The Most Sensational, Inspirational, Muppetational Show Ever

“The Muppet Show.” The original one, from the late 1970s and early 1980s. Only the most sensational, inspirational, celebrational, muppetational show ever. I did not come up with that myself. Those are lyrics from the opening credits of the show.

The original “Muppet Show” premiered in September 1976 in the UK. Creator Jim Henson took his idea to the US TV networks: ABC, CBS, and NBC. US network executives unanimously praised his work, but were not convinced a puppet show could pull ratings in prime time. Henson created two pilots, which aired on ABC. Neither brought in good ratings, so ABC passed on the series.

Disappointed, Henson went to London, where British syndicator Lord Lew Grade offered to pick up and produce the series for syndication. Around the same time in the US, thanks to a new Prime Time Access Rule instituted by the FCC to limit the amount of programming hours a network controlled, the 7pm hour went from network control to their affiliates.

Stations were looking for new programming to fill the hour, and “The Muppet Show” was purchased for air once a week on some CBS stations, as a syndicated program. The show turned out to be a hit stateside and was eventually syndicated to more than a hundred countries. In fact, it was the first American TV show to air in the Soviet Union in 1989. Many consider it the most successful television series of all time.

Here’s the original pitch tape:

“The Muppet Show” was a comedy variety show starring Jim Henson’s lovable Muppets.

Each episode centered around a special guest star and consisted of song and dance numbers, parodies, and skits. Backstage at the Muppet theatre, Kermit the Frog tried to maintain control of the production of the show among dozens of crazy animals and characters such as fan favorites Fozzie Bear, Miss Piggy, Gonzo, Scooter, the Swedish Chef, and Dr Bunsen Honeydew and his assistant Beaker. Constantly heckling from the audience balcony are grumpy old men Statler and Waldorf.

The characters were inspired by professors Henson had as a student at the University of Maryland, but named them after two NYC hotels: the Statler Hotel, across from Penn Station, now called the Hotel Pennsylvania, and the Waldorf-Astoria near Grand Central Terminal. As fans of the clypd NYC office know, we named our conference rooms after these two characters.

The Muppets have appeared in countless advertising spots. Here is a recent one for the Toyota Highlander:

Jim Henson ended the show on a high note. While the US was plagued by the 1980 US Screen Actors Strike, which delayed production on other scripted programs, “The Muppets” was taped in London, and not affected. The final season in 1981 was its highest-rated. On a Household ratings basis, it was the #13 show in syndication, averaging a 7.8 household rating. However, among Children 2-11, it was the number one show on the air, with a 14.0 rating, followed closely by “Scooby Doo.”

In 2003, the Walt Disney Company purchased the Jim Henson Workshop so now ABC, and not CBS, owns US rights to the series.

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