recess radio program

09/14/05
The Muppet Show
    by Kevin Shortsleeve

As the creator of The Muppet Show, Jim Henson produced one of the most unlikely, unique and successful programs ever to be beamed into our living rooms. At the height of the show's popularity, the program was watched by an estimated 235 million people in 100 countries. The characters, Kermit and Miss Piggy, became celebrities of superstar status - Kermit even hosted an episode of The Tonight Show - and the simmering romance between frog and pig was more closely followed than any tormented couple in daytime soap operas.

A cornucopia of other memorable characters like Gonzo, Fozzie Bear, Professor Bunson Honeydew and his frightened assistant Beaker - and the two old heckling curmudgeons, Waldorf and Stadtler - all conspired together to incite laughter from viewers young and old alike. With all the success of The Muppet Show - it won nearly every award offered in the field of television - it is perhaps surprising to learn that Henson had great difficulty selling the idea. All three networks turned him down initially, forcing Henson to relocate to London where all 120 episodes of The Muppet Show were produced.

Executives were concerned that adults would not watch a show that featured puppets. Henson, however, believed that if the technology behind the movement of the characters could be rendered invisible, adults would allow for the necessary suspension of disbelief.

But what really allowed people to identify with the Muppets was their humanly fallible personalities. As Henson said, "Puppetry... gives us the ability to look at ourselves through different perspectives."

Many who were close to Henson have noted that in Kermit, Henson was looking at himself. Particularly, Kermit's portrayal as the show's Director mirrored the man who made him move. Like Kermit, Henson was said to be always calmly working his way through things, no matter how crazy the production got. Henson admitted, "Kermit is closest to me. He's the only one who can't be worked by anybody else." Further describing Kermit - and thus - himself, Henson added, "He's an everyman, trying to get through life whole. He has a sense of sanity and there he is - surrounded by crazies. He's a nice guy. He operates from a point of consideration."

It has been said that "The Muppets [brought] a certain optimism into what [was] not necessarily an optimistic age. Besides being magical and humorous the show... actually reassured many people." But perhaps Stephanie St. Peirre put it best when she noted that Henson and his creations "inspired many people to put their hearts into their work, to love life and to be kind and generous."

Sources:
Contemporary Authors, Volume 24, 1988 pp. 208-211
Something About the Author, Volume 43, 1986, pp. 112-131
St. Pierre, Stephanie, The Story of Jim Henson, Creator of the Muppets, Gareth Stevens Publishing, Milwaukee, 1997

Copyright 2005 Kevin Shortsleeve

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Thursday, 01-Sep-2005 10:55:47 EDT


"Recess!" is a co-production of the University of Florida's Center for Children's Literature and Culture and WUFT-FM, "Classic 89."