The Muppets are returning to prime time TV for the first time in 17 years in a new ABC sitcom that will premiere on Tuesday, September 22.
ABC's The Muppets follows the professional and personal stories of the Muppets who work on a late-night talk show called Up Late with Miss Piggy. The mockumentary series follows the same direction as other shows that use this style, such as The Office and Parks and Recreation.
Produced by ABC Studios and The Muppets Studio, the new sitcom was co-created by Bill Prady (The Big Bang Theory), who will co-write alongside showrunner Bob Kushell (Anger Management), with puppeteers like Steve Whittier (Kermit the Frog), Eric Jacobson (Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Animal), and Dave Goelz (The Great Gonzo) playing multiple roles.
"The show's going to be all about our personal lives. You know, behind-the-scenes, at home, our relationships, sort of an adult Muppets show," Kermit said in the series first look presentation.
And while many people who grew up watching the family-friendly show are looking forward its big return, pro-family group One Million Moms has started a petition to warn parents about the content, saying "ABC has ruined 'The Muppets.'"
But even though the sitcom will include edgier content (like Kermit and Miss Piggy breaking up, a love triangle, and even commentary on interracial relationships), this isn't exactly the first time The Muppets has been featured as an adult show.
From the show's original pitch to some more-suitable-for-adults skits, and the creator's experimental films, here are some Jim Henson and Muppets facts to add to your arsenal of awesome pop culture knowledge.
Jim Henson's Weird, Yet Amazing Pilot Pitch
Puppeteer, producer and director Jim Henson had already seen the potential in Kermit the Frog after his debut in Sam and Friends, a 5-minute puppet show that aired from 1955 to 1961. But it wasn't until he joined the team at Sesame Street that Henson would start to be recognized for his work. Puppets Kermit, Rowlf the Dog and Ernie earned him notoriety in show biz, and in 1976 Henson decided to pitch a new variety show featuring his puppets that would be both family-friendly, yet offer something for just about any kind of adult.
"Small children will love the cute and cuddly characters. Young people will love the fresh and innovative comedy. College kids and intellectual eggheads will love the underlying symbolism of everything. Freaky, long-haired, cynical hippies will love our freaky, long-haired, cynical muppets because that is what show business is all about," the muppeteer said in the original pitch.
Henson's pitch for the pilot of The Muppets Show was so over the top and in your face, but so strangely irresistible at the same time. It weirdly made sense. How could CBS not pick it up? There would be celebrities, everyone will become rich, and even God would be pleased.
Adult Humor In ABC's The Muppets Mockumentary Not A Franchise First
After the pitch that argued everyone from children to college kids to hippies would enjoy the show, two pilots were produced, The Muppets Valentine Show, which aired in 1974, and The Muppets Show: Sex and Violence, that aired on ABC in 1975.
The Muppets Show: Sex and Violence episode was a series of parodies on the sex and violence that was seen on television. Skits like "For The Birds," "Mount Rushmore" and "The Seven Deadly Sins Pageants" featured jokes and commentary that was more suitable for adults, yet children would still be able to be entertained by the furry creatures without really catching the innuendos.
However, neither of the pilot episodes were picked up by American TV networks after execs were still not convinced the show would target adults and not just kids. Instead, the British commercial station ATV presented Henson with a deal, and the show aired in the U.K. for five seasons from 1976 to 1981 before eventually being sold to the U.S. in a syndication deal.
The weekly prime-time show featured Kermit the Frog as the host of a variety theater show that included songs, skits, parodies, and guests stars like Elton John and Luke Skywalker actor Mark Hamill. While the major portion of the show was these vignettes, the series also featured a look at what was going on behind the curtain.
While the Muppets were cute and humorous, there were some very adult themes in the slapstick comedy series that referenced drugs, gender roles and sex (ahem, Gonzo's weird obsession with chickens).
There was that one musical number featuring One Million Years B.C. star Raquel Welch where she wore a costume that showed lots of skin as she dance slightly provocatively with a furry spider.
Then there was that time Johnny Cash sang "Dirty Old Egg-Sucking Dog" with Rowlf on the piano that is filled with insults to the poor pooch, and things get pretty aggressive with threats—specifically stomping his head in the ground.
If you are familiar with the show, Rowlf is one of the more adult puppets on the show along with Sam the Eagle. They once sang a duet called "The Tilt-Willow" where Sam used some adult language, which was a little bit too much because some of it was actually cut from the official show version.
While audiences of all ages enjoyed the variety show, Muppets Tonight featured even more adult-themed jokes. Muppets Tonight ran on ABC for a few months in 1996, with reruns airing on the Disney Channel from 1997 to 2000. The premise was the same as the previous show, only this time it was set at a TV station instead of a theater.
In episode 106, Kermit says he will flip off the camera after a dialogue full of euphemisms in the NYPD Green sketch. The Muppets cursed frequently, even if these were less offensive swear words like "damn." When they weren't slightly cursing, they were drinking. And in episode 201, Dr. Phil van Neuter gets wasted on eggnog at the holiday party. This wasn't the only time the muppets were drunk. There was champagne toasts and wine that was sipped. Statler and Waldorf drank brandy in episode 212, Bill Barretta played a drunk in episode 205, and Rick Moranis took on the role of a hippie in episode 202 in a sketch that included drug references to getting high.
Henson's Trippy Experimental Films
There is no denying that The Muppets shows has always been aimed at adults just has much as it was for kids. While Henson and Co. were able to pull off the adult humor wrapped adorably in a furry bow, this new reboot that airs tonight will certainly continue to push the envelope. And we think Henson would be pleased.
Although Henson died suddenly at age 53, his life's work continues to speak for itself even to this day. The visionary was no stranger to pushing creativity, which is seen in his experimental films he made before he founded The Jim Henson company in 1958. These surreal works of art included a mix of comedy with darker themes that included death. One that comes to mind is the commercial he did for Wilkins coffee where his puppet (an early Kermit) gets the other character to like the coffee by act of force such as by stabbing or drowning him.
There was also his 1967 commercial Paperwork Explosion about technology, and 1969's The Cube about a man who wakes up in a white cube with no memory of how he got there that included a strange folk-rock band song about death. There are more psychedelic ones like 1974's The Organized Mind, and his documentary about drug cults among youths in Youth '68 Everything's Changing ... Or Maybe It Isn't.
Henson was actually nominated for an Academy Award in the mid-'60s for his 9-minute movie called Time Piece which discusses time and the need to keep it with very strange images like a gorilla on a pogo stick and Abe Lincoln.
The Muppets premieres tonight, Tuesday, Sept. 22, at 8 p.m. EDT on ABC.