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Entertainment Earth

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"Good Grief! the comedians a bear!"

- W.J. Flywheel, Webporium Curator

THE MUPPETS

The Muppets are an ensemble cast of puppet characters known for their self-aware, burlesque, and meta-referential style of variety-sketch comedy. Created by Jim Henson and his wife Jane Henson in 1955, they are the namesake for the Disney media franchise that encompasses feature films, television series, music recordings, theme park attractions, print publications, merchandising, and other media works associated with the characters.

The Muppets debuted on the television program Sam and Friends, which aired from 1955 to 1961. After appearing on skits in several late night talk shows and advertising commercials during the 1960s, the Muppets began appearing on Sesame Street in 1969.

Henson and the Muppets attained celebrity status and international recognition through their breakout roles in The Muppet Show (1976–1981), a primetime television series that garnered four Primetime Emmy Award wins and twenty-one nominations during its five-year run.

In the late 1970s and into the 1980s, the Muppets diversified into theatrical feature films, including The Muppet Movie (1979), The Great Muppet Caper (1981), and The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984). The Walt Disney Company began involvement with the Muppets in the late 1980s, seeking to acquire the characters from the Jim Henson Company. The Muppets continued their presence in television and film in the 1990s with The Jim Henson Hour (1989), Muppets Tonight (1996–98), a series continuation of The Muppet Show, and three films, The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992), Muppet Treasure Island (1996), and Muppets from Space (1999).

Disney acquired the rights to the Muppets franchise in 2004, allowing the characters to gain broader public exposure than in previous years. Under Disney's control, the Muppets enjoyed revitalized success, starring in two films, The Muppets (2011) and Muppets Most Wanted (2014), as well as a short-lived primetime television series on ABC.

Throughout their six decades of existence, the Muppets have been regarded as a staple of the entertainment industry and popular culture in the United States, receiving recognition from various cultural institutions and organizations, such as the American Film Institute, Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, Library of Congress, and the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

The Muppets were created by puppeteer Jim Henson in the 1950s, beginning with Kermit the Frog, who would become Henson's signature character. Originally conceived as characters aimed at an adult audience, Henson stated that the term "Muppet" had been created as an amalgamation of the words "marionette" and "puppet", however, Henson was also known to have stated that it was just something he liked the sound of, and he made up the "marionette/puppet" story while talking to a journalist because it sounded plausible.

Muppets are distinguished from ventriloquist "dummies", which are typically animated only in the head and face, in that their arms or other features are also mobile and expressive. Muppets are typically made of softer materials. They are also presented as being independent of the puppeteer, who is usually not visible, hidden behind a set or outside of the camera frame.

James Maury "Jim" Henson was born in Greenville, Mississippi on September 24th, 1936. Henson was the younger of two children of Paul Ransom Henson (1904–1994), an agronomist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and his wife, Betty Marcella (née Brown; 1904–1972). He was raised as a Christian Scientist and spent his early childhood in Leland, Mississippi, before moving with his family to University Park, Maryland, near Washington, D.C., in the late 1940s. He later remembered the arrival of the family's first television as "the biggest event of his adolescence," having been heavily influenced by radio ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and the early television puppets of Burr Tillstrom (on Kukla, Fran and Ollie) and Bil and Cora Baird.

Henson remained a Christian Scientist at least into his twenties when he would teach Sunday School, but fifteen years before he died, Henson wrote to a Christian Science church to inform them he was no longer a practicing member. Henson began developing puppets while attending Northwestern High School, and In 1954, he began working for WTOP-TV (now WUSA-TV), creating puppets for a Saturday morning children's show called The Junior Morning Show. After graduating from high school, Henson enrolled at the University of Maryland, College Park, as a studio arts major, thinking he might become a commercial artist. A puppetry class offered in the applied arts department introduced him to the craft and textiles courses in the College of Home economics, and he graduated in 1960 with a BS in home economics. As a freshman, he had been asked to create Sam and Friends, a five-minute puppet show for WRC-TV. The characters on Sam and Friends were forerunners of Muppets, and the show included a prototype of Henson's most famous character: Kermit the Frog. Henson would remain at WRC for seven years, from 1954 to 1961.

In the show, he began experimenting with techniques that would change the way puppetry had been used on television, including using the frame defined by the camera shot to allow the puppet performer to work from off-camera. Believing television puppets needed to have "life and sensitivity," Henson began making characters from flexible, fabric-covered foam rubber, allowing them to express a wider array of emotions at a time when many puppets were made of carved wood. A marionette's arms are manipulated by strings, but Henson used rods to move his Muppets' arms, allowing greater control of expression. Additionally, Henson wanted the Muppet characters to "speak" more creatively than was possible for previous puppets, which had seemed to have random mouth movements, so he used precise mouth movements to match the dialogue.

When Henson began work on Sam and Friends, he asked fellow University of Maryland sophomore Jane Nebel to assist him. The show was a financial success, but after graduating from college, Henson began to have doubts about going into a career performing with puppets. He spent several months in Europe, where he was inspired by European puppet performers, who looked on their work as an art form. Upon Henson's return to the United States, he and Jane began dating. They were married in 1959 and had five children, Lisa (b. 1960), Cheryl (b. 1961), Brian (b. 1963), John (b. 1965, d. 2014), and Heather (b. 1970).

Despite the success of Sam and Friends, Henson spent much of the next two decades working in commercials, talk shows, and children's projects before being able to realize his dream of the Muppets as "entertainment for everybody". The popularity of his work on Sam and Friends in the late 1950s led to a series of guest appearances on network talk and variety shows. Henson himself appeared as a guest on many shows, including The Steve Allen Show, The Jack Paar Program and The Ed Sullivan Show (although on his appearance on the September 11th, 1966, episode of the show, released to DVD on 2011 as part of a collection of episodes featuring the Rolling Stones, Sullivan mis-introduced Henson as "Jim Newsom and his Puppets"). This first national television broadcast greatly increased exposure, which led to hundreds of commercial appearances by Henson characters throughout the sixties.

Among the most popular of Henson's commercials was a series for the local Wilkins Coffee company in Washington, D.C., in which his Muppets were able to get away with a greater level of slapstick violence than might have been acceptable with human actors and would later find its way into many acts on The Muppet Show. In the first Wilkins ad, a Muppet named Wilkins is poised behind a cannon seen in profile. Another Muppet named Wontkins is in front of its barrel. Wilkins asks, "What do you think of Wilkins Coffee?" and Wontkins responds gruffly, "Never tasted it!" Wilkins fires the cannon and blows Wontkins away, then turns the cannon directly toward the viewer and ends the ad with, "Now, what do you think of Wilkins?" Henson later explained, "Till then, advertising agencies believed that the hard sell was the only way to get their message over on television. We took a very different approach. We tried to sell things by making people laugh." The first seven-second commercial for Wilkins was an immediate hit and was syndicated and re-shot by Henson for local coffee companies across the United States; he ultimately produced more than 300 coffee ads. The same setup was used to pitch Kraml Milk in the Chicago area, Red Diamond coffee, several bread products, and even Faygo.

In 1963, Henson and his wife moved to New York City, where the newly formed Muppets, Inc., would reside for some time. Jane quit performing to raise their children. Henson hired writer Jerry Juhl in 1961 and puppet performer Frank Oz in 1963 to replace her. Henson later credited both with developing much of the humor and character of his Muppets. Henson and Oz developed a close friendship and a performing partnership that lasted 27 years; their teamwork is particularly evident in their portrayals of the characters of Bert and Ernie, Kermit and Miss Piggy, and Kermit and Fozzie Bear.

Henson's 1960s talk show appearances culminated when he devised Rowlf, a piano-playing anthropomorphic dog. Rowlf became the first Muppet to make regular appearances on a network show, The Jimmy Dean Show. Henson was so grateful for this break that he offered Jimmy Dean a 40% interest in his production company, but Dean declined, stating that Henson deserved all the rewards for his own work, a decision of conscience Dean never regretted. From 1963 to 1966, Henson began exploring film-making and produced a series of experimental films. His nine-minute experimental film, Time Piece, was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film in 1966. The year 1969 saw the production of The Cube, another Henson-produced experimental movie.

Also around this time, the first drafts of a live-action experimental movie script were written with Jerry Juhl, which would eventually become Henson's last unproduced full-length screenplay, Tale of Sand. The script remained in the Henson Company archives until the screenplay was adapted in the 2012 graphic novel Jim Henson's Tale of Sand.

THE PUPPETEERS

At the start of the Muppets' formation, Jim and Jane Henson were the group's only performers. In 1961, Jane retired to focus on raising their children. Seeking additional performers, Jim came into contact with Frank Oz that same year. Although interested, Oz declined participation due to his youth and commitment to high school, and instead suggested Jerry Juhl, a fellow puppeteer who worked alongside Oz at the Vagabond Puppet Theater in Oakland, California. Upon graduating, Oz subsequently joined in August 1963. When The Muppet Show began, the main cast of performers grew to include Henson, Oz, Dave Goelz, Jerry Nelson, Richard Hunt, and later Steve Whitmire, while Juhl became head writer for the series. From The Muppet Show onwards, Kevin Clash, Kathryn Mullen, Louise Gold, Karen Prell, Caroll Spinney, and Brian Henson performed several minor characters and often assisted the main performers with puppeteering. Nearly all of the aforementioned puppeteers cross-performed characters across a variety of media, including The Muppet Show, Sesame Street, Fraggle Rock, and other Henson-related projects.

Pictured top left, clockwise from top left: Richard Hunt, Steve Whitmire, Jerry Nelson, Jim Henson, Frank Oz and Dave Goelz. Pictured top right, Richard Hunt provides the "right-hand" for Jim Henson as Ernie while Frank Oz plays Bert.

Jim Henson, Hunt, and Nelson continued performing until their deaths in 1990, 1992, and 2012, respectively. Whitmire and Bill Barretta, who became one of the group's main performers in the 1990s, adopted Henson's characters. Hunt's characters remained without a stable performer throughout the 1990s and 2000s, until David Rudman and Whitmire began performing such characters in the late 2000s. Oz continued performing until his retirement from puppeteering in 2000; Eric Jacobson took over his characters two years after. At Nelson's behest, Matt Vogel gradually assumed performing duties for his characters beginning in 2008. Whitmire was dismissed from the cast in 2016, with Vogel cast as the role of Kermit in 2017, and the majority of Whitmire's characters assumed by the remainder of the cast. The Muppets are currently performed by a cast of six principal puppeteers: Jacobson, Goelz, Barretta, Rudman, Vogel, and Peter Linz.

THE PUPPETS

The majority of the Muppets are designed as a combination of rod puppets and hand puppets. A common facial design for a Muppet is a character with a very large mouth and big protruding eyes. The puppets are often molded or carved out of various types of foam, and then covered with fleece, fur, or other felt-like material. Muppets may represent humans, anthropomorphic animals, realistic animals, robots, anthropomorphic objects, extraterrestrial creatures, mythical beings or other unidentified, newly imagined creatures, monsters, or abstract characters.

Muppets are distinguished from ventriloquist "dummies"/"puppets", which are typically animated only in the head and face, in that their arms or other features are also mobile and expressive. Muppets are typically made of softer materials. They are also presented as being independent of the puppeteer, who is usually not visible, hidden behind a set or outside of the camera frame. Using the camera frame as the "stage" was an innovation of the Muppets. Previously on television, there would typically be a stage hiding the performers, as if in a live presentation. Sometimes they are seen full-bodied. This is done by using invisible strings to move the characters' bodies and mouths, and then adding the voices later.

Since Disney's acquisition of the Muppets, newer models of the characters are produced and maintained by Puppet Heap.

The puppeteer, often dubbed as the "Muppet performer", holds the Muppet above his head or in front of his body, with one hand operating the head and mouth and the other manipulating the hands and arms, either with two separate control rods or by "wearing" the hands like gloves. One consequence of this design is that most Muppets are left-handed as the puppeteer uses his right hand to operate the head while operating the arm rod with his left hand. There are many other common designs and means of operation. In advanced Muppets, several puppeteers may control a single character; the performer who controls the mouth usually provides the voice for the character. As technology has evolved, the Jim Henson team and other puppeteers have developed an enormous variety of means to operate Muppets for film and television, including the use of suspended rigs, internal motors, remote radio control, and computer enhanced and superimposed images. Creative use of a mix of technologies has allowed for scenes in which Muppets appear to be riding a bicycle, rowing a boat, and even dancing on-stage with no puppeteer in sight.

Muppets tend to develop, as writer Michael Davis put it, "organically", meaning that the puppeteers take time, often up to a year, slowly developing their characters and voices. Muppets are also, as Davis said, "test-driven, passed around from one Henson troupe member to another in the hope of finding the perfect human-Muppet match". When interacting with Muppets, children tended to act as though the Muppets were living creatures, even when they could see the puppeteers.

CAN YOU TELL ME HOW TO GET TO SESAME STREET?

In 1966, Joan Ganz Cooney and Lloyd Morrisett began developing an educational television program targeted towards children and approached Henson to design several Muppet characters for the program. Produced by the Children's Television Workshop, the show debuted as Sesame Street in 1969. Henson and his creative team performed and created several characters for the show in the years that followed; Henson waived his performance fee in exchange for retaining ownership rights to the Muppet characters created for the program. Sesame Street received critical acclaim, and the Muppets' involvement in the series was touted to be a vital component of the show's blossoming popularity, providing an "effective and pleasurable viewing" method of presentation for the series' educational curriculum. The series premiered on November 10th, 1969, to positive reviews, some controversy, and high viewership; it has aired on the U.S.'s national public television provider (PBS) since its debut, with its first run moving to premium channel HBO on January 16th, 2016.

Shortly after the CTW was created in 1968, Joan Ganz Cooney was named its first executive director. She was one of the first female executives in American television and her appointment was called "one of the most important television developments of the decade". She assembled a team of producers, all of whom had previously worked on Captain Kangaroo. Jon Stone was responsible for writing, casting, and format; Dave Connell took over animation; and Sam Gibbon served as the show's chief liaison between the production staff and the research team.

Jim Henson and the Muppets' involvement in Sesame Street began when he and Cooney met at one of the curriculum planning seminars in Boston. Author Christopher Finch reported that Stone, who had worked with Henson previously, felt that if they could not bring him on board, they should "make do without puppets". Henson was initially reluctant, but he agreed to join Sesame Street and it brought him national attention.

Henson was able to take arcane academic goals and translate them to effective and pleasurable viewing. In early research, the Muppet segments of the show scored high, and more Muppets were added during the first few seasons. The Muppets were effective teaching tools because children easily recognized them, they were stereotypical and predictable, and they appealed to adults and older siblings as well.

Sesame Street had given Jim Henson's creations invaluable exposure; however, Henson began to perceive that he was being pigeonholed as a children's entertainer. He sought to create a program that could be enjoyed by young and old alike.

In the early 1970s, the Muppets continued their presence in television, namely appearing in The Land of Gorch segments during the first season of Saturday Night Live. As his involvement with Sesame Street continued, Henson mused about the possibility of creating a network television series featuring the Muppets. However, unlike Sesame Street, which was geared towards a younger demographic and rooted in education, Henson pursued developing a series that would be focused purely on comedy and aimed more towards adults than children. Two pilot specials, The Muppets Valentine Show and The Muppet Show: Sex and Violence, aired on ABC in 1974 and 1975, respectively. After ABC passed on the pilots and no other major American network expressed interest in backing the project, Lew Grade approached Henson and agreed to produce the series for the British company Associated Television.

Debuting in 1976, The Muppet Show introduced characters such as Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Gonzo and Animal, as well as showcasing regulars Kermit the Frog and Rowlf. Kermit was also one of the main Muppet characters of Sesame Street where he was a happy, perky and somewhat avuncular character, here he is trying to keep control of the varied, outrageous, kinetic Muppet characters (and his temper), as well as keep the human guest stars happy and secure. The show was well-known for outrageous, highly physical, sometimes absurdist comedy, and particularly for using its puppet characters to create uniquely humorous parodies. The show depicted a vaudeville or music hall style song-and-dance variety show, as well as the backstage antics of the Muppet cast and it's human guest stars. After the show became popular with audiences, many major celebrities were eager to perform on the show and the diverse roster of guests included Twiggy, Sandy Duncan, Julie Andrews, Steve Martin, characters from Star Wars, Mummenschanz, Ethel Merman, Paul Simon, John Denver and Alice Cooper. The Muppet Show became the cornerstone of Jim Henson's enormously popular ongoing productions and went on to receive twenty-one Primetime Emmy Award nominations during its run, winning four awards, including Outstanding Variety Series in 1978.

The format was later be revived as Muppets Tonight (below) in 1996. The premise of Muppets Tonight was that Clifford (a Muppet who first appeared on shortlived The Jim Henson Hour and was voiced by Kevin Clash) was the host of a variety/talk show on KMUP. The show stuck closely to the Muppet Show format of various skits (mostly featuring the show's human guest star) interspersed with some sort of crisis occurring backstage. Muppets Tonight ran from 1996 to 1998. There were 22 episodes produced in two batches. 13 episodes were ordered by ABC, which only ran 10 of them in the 1995-96 TV season. The program was then purchased by the Disney Channel, which ordered a further nine episodes and aired these along with the three episodes ABC did not air, in the 1997-98 season. One of the nine newly-produced episodes was a clip show compilation culled from the earlier episodes.

The success of original The Muppet Show allowed Henson Associates to diversify into theatrical feature films based on the Muppets and went on to produce The Muppet Movie (the first film to feature puppets interacting with humans in real-world locations), The Great Muppet Caper and The Muppets Take Manhattan, which followed in 1979, 1981 and 1984, respectively. Altogether, the three films received four Academy Award nominations. By 1983, Henson had introduced another television series, Fraggle Rock, which ran on HBO in the United States until 1987.

The Muppet Movie is a movie-in-a-movie, as we see Kermit the Frog and the rest of the Muppets gathering for the first screening of The Muppet Movie. Kermit notes that the movie is a somewhat fictionalized account of the true story of how the Muppets first got together. A song from the film, "The Rainbow Connection", sung by Henson as Kermit, hit number 25 on the Billboard Hot 100 and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song.

The Great Muppet Caper (1981) is the second of a series of live-action musical feature films, starring the Muppets. The movie was released shortly after the final season of The Muppet Show, so some fans consider it the movie finale of the original show. Henson had decided to end the still-popular Muppet Show to concentrate on making films but from time to time, the Muppet characters continued to appear in made-for-TV-movies and television specials.

The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984) is the third of a series of live-action musical feature films starring Jim Henson's Muppets. It was the first film directed by Frank Oz, who also performs Fozzie Bear, Miss Piggy, and Animal. The film introduced the Muppet Babies (toddler versions of the Muppet characters in a flashback/dream sequence). The Muppet Babies later received their own Saturday morning animated television series, which aired from 1984 until 1991.

The Muppet Christmas Carol was the fourth feature film to star The Muppets, and the first produced after the death of Muppets creator Jim Henson. Released in 1992, it is one of many film adaptations of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. This is the first of the Muppets movies in which the focus of the story revolves around characters played by human beings. Specifically, Michael Caine played Ebenezer Scrooge, Steven Mackintosh portrayed Scrooge's nephew Fred, and Meredith Braun played Scrooge's fiancée Belle. The rest of the cast was fleshed out with Muppet performers, including Kermit the Frog as Bob Cratchit, Miss Piggy as Cratchit's wife, Robin as Tiny Tim, and Fozzie Bear as Fozziwig ("Fezziwig" in the original story). The film was directed by Jim Henson's son, Brian Henson. This film marked the younger Henson's directorial debut. Ironically, in spite of the majority of the cast being puppets, this film is in one sense one of the truest adaptations of the original story. This is because the film is interspersed with scenes of a narrator (Gonzo playing Dickens), who, along with the characters, recites virtually all of Dickens's original lines.

Muppet Treasure Island was the fifth feature film to star The Muppets, and the second produced after the death of Muppets creator Jim Henson. Released in 1996 and directed by Jim Henson's son Brian Henson, it was one of many film adaptations of Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island. As in the earlier Muppet Christmas Carol, the key roles were played by human guest stars - in this case, Tim Curry as Long John Silver and Kevin Bishop as the putative protagonist Jim Hawkins - while the Muppets filled in supporting roles, including Kermit as Captain Smollett, Fozzie as Squire Trelawney, and Miss Piggy (who Tim Curry states is the prettiest co-star he's ever had) as Benjimina Gunn. Following their success as the narrators of The Muppet Christmas Carol, Gonzo and Rizzo appear in specially-created roles as Jim Hawkins' best friends, and steal the show.

In addition to his own puppetry projects, Henson aided others in their work. In 1979, he was asked by the producers of the Star Wars sequel The Empire Strikes Back to aid make-up artist Stuart Freeborn in the creation and articulation of enigmatic Jedi Master Yoda. Henson suggested to Star Wars creator George Lucas, himself a Muppets fan, that he use Frank Oz as the puppeteer and voice of Yoda. Oz voiced Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back and each of the four subsequent Star Wars films. The naturalistic, lifelike Yoda became one of the most popular characters of the Star Wars franchise. Lucas even lobbied unsuccessfully to have Oz nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.

In 1982, Henson founded the Jim Henson Foundation to promote and develop the art of puppetry in the United States. Around that time, he began creating darker and more realistic fantasy films that did not feature the Muppets and displayed "a growing, brooding interest in mortality." With 1982's The Dark Crystal, which he co-directed with Frank Oz and co-wrote, Henson said he was "trying to go toward a sense of realism, toward a reality of creatures that are actually alive [where] it's not so much a symbol of the thing, but you're trying to [present] the thing itself." To provide a visual style distinct from the Muppets, the puppets in The Dark Crystal were based on conceptual artwork by Brian Froud.

The Dark Crystal was a financial and critical success and, a year later, the Muppet-starring The Muppets Take Manhattan (directed by Frank Oz) did fair box-office business, grossing $25.5 million domestically and ranking as one of the top 40 films of 1984. However, 1986's Labyrinth, a Crystal-like fantasy that Henson directed by himself, was considered (in part due to its cost) a commercial disappointment. Despite some positive reviews (The New York Times called it "a fabulous film"), the commercial failure of Labyrinth demoralized Henson to the point that son Brian Henson remembered the time of its release as being "the closest I've seen him to turning in on himself and getting quite depressed." The film would later became a cult classic.

Henson and his wife separated the same year, although they remained close for the rest of his life. Jane later said that Jim was so involved with his work that he had very little time to spend with her or their children. All five of his children began working with Muppets at an early age, partly because, as Cheryl Henson remembered, "one of the best ways of being around him was to work with him."

Henson continued to explore darker, mature themes with the folk tale and mythology-oriented show The Storyteller (1988), which won an Emmy for Outstanding Children's Program. The next year, Henson returned to television with The Jim Henson Hour, which mixed lighthearted Muppet fare with riskier material. The show was critically well received and won Henson another Emmy for Outstanding Directing in a Variety or Music Program, but was canceled after 13 episodes due to low ratings. Henson blamed its failure on NBC's constant rescheduling.

MUPPETS IN PRINT

Since the late 1970s, numerous Muppet-related comic books have been released over the years. The first comic strips based on the Muppets appeared on September 21st, 1981, in over 500 daily newspapers, just months after The Muppet Show ended its five-year run. The Muppets Comic Strip was printed daily from 1981 to 1986. By the end of its initial run, the comic strip was seen in over 660 newspapers worldwide. Special strips were also created in color, exclusively for issues of Muppet Magazine.

The only film in the franchise to see a comic book adaptation was The Muppets Take Manhattan. The comic book series was adapted by Marvel Comics in 1984, as the 68-page story in Marvel Super Special No. 32, August. The adaptation was later re-printed into three limited series issues, released under Marvel's Star Comics imprint (November 1984 – January 1985).

Muppet Magazine was published from 1983 to 1989. The magazine took on the format of being by the Muppets more than about them and had such features as celebrity interviews and comic stories.

In the wake of the success of the Muppet Babies television show, Star Comics began releasing the Muppet Babies comic book title on a bi-monthly basis. These were original stories, not adaptations of the show's episodes.

In the final Disney Adventures issue, with a cover date of November 2007, a one-page story single strip focusing on Fozzie Bear, Smedley, Statler, and Waldorf (with a cameo by Scooter) was released. Roger Langridge wrote and drew the comics intending it to be more long running.

In 2009, Boom! Studios began publishing The Muppet Show, a mini-series based on the eponymous television show and written and drawn by Roger Langridge. An ongoing series titled The Muppet Show: The Comic Book followed and ran for eleven issues. Additionally, Boom! Studios also published Muppet fairy-tale comic adaptations similar to The Muppet Christmas Carol and Muppet Treasure Island. In 2012, Marvel Comics took over the publishing duties for the series.

In the late 1980s, Henson worked with illustrator / designer William Stout on a feature film starring animatronic dinosaurs with the working title of The Natural History Project. In 1991, news stories written around the premiere of The Jim Henson Company-produced Dinosaurs sitcom highlighted the show's connection to Henson. "Jim Henson dreamed up the show's basic concept about three years ago," said a New York Times article in April 1991.

'He wanted it to be a sitcom with a pretty standard structure, with the biggest differences being that it's a family of dinosaurs and their society has this strange toxic life style,' said [his son] Brian Henson. But until The Simpsons took off, said Alex Rockwell, a vice president of the Henson organization, 'people thought it was a crazy idea.'

A New Yorker article said that Henson continued to work on a dinosaur project (presumably the Dinosaurs concept) until the "last months of his life." The family sitcom Dinosaurs, set in 60,000,003 BC in Pangaea, featured the Sinclair family: Earl Sinclair (the father), Fran Sinclair (the mother and Earl's wife), their three children (son Robbie, daughter Charlene, and Baby Sinclair) and Fran's mother, Ethyl. Earl's job is to push over trees for the Wesayso Corporation with his friend and coworker Roy Hess where they work under the supervision of their boss Bradley P. Richfield. It debuted a year after Henson's death and ran on ABC from April 26th, 1991 to July 20th, 1994.

During the production of his 1990 projects, Henson traveled continuously. By late Spring, Henson began to experience recurring flu-like symptoms. On May 4th, 1990, Henson appeared with Kermit on The Arsenio Hall Show, one of his last television appearances. At the time, he mentioned to his publicist that he was tired and had a sore throat, but felt that it would go away.

On May 12th, 1990, Henson traveled to Ahoskie, North Carolina, with his daughter Cheryl, to visit his father and stepmother. They both returned to New York on May 13th, and Henson canceled a Muppet recording session scheduled for May 14th.

That night, Henson's wife Jane, from whom he was separated, came to visit for the last time. Hours later, on May 15th, Henson suffered a medical emergency; he was having trouble breathing and began coughing up blood. He suggested to his wife that he might be dying, but did not want to take time from his schedule to visit a hospital. Jane later stated that while Henson's Christian Science upbringing "affect[ed] his general thinking", it did not have any influence on his postponement of medical treatment, and still later told People magazine that his avoidance was likely due to his desire not to be a bother to anyone. His stepmother and others also denied rumors that Henson's Christian Science beliefs might have contributed to his death, as Henson had ceased practicing in his early 20s. Two hours later, Henson finally agreed to be taken by taxi to New York Hospital in New York City. After arriving there at 4:58 a.m. (EST), Henson stopped breathing and an X-ray revealed he had abscesses in his lungs. Henson was placed on a ventilator, but his condition deteriorated rapidly despite aggressive treatment with multiple antibiotics. Following twenty hours in intensive care at New York Hospital, Henson died on May 16th, 1990, at 1:21 a.m.; he was 53 years old. At the time of Henson's death, doctor David Gelmont first announced that he died from Streptococcus pneumoniae, a bacterial infection that causes bacterial pneumonia. However, on May 29th, Gelmont later confirmed that Henson's cause of death was organ failure resulting from streptococcal toxic shock syndrome (caused by Streptococcus pyogenes). S. pyogenes is the bacterial species that causes strep throat, scarlet fever, and rheumatic fever. It can also cause other infections.

News of Henson's death spread quickly and fans from around the world responded with tributes and condolences. Many of Henson's co-stars and directors from Sesame Street, the Muppets and other works also shared their thoughts on Henson's death.

On May 21st, Henson's public memorial service was conducted in New York City at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine. Another was conducted on July 2nd at St Paul's Cathedral in London. In accordance with Henson's letters, no one in attendance wore black, and The Dirty Dozen Brass Band finished the service by performing "When the Saints Go Marching In". Harry Belafonte sang "Turn the World Around," a song he had debuted on The Muppet Show, as each member of the congregation waved, with a puppet performer's rod, an individual, brightly colored foam butterfly. Later, Big Bird, performed by Caroll Spinney, walked out onto the stage and sang Kermit the Frog's signature song, "Bein' Green".

In the final minutes of the two-and-a-half-hour service, six of the core Muppet performers, Dave Goelz, Frank Oz, Kevin Clash, Steve Whitmire, Jerry Nelson, and Richard Hunt, sang, in their characters' voices, a medley of Jim Henson's favorite songs, eventually ending with a performance of "Just One Person" that began with Richard Hunt singing alone, as Scooter. Henson employee Chris Barry writes that during each verse, "each Muppeteer joined in with their own Muppets until the stage was filled with all the Muppet performers and their beloved characters." The funeral was later described by Life as "an epic and almost unbearably moving event." The image of a growing number of performers singing "Just One Person" was recreated for the 1990 television special The Muppets Celebrate Jim Henson and inspired screenwriter Richard Curtis, who attended the London service, to write the growing-orchestra wedding scene of his 2003 film Love Actually.

In the weeks after his death, he was celebrated in a wave of tributes. He was posthumously inducted into the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1991, and as a Disney Legend in 2011.

DISNEY AND THE MUPPETS

In 1984, Jim Henson considered purchasing the Disney company, which at the time was run by Ron Miller and under the threat of a hostile takeover by corporate raider Saul Steinberg. The idea never went further than inquiries, but after Michael Eisner, Frank Wells and Jeffrey Katzenberg took over management of Disney, the idea of a Disney/Henson pairing was revived but didn't go anywhere because any deal would not include the Sesame Street characters.

Jim Henson again had a desire to sell the company to Disney in 1989, and officially entered into a merger agreement reportedly valued at $150 million. The deal included Henson's programming library and Muppet characters (excluding the Muppets created for Sesame Street), as well as Jim Henson's personal creative services. However, Henson died suddenly before the deal was completed, resulting in the two companies terminating merger negotiations the following December.

When Henson died suddenly, it was an unexpected event that was widely lamented in the film and television industries. All the character illustrators at Walt Disney World were asked to create concept sketches to choose from for the condolence card to be presented to the Henson family from Walt Disney World. Each artist created several. Above right is one by Joe Lanzisero and Tim Kirk.

Though the merger didn't happen, throughout the 1990s The Jim Henson Company partnered with Disney. The Walt Disney Company produced and released The Muppet Christmas Carol and Muppet Treasure Island, the first two Muppet movies made after Jim Henson died, and for a time in the early '90s, controlled the video release rights to The Muppet Movie, The Great Muppet Caper, episodes of Fraggle Rock and Muppet Babies, and other properties, released through their Buena Vista Home Entertainment label (under a label titled Jim Henson Video). In addition, Walt Disney Home Video released a number of Sesame Street videos in the UK. Muppets Tonight was also produced for the Disney-owned ABC network and Disney Channel. Disney also produced Bear in the Big Blue House with The Jim Henson Company for Disney Channel and a sixth film, Muppets from Space, released by Columbia Pictures in 1999.

Muppets from Space (1999) was the sixth feature film to star The Muppets, and the first since the death of Muppets creator Jim Henson to have an original Muppet-focused plot. Gonzo has always been classified as a whatever, but after he begins to have disturbing dreams of abandonment, he begins to realize just how alone he is in the world. After an alien race appears to be trying to send him a message through bowls of cereal, Gonzo realizes that he may not be so alone after all and climbs to the rooftop to start watching the sky. His dreams are realized when he's hit by a bolt of lightning that serves as a conduit that allows him to communicate with a pair of cosmic fish, revealing to him that he is, in fact, an alien from outer space.

It's a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie is an NBC television movie produced by Jim Henson Television in 2002. The plot of the movie revolves around the old Muppet Theatre going through financial hardship, and the entire Muppet cast looking towards Kermit the Frog for guidance. Kermit eventually feels he's not useful to anyone, and an angel is sent to help him out. The movie then follows the formula of It's a Wonderful Life, as Kermit is shown what would have happened to his friends if he had not existed. In the opposite world, Joan Cusack's character has changed the park near the Muppet Theatre into a shopping centre. Gonzo is now homeless and Rizzo the Rat has been shoved onto an episode of Fear Factor where a woman has to eat him alive. Dr. Teeth and his band have become country dancers. The biggest change is the Muppet Theatre, which has become a dreadful night club. Dr. Honeydew became a rapper, Beaker became a bodyguard, and Fozzie is now a pickpocketer. Miss Piggy is a widow who lives in an apartment with a series of cats.

The Muppets' Wizard of Oz, an original made-for-television movie, aired May 20, 2005 as a special Friday night edition of ABC's The Wonderful World of Disney. Adapted from L. Frank Baum's novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by Adam F. Goldberg and The Simpsons writer Tom Martin, this latest retelling of the classic story follows Dorothy (Ashanti) as she journeys through an Oz populated by Muppets to find the Wizard and become a star.

After the consensus was reached that The Muppets' Wizard of Oz failed to deliver critically, the question hung in the air whether or not another Muppet film would be made.

In 2000, Henson Productions was sold to EM.TV & Merchandising AG for $680 million. Following the sale, EM.TV was plagued with financial problems and the Henson family purchased the company back in 2003, with the exception of the rights to the Sesame Street characters, which had been sold by EM.TV to Sesame Workshop.

Now, fourteen years after initial negotiations began, Disney came courting again. They purchased the Muppet intellectual properties from the Jim Henson Company for $75 million on February 17th, 2004. The acquisition consisted of the rights and trademarks to the Muppets and Bear in the Big Blue House characters, as well as to the Muppet film and television library. Exceptions included the Sesame Street characters, as they were previously sold to Sesame Workshop, the Fraggle Rock characters, which were retained by Henson, and the distribution rights to The Muppets Take Manhattan, Muppets from Space, and Kermit's Swamp Years, which remained with Sony Pictures Entertainment. As part of the acquisition, Disney formed The Muppets Holding Company (later renamed The Muppets Studio), a wholly owned subsidiary responsible for managing the characters and franchise. As a result, the term "Muppet" became a legal trademark owned by Disney, although Sesame Workshop continues to apply the term to their characters, and use archival footage of Kermit, under an exclusive license from Disney.

The Jim Henson Company retains the rights to a number of productions featuring the Disney-owned Muppet characters, including Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas, The Christmas Toy, Sesame Street: 20 and Still Counting, Henson's Place, Billy Bunny's Animal Songs, the original Dog City special, and Donna's Day. While some of these specials have since been released uncut, most current releases of Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas and The Christmas Toy have removed the appearances by Kermit the Frog.

Joining Disney would mean The Muppets could now appear at the Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, having first made appearances at Walt Disney World in 1990. Their first featured attraction, Here Comes the Muppets, was a live stage show that opened shortly after Jim Henson's death and ran at Disney's Hollywood Studios (known then as Disney-MGM Studios) for a year. Muppet*Vision 3D (above), a 4D film attraction that uses audio-animatronic Muppets and 4D effects, then opened at Disney's Hollywood Studios on May 16th, 1991. The attraction is notable for being the final Muppets project to be produced by Jim Henson. Muppet*Vision 3D had a subsequent opening at Disney California Adventure, on February 8, 2001, and operated there until its closure in 2014.

In addition to their main presence at Disney's Hollywood Studios, the Muppets also appear in Great Moments in American History, a live show at the Magic Kingdom and the Muppet Mobile Lab at Epcot. The latter attraction is a free-roving vehicle with audio-animatronics of Bunsen Honeydew and Beaker. As part of Disney's Living Character Initiative, it premiered in 2007 at Epcot and was later previewed at Disney California Adventure and Hong Kong Disneyland.

Disney began gradually reintroducing the franchise to the mainstream in 2008. As a method of regaining a wider audience, Disney began to produce and air their own comedy shorts on YouTube. After the "Muppets: Bohemian Rhapsody" was posted on the Muppet Studios' YouTube channel, it ultimately gained 50 million views and took home two Webby Awards. Videos are posted on the site regularly. That same year, the Muppets starred in a web series with Cat Cora called The Muppets Kitchen With Cat Cora, where cooking demonstrations are shown. A television special, A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa, premiered on NBC on December 17th, 2008. It was released on DVD on September 29th, 2009. In 2010, Disney used the Muppets to promote their volunteerism program at the company's theme parks. That same year, a Halloween special featuring the Muppets was expected to air on ABC in October 2010 but was shelved. Meanwhile Disney had been furthering development on a new big screen Muppet film concidering adapting an unused screenplay written by Jerry Juhl.

In 2008, Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller pitched a concept for a Muppets film to Walt Disney Studios Executive Vice President of Production Karen Falk, and they were offered a deal to develop their script. The news became public in March 2008 when Variety first reported that Disney had signed a deal with Segel and Stoller, with Segel and Stoller writing the script and Stoller directing. In June 2008, Jason Segel announced that he had turned in the first draft of his script and was hopeful that the film would live up to previous Muppets movies. Later in 2008, Stoller noted that he and Segel had written an "old school Muppets movie, where the Muppets have to put on a show to save the studio." In this same interview, Stoller also confirmed that they would get as many cameos and guest stars as possible, and that Jason Segel would play a ventriloquist.

Originally, the film was titled The Greatest Muppet Movie of All Time! Another former title of the film was The Cheapest Muppet Movie Ever Made!, after an unused script written by the late Jerry Juhl back in 1985. Although early reports indicated that Stoller would direct the film, in January 2010 it was announced that James Bobin would direct the movie. An early leak of the script rumored that it would feature celebrity cameos by Vince Vaughn, Jon Favreau, Christian Bale, Steve Carell, George Clooney, Jack Black, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Mel Brooks, Matt Damon, Anne Hathaway, Emily Blunt, Rachael Ray, Bob Saget, Lisa Lampanelli, Jeff Ross, and Charles Grodin, Ricky Gervais, Zack Galifianakis, Billy Crystal, Alan Arkin, and Dave Grohl. However, Gervais, Crystal and several other cameos including Beth Broderick, Kathy Griffin, Ed Helms, Sterling Knight, Mila Kunis, Ben Stiller, Eric Stonestreet, Wanda Sykes Lady Gaga, Katy Perry and Danny Trejo were completely omitted from the film due to time constraints (Though Gervais can be seen in the musical finale). Jim Parsons' cameo was kept as a secret by producers despite rumors that leaked on the Internet regarding his role in the film.

The final title for the film was simply, The Muppets, released in 2011 it would be the first Muppets theatrical release in 12 years and stars Jason Segel, Amy Adams, Chris Cooper and Rashida Jones along with Kermit, Miss Piggy and Fozzie Bear. In the film, Walter, the world's biggest Muppet fan (a muppet himself), his brother Gary (Segel), and Gary's girlfriend Mary (Adams) help Kermit the Frog reunite the Muppets. They must raise $10 million to save the Muppet Theater from Tex Richman (Cooper), a businessman who plans to demolish the studio to drill for oil.

The Muppets was a box office success and became one of the best-reviewed films of 2011. The film went on to win the Academy Award for Best Original Song for the song "Man or Muppet", written by the film's music supervisor Bret McKenzie (Flight of the Conchords); the first Academy Award presented to a Muppet film. The Muppets was also the highest-grossing film of the franchise to date. In March of the following year, the Muppets received a collective star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and hosted a Just for Laughs comedy gala in Montreal.

The marketing campaign for The Muppets provided fans with additional "Muppet skits" that appeared in previews and online including a spoof romantic comedy trailer for the movie that was attached to Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, and was later released online under the faux name Green With Envy. Additional spoof trailers parodied The Hangover Part II (called The Fuzzy Pack), Green Lantern (called Being Green), The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (called The Pig with the Froggy Tattoo), Paranormal Activity (called Abnormal Activity), Happy Feet Two (called Dancing on Happy Feet), Puss in Boots (called Fuss in Boots) and The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1 (called Breaking Prawn).

In March 2012, after the critical and commercial success of The Muppets, Walt Disney Studios negotiated a deal with James Bobin and Nicholas Stoller to direct and write, respectively, an eighth Muppet film. Disney green-lit the film on April 24th, 2012. Along with Brian Henson, Bobin was the only other person to have directed two Muppet films to date.

Jason Segel, co-writer and star of the previous film, declined any involvement, citing that he had accomplished his ambition of bringing the characters to the forefront with the 2011 film. Despite this, Bobin and Stoller quickly began work on the film. Taking on the form of a caper, the film was inspired by both The Great Muppet Caper and The Muppets Take Manhattan as well as The Pink Panther and The Thomas Crown Affair. Bobin said that the film was "a tip of the hat to the old-school crime capers of the '60s, but featuring a frog, a pig, a bear, and a dog, no panthers, even pink ones—along with the usual Muppet-y mix of mayhem, music and laughs".

The first actor to be attached to the film was Christoph Waltz in the role of an Interpol inspector. Waltz dropped out due to scheduling conflicts and was replaced by Ty Burrell. In December 2012, Ricky Gervais confirmed his casting. Tina Fey joined the project in January of the following year.

Originally commissioned under the title The Muppets... Again!, principal photography began in January 2013, at London's Pinewood Studios in England. Filming also took place at the Tower of London, a site where the Crown Estate rarely grants permission to do so. Additional filming locations in London included Leicester Square, Tower Hill, the Richmond Theatre, Wilton's Music Hall, Freemasons' Hall and The Historic Dockyard, Chatham. In addition to the United Kingdom, scenes were also shot at Union Station, the Walt Disney Studios lot, and on Hollywood Boulevard (to recreate the previous film's ending) in Los Angeles. On June 13th, 2013, the title of the film was changed from The Muppets... Again! to Muppets Most Wanted.

The production design was done by Eve Stewart, who took a tongue-in-cheek approach to each country setting while also being influenced by the retro style of "crime capers of the '60s and '70s". Rahel Afiley returned as the costume designer, compiling the wardrobe for both Muppet and human characters. In addition to Afiley's own creations, English fashion designer Vivienne Westwood also contributed four outfits for Miss Piggy while United States retailer Brooks Brothers created more than 200 items for the male cast. Discussing Miss Piggy's wedding gown, Westwood said, "It's called the Court dress and is inspired by 17th-century English royalty and the court of King Charles II. It has been designed [...] in a white pearl sequin fabric made from recycled water bottles."

As with the previous film spoof posters were released during the marketing campaign, parodying Skyfall (called Frogfall), The World Is Not Enough (called The Pig Is Not Enough), Face/Off (called Fraud/Frog), and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (called Animal Piggy Frog Spy).

After the release of Muppets Most Wanted, Disney was interested in expanding the Muppets' presence across various media platforms, particularly in television. Discussions for a new primetime series began internally within the Muppets Studio. By April 2015, Bill Prady was commissioned to write a script for a pilot with the working title, Muppets 2015. In May 2015, ABC-TV (the network, and the production companies are all owned by The Walt Disney Company) announced that it had greenlit a new primetime television series titled, The Muppets, co-created by Prady and Bob Kushell, and directed by Randall Einhorn. The series marked the characters' first ongoing prime-time network television series since Muppets Tonight was canceled in 1998.

This marks the second time Prady has attempted to revive The Muppets. Before co-creating CBS' The Big Bang Theory, the writer-producer shot some test footage that ABC ultimately passed on. Prady's history with The Muppets dates back to his work on Fraggle Rock in 1987. His previous writing credits for Muppet productions include the Muppet*Vision 3D attraction at Walt Disney World, and the tribute special The Muppets Celebrate Jim Henson, which earned Prady an Emmy Award nomination in 1991.

The series is set in Los Angeles and depicts the everyday personal and professional lives of The Muppets during production of Up Late with Miss Piggy, a fictional late-night talk show starring Miss Piggy airing on ABC after Jimmy Kimmel Live! The Muppets serves as a parody of other mockumentary-style series, such as The Office, Modern Family, and Parks and Recreation by employing the same single-camera setup filming style with the implication of a documentary crew filming everyone. The series starred Muppet performers Steve Whitmire, Eric Jacobson, Dave Goelz, Bill Barretta, David Rudman, Matt Vogel, and Peter Linz in multiple roles.

Executive producer Bob Kushell explained the intention behind the series; "We have the opportunity to explore these characters as individuals with their own emotional lives that are separate from each other and aren't shadowed by each other's presence, as I think they have been for the last 20 years... it's not just a behind-the-scenes look at a show, but it's the relationship-driven, emotional stories that people go through in their personal lives. Everyone in this version of The Muppets wants to push them further in a way they've never been before." Kushell added, "Rightfully or wrongfully, The Muppets became more of a kids' product over the years. We want to bring them all the way back to what they were intended to be and then some. But never so much that anyone has to explain anything uncomfortable to their kids."

The show was notable for introducing a new pig into Kermits life, Denise, ABC executive and Head of Marketing on Up Late with Miss Piggy. Kermit and Piggy have broken up again (they are just on a break) but Kermit insists Denise are he are just "close friends." Kermit would later admitted to Entertainment Tonight that he's got a thing for pigs because he finds their curly tails attractive.

Before ever seeing an episode, the group One Million Moms (actual membership closer to 50,000), an offshoot of the American Family Association, began protesting The Muppets, citing it as "unsuitable for family viewing", and calling for boycotts against it immediately after ABC announced they had picked it up. The Muppets later parodied One Million Moms' critique in their twelfth episode, "A Tail of Two Piggies", as the One Million Angry Parents Association represented by three protestors.

The series premiered on September 22nd 2015 to generally favorable reviews but only lasted one season.

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