someone at the time for being skeptical. I recall having a hard time getting my head around the notion. It was a big transition. Like Mr. Rogers hosting SNL. I'm just glad it aired (and extensively in the US).
  8. misterjones

    misterjones Forum Resident

    New York City
    That rings a bell. I think that likely was what brought the producers around. Henson went out of his way to create some very sinister puppets, as I recall. A very creative way to win over the skeptics.
  9. ParloFax

    ParloFax Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Yes, it was a bit of a prime time phenomenon...
  10. Thievius

    Thievius Blue Öyster Cultist

    Here's short clip of an interview with Frank Oz that touches upon the SNL thing. He mentions at the end something about being approved for the UK show immediately after that venture as well.

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  11. vince

    vince Stan Ricker's son-in-law

    I seem to remember a 'prime-time' Muppet 'special...
    NO Kermit, or other well known characters...
    This is a hazy memory, but, I seem to remember there were Muppets based on 'the seven deadly sins', and each one would appear during this 'staging area' that was LIKE the way "The Muppet Show" had their show 'backstage'...
    I also seem to recall two characters playing Scrabble, and one of them used the 'word', QWEEBAZIGGY...
    He, said, "You know, like, 'I QWEEBAZIGGY you.'".
  12. ParloFax

    ParloFax Forum Resident Thread Starter

    I think the Seven Deadly Sins was the 2nd pilot, AKA "Sex and Violence" (!) or something like that. I should check my DVD collection Season 1, as I think it might be included as an extra. Apparently Season 2, which I do not own, includes the other pilot.
    Louise Boat likes this.
  13. vince

    vince Stan Ricker's son-in-law

    No kidding!
    I have no idea why it's stuck in my mind.... after all these years.
    Only saw in on TV once.
  14. ParloFax

    ParloFax Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Yes it seems like this is the one. Looking forward having a moment to watch it, as it looks quite zany!

    The Muppet Show: Sex and Violence
  15. Nobby

    Nobby Forum Resident

    Birmingham, UK
    Absolutely huge in the UK.

    Sunday night on ITV and everyone talked about it at school the next day.

    Heck I've even got the LP, single and the Music Hall EP.

    "The comedian's a bear. No he's not, he's a-wearing a necktie!"
  16. JamieC

    JamieC Forum Resident

    Detroit Mi USA
    Not true. You got the better deal. In the US they had an extra few minutes of commercials, while you, on the other hand, got an additional sketch or musical number that WE never saw until the DVD sets came out.
  17. PaulKTF

    PaulKTF Forum Resident

    The Muppet Show was a thing of genius.
  18. ParloFax

    ParloFax Forum Resident Thread Starter

    I was in junior college during the first run, and me and one or two pals would report back on it the next school day after airing. It always featured at least one sketch that killed us!
    Nobby likes this.
  19. vince

    vince Stan Ricker's son-in-law

    1975..... I was only 7!
    I'm very happy my brain likes to remember !
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  20. ParloFax

    ParloFax Forum Resident Thread Starter


    Collecting this show nowadays is complicated for the completist, as one needs the DVDs (for the reason you mentionned), but also some old tape copy which includes certain guest star songs cut from the DVDs because of licensing issues... including the entire last two seasons!
    Jeff Kent likes this.
  21. Obtuse1

    Obtuse1 Forum Resident

    You can see the seeds planted for the Muppets to come in these commercials for Wilkins Coffee:

  22. ParloFax

    ParloFax Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Too much!
  23. ParloFax

    ParloFax Forum Resident Thread Starter

    ...Look at the roster of guests from seasons 4 & 5, which remain un-released for home video... :O(

    Crystal Gayle, Arlo Guthrie, Victor Borge, Phyllis George, Dyan Cannon, Christopher Reeve, Dizzy Gillespie, Anne Murray, Jonathan Winters, Andy Williams, Doug Henning, Carol Channing, Alan Arkin, Shirley Bassey, Joan Baez, Glenda Jackson, Loretta Swit, Hal Linden, Jean-Pierre Rampal, Chris Langham, Melissa Manchester, Gladys Knight, Wally Boag, and Buddy Rich.
  24. Vidiot

    Vidiot Now in 4K HDR!

    Hollywood, USA
    There were a number of problems. The networks felt that the Muppets would only appeal to a kids' audience, not a broad family audience (basically a higher-budget version of Sesame Street). They also knew that all the major comedy/variety shows were running out of steam; The Carol Burnett Show was cancelled in 1978 and the ratings were already going down by 1976. Nobody had done a successful half-hour variety show in year, so that was a big gamble. And there wasn't a continuing host, just a guest host, so the danger there is audiences might like the host one week and hate the next one. It was also a comparably expensive show to make, because every single set and costume and prop on the show pretty much had to be built from scratch. And while producer/creator Jim Henson had done several successful specials, there was doubt that he could have the same success with a weekly series.

    For all these reasons, the networks rejected the idea. Lew Grade at ITC decided to gamble that the show could work if it was specifically marketed for American stations that needed a "prime access" half-hour show prior to prime-time network programming at 8PM. A lot of stations aired the show at 7:30PM on Saturday night, and it was a terrific lead-in that way. The show did well for the first few years, but I'm not convinced it could've been a huge blockbuster success in terms of network ratings. It was a pretty good show, particularly for this period.

    One interesting observation: they were able to sell the shows to a lot of American network affiliates, and as I understand it, for this reason the show was shot in NTSC videotape (and not the more-common 625 PAL standard in England, where the show was shot). Here's a 3-minute clip of the original unaired pilot:

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  25. ParloFax

    ParloFax Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Thanks for this, I understand the context better now.

    Thank you also for the clip. This pilot is pretty cool, but probably needed some unifying concept/setting (like the Muppet Theater) to better retain the attention. Not sure though...
    Vidiot likes this.

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