Tell me everything you know about The Muppet Show!
July 7, 2024 2:30 AM   Subscribe

I just discovered The Muppet Show and would appreciate more context for what, exactly, this odd and wonderful thing is. What is its target audience, its cultural impact, its influences/inspirations, who were its guest stars? If you grew up watching it, what are your memories and impressions? Specific questions below the fold.

I'm a millennial and I didn't quite "get" what kind of show this was, compared to the typical kids' shows I was used to from the '90s. Through cultural osmosis I knew the Muppets were puppets, and I knew several of their names, but up until now, I just assumed The Muppet Show was like Sesame Street — an educational show for little kids. After checking out a few episodes I'm delighted at how surreal, whimsical, and parodic it is, and how watchable I found it as an adult in the year 2024.

I guess my question is, how do (and how did) people talk about this show? If I'm curious about a program that aired in the last ten years, I can Google it and get a good sense of the buzz around it, but I can't do that for something from the '70s. I'm looking for all of that unrecorded information that is preserved in your memories.

Specific questions:

So what was The Muppet Show's target audience (demographic)? Did adults watch it too?

Would most people have been familiar with the influences that make it up? Variety show, music hall, vaudeville, sketch comedy, theatre house as a backdrop, etc.? Or would it have seemed old-timey even in the '70s and '80s? Anything you can tell me about those — and about how on earth the show concept came to be — would be great.

How does your generation view The Muppets? And what do you/they know The Muppets from? (e.g. from the show, the movies, toys, etc.)

Why puppets? I love puppetry, and I do remember a lot of my beloved early '90s kids' shows featured puppets, instead of cartoons or CGI. Would it have been a strange choice for this show to feature puppets back then?

I'm not familiar with celebrities from that era: What type of celebrities came on to guest star? Were they big-name celebrities — household names? Or the kinds of actors and musicians only actors and musicians would know? Were they celebrities kids would have been interested in?

What is The Muppets Show's cultural legacy — what do people think of it now? Which shows bear its influence?

Oh, and: what, exactly, is the connection between The Muppets and Sesame Street?
posted by fire, water, earth, air to Media & Arts (84 answers total) 45 users marked this as a favorite
It was a family show aired at 'tea-time' (late afternoon) in the UK that kids and adults both enjoyed.

Music- hall/vaudeville was nearly a thing of the past but there were still many performers on TV with that kind of background. Also, in the same era, there was a popular TV show called 'The Good Old Days' which was a kind retro Edwardian music-hall with a 'cosplaying' audience. That tradition was still part of the cultural memory.

The guest stars were a mix of established figures and 'cooler' newcomers - Debbie Harry was notably among the latter.

The connection with Sesame Street is that the minds behind the Muppets on that show went on to dream up The Muppet Show.
posted by misteraitch at 2:58 AM on July 7 [9 favorites]

What type of celebrities came on to guest star?
Rita Moreno: just a girl who decided to go for it (& EGOT it) [content note: she made herself into somebody she wasn't for a very long time] was on, with Animal

what, exactly, is the connection between The Muppets and Sesame Street?
Jim Henson

welcome to a joyful experience!
posted by HearHere at 2:58 AM on July 7 [6 favorites]

I was watching it as a five year old probably and upwards in the very late seventies and early eighties in Europe. It is important to remember that children's programming didn't really exist in the way it did in the late eighties and onwards. This was a huge treat, each Saturday night, dinner and then my bath, and then I could come down in my pyjamas and dressing gown and slippers to watch with my parents. We all watched, I would say it was more child friendly than for children, in contrast to sesame street. I didn't know who most of the humans were since I was a kid and there weren't as many kid celebrities. I would have known, for example, stuntman Evel Kneivel or maybe one of the actors from CHIPS, but the guests were imho more for the adults, and maybe it was humans and adults vs children and Muppets, which now that I think of it makes sense as an explicit choice.

There is a reboot much later which is a lot of fun too, and there I would strongly advise the Garth Brooks visit.
posted by Iteki at 3:01 AM on July 7 [3 favorites]

I know one thing only about the muppets, and that is this:
mahna mahna will never not make me laugh.
posted by Calvin and the Duplicators at 3:06 AM on July 7 [25 favorites]

So what was The Muppet Show's target audience (demographic)? Did adults watch it too?

Families. It falls into the seemingly-now-defunct tv genre of “variety shows” and was a loving send-up of the genre. Yes, adults watched it. They were the prime target audience.

Would it have been a strange choice for this show to feature puppets back then?

It was a Jim Henson production, so, no, not a strange choice, per se. A puppet show mainly targeted at adults? Yes, very much an unusual concept.

Oh, and: what, exactly, is the connection between The Muppets and Sesame Street?

Those aforementioned adults/young-adults comprised the first wave of kids who grew-up watching Sesame Street, so the Muppets were an easy sell.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:24 AM on July 7 [9 favorites]

I think the show was primarily aimed at adults, but it was relatively kid friendly too, or at least the racy stuff would go tamely over kids’ heads. Source: watched it as a young child with my parents in the early 1980s, have watched it as an adult and realized there were double entendres and adult humour along with the stuff kids would get.

When I was a kid, everyone knew who the Muppets were. They were a huge part of the cultural landscape of my Canadian childhood. The Muppet Show was broadcast on our national public TV station, the CBC, so even people who didn’t have cable and only got like 2 channels via rabbit ear antenna would have been able to watch it. The movies were very popular and lots of kids watched them (and adults too). When they played them on TV it was an Occasion. Get out the popcorn!

The guest stars were definitely celebrities most people knew. I was just looking at the list of guest stars and there were only a handful I didn’t know (now, as an adult). There were a lot of actors well known for Broadway and musical theatre. I would have known people like Julie Andrews from her movies like Mary Poppins, The Sound of Music, etc. I definitely knew who Elton John, Anne Murray, Paul Simon, Johnny Cash and John Denver were because they got a lot of airplay on the radio station my mom liked. I also knew the actors who played superheroes—Christopher Reeves (Superman) and Lynda Carter (Wonder Woman)—and the actors from Star Wars.

Looking back, I’m amazed at the quality of guest stars they managed to get on the show! But it was really well regarded and in my house, must-see TV. I don’t think we were outliers—it was a very popular show!
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 3:27 AM on July 7 [25 favorites]

It was one of the rare TV shows that ended while it was still massively popular.

(I watched it regularly with my whole family back in the day, but I learned this particular fact from the excellent recent documentary: Jim Henson: Idea Man directed by Ron Howard and currently showing on Disney+.)
posted by fairmettle at 3:37 AM on July 7 [4 favorites]

I also watched it with my family as a child in the late seventies and early eighties in the UK. Honestly, I did not understand it or like it. I don't remember any conversations about it. Sorry, negative, but you asked about audience views at the time, and that was mine.
posted by paduasoy at 4:15 AM on July 7

Were they celebrities kids would have been interested in?

For me it was about 20/80 -- the baseline Muppet show guest didn't do much for seven-year old me. But being a weird little kid who that loved magic and sci-fi and wacky costumes and monsters and rock and roll, I really popped for the episodes with Alice Cooper, Debbie Harry, Vincent Price, Doug Henning, Elton John, and the Star Wars cast.

Would it have been a strange choice for this show to feature puppets back then?

Not at all for me, a gen-x two-channel CBC kid who grew up on Sesame Street and Mr. Dressup.
posted by Sauce Trough at 4:21 AM on July 7 [10 favorites]

The one moment that stands out to me, and it's on the list of Things That Would Not Be Allowed on TV today: The Muppets and Peter Sellers singing this number.
posted by yclipse at 4:24 AM on July 7 [11 favorites]

If you're on any social media, I recommend a follow for the Muppet History account (I won't link as it depends where you are but it runs across most channels so give it a search). It's more nostalgia than history, but the guy who runs it seems like a good sort, shares a lot of content with his own thoughts on it which might give you some context, and it's just a nice way to get more Muppet into your life.

In answer to the question, I watched The Muppet Show on TV as a kid in the UK and loved it. Possibly my parents watched it too, I can't remember, but I think it was mostly us kids. I was kind of into stuffed toys, and the Muppets seemed like stuffed toys come to life so I loved the cuteness, but also the anarchy and the characters. A lot of UK television in the late 70s and early 80s still leaned heavily on music hall/variety -style entertainment - eg Saturday night TV shows like the Morecambe and Wise show always had the BBC light entertainment orchestra playing and dance numbers included (even if they were, in the case of Morecambe and Wise, generally spoofs).

Not sure how many of the guests I really knew, especially as so many of them were American, but they were always the least interesting part of it, getting in the way with their annoyingly real arms and legs and all the rest of it.
posted by penguin pie at 4:39 AM on July 7 [7 favorites]

If you want some background, it may be worth checking out the "Jim Henson: Idea Man" documentary on Disney+...
posted by jozxyqk at 4:42 AM on July 7 [2 favorites]

I was too little to be the actual target audience for the Muppet Show when I was watching it (in reruns, maybe?, I would have been nearly too little to even remember the experience watching it on first run) with my parents -- none of the celebrities meant anything to me -- but I did enjoy it, and I loved that Kermit crossed over between the Muppet Show and Sesame Street. Sesame Street itself had a lot more content back then that was for the parents to enjoy that went over the kid viewers' heads.

The vaudeville/music hall/live variety show stuff was supposed to be old and fusty at the time -- Stadler and Waldorf are the right age to be hanging around watching the last, crummy, left-behind show in town.

But yeah, Muppets specifically were a major cultural phenomenon across kid and adult culture. In addition to the sources suggested above, you might enjoy reading the Wikipedia entries for Jim Henson, The Jim Henson Company, and The Muppets to get a fuller picture.
posted by redfoxtail at 4:45 AM on July 7 [3 favorites]

I watched it in reruns as a kid, a few years after the original airing. I loved it, but I'm pretty sure I saw the first couple of Muppet movies first so I was already a fan of the characters. (I watched "Muppets Take Manhattan" SO many times as a kid.) I almost never knew who the guests were, they were not the draw.

I don't honestly remember what my parents thought of it or whether they watched with me. They may well have.

I remember it very fondly, as I do pretty much all Jim Henson puppet projects from my childhood. A few years ago I went to the Jim Henson exhibit at the puppetry museum in Atlanta when I was there for a work thing. I had such a good time and also surprised myself by bursting into tears when I rounded a corner and saw Big Bird. Apparently the Muppets are deeper in my psyche as a grown-ass adult than I realized!
posted by Stacey at 5:15 AM on July 7 [8 favorites]

Like many homes in the 70s and into the 80s, we only had one television, centrally located. That was pretty normal, and there were a bunch of shows designed to be relatively family-friendly. There was a kind of rhythm to TV: afternoon soaps for mothers, after school shows (including after school specials) for kids, the 6 pm news, then family shows, including those sort of designed as special treats to eat in front of, and then fading to more adult type shows. (For example, The Love Boat aired later on Saturday nights for those sad enough not to have dates, or those of us whose babysitters let us stay up and then rushed us to bed as the car pulled up.)

The Muppet Show fit in with The Wonderful World of Disney and shows like Little House on the Prairie, on the earlier end of prime time shows designed so everyone could watch them “you can stay up until X show ends.” While I hadn’t watched much variety show programming, also sometimes I was forced to watch Hee Haw, my parents certainly had. I remember watching The Muppet Show and eating TV dinners, especially for the Star Wars guests, but also my parents, who were big fans of music in general, would often follow up with playing more of that guest’s music.

There was definitely an element of Sesame Street nostalgia or connection between the shows…for my sister in particular this led to a fairly unshakable belief that Kermit was a person who had various TV gigs, rather than a single character.
posted by warriorqueen at 5:18 AM on July 7 [19 favorites]

(I just want to note the “sad enough not to” was the DESIGN, not my opinion on dating/not dating...the 70s were just like that.)
posted by warriorqueen at 5:48 AM on July 7 [2 favorites]

>>Like many homes in the 70s and into the 80s, we only had one television, centrally located. That was pretty normal, and there were a bunch of shows designed to be relatively family-friendly.

Seconding this. The Muppet Show was "event tv" before that term existed.

My friends and I were probably the bullseye target audience for the kid demographic: I was 6 years old when the first season came out (1976) and grew up on Sesame Street, but at 6 that was considered a "baby's show" now, so The Muppet Show was some next level shit.

Important context is that the show was syndicated and aired (in my area) at 7:30PM on Fridays, literally the perfect time for families with kids my age.

This is what a Friday looked like to the best of my recollection:
  • 6:00 PM dinner
  • 6:45 PM bath and get in your jammies
  • 7:15 PM Get absurdly hyped that THE MUPPET SHOW was coming on, omg omg.
  • 7:30 PM That intro begins and everyone sings along. Parents chuckle when the guest star is announced, kids could care less.
  • 8:00 PM Show ends. Kids, go brush your teeth and go to bed, (although if you pleaded successfully enough ("But we don't have schooooool tomorrow!") you could stay up and watch Donny and Marie, or Wonder Woman, or Battlestar Galactica.
Basically, The Muppet Show paved the way for Pixar: family entertainment that worked on multiple levels.
posted by jeremias at 6:46 AM on July 7 [14 favorites]

Oh, and if you're really taking a deep dive, the Disney doc is a decent overview, but the Brian Jay Jones biography "Jim Henson", is extremely readable and provides way more context and details than the documentary. Highly recommended.
posted by jeremias at 6:54 AM on July 7 [6 favorites]

I endorse a lot of the preceding memories. Regarding contemporaneity, there were sketches such as "Pigs In Space" that riffed on just-passed first-run shows (Star Trek, obviously). I would also add this:

Every once in a while, the show would turn up something that child-me wished would go on forever. One I can't seem to find on YouTube, but it was (if I remember right and I may not) an East Asian paper-puppetry (possibly origami?) performance that was just jawdroppingly beautiful.

Another one I remember feeling that for, everyone loves: Harry Belafonte's "Turn the World Around."
posted by humbug at 6:57 AM on July 7 [5 favorites]

The origin of the “ma-nah ma-nah” song is from an Italian mondo film about sexuality in Sweden.
posted by jimfl at 7:04 AM on July 7 [5 favorites]

The Muppet Show was an old-style variety show, aimed at family audiences. It used puppets because it was from Jim Henson, and that's what he did. There was funny stuff for the kids and innuendo and double entendres for the teens and it was amusing for parents to watch. (my dad was particularly fond of Stadter and Waldorf.)

There were a few variety shows on TV at the time (The Carol Burnett Show, Donny & Marie (Osmond), Sonny & Cher, probably others that I'm forgetting), and the format was well defined. A big opening number, a guest reveal, one or two guest performances that often referred back to the guest's biggest/most recent "thing", interstitials following a couple of storylines (Miss Piggy romancing Kermit, backstage at the theater), a character skit or three (Pigs In Space, Veterinarian's Hospital, Muppet Labs), a big closing number featuring the guest.
posted by jlkr at 7:08 AM on July 7 [8 favorites]

The Muppet Show was also a little unique thanks to Henson's approach to the variety show genre of the time. The show would regularly break down the fourth wall and either address the viewer or go "meta" on itself. The theatre was falling apart, cast members were missing/unreliable, there were hecklers in the stands, and Kermit was in the center trying to keep it all together without losing his shit.

It was a level of comedy and entertainment snatched from Henson's advertising work and, obviously, Sesame Street. Kermit was the link. But it made what was typically a smarmy and vapid type of show (c.f. any variety special produced by the Krofft Brothers during this time) into something fun and kind of magical. The movies took that same formula and ran with it.
posted by JoeZydeco at 7:11 AM on July 7 [17 favorites]

Also not to be missed: Muppet*Vision 3D in Hollywood Studios at Walt Disney World. Basically, the cast of The Muppet Show in a 3D film, but the entire theater is decked-out with all manner of tricks, effects, gizmos, etc. to immerse you in the action. It’s so much fun.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:18 AM on July 7 [1 favorite]

As far as the question 'would puppets have been strange on tv at that time?' - they were very prevalent in kids' shows (Mr. Rogers, etc.). There was also a show called Solid Gold, which was a music variety show with dancers, and it too had a puppet ( That character appeared as a guest on other shows as well, such as Hollywood Squares. As a kid, I remember feeling like she was speaking to the adults in the room.
posted by xo at 7:19 AM on July 7

The Muppet Christmas Carol is considered classic, and if you haven't seen it, you're in for a treat.
I think I was a teen when the show was on. Everybody loved it. Even if the cool people said it was lame, they still watched it.
posted by Enid Lareg at 7:21 AM on July 7 [3 favorites]

US GenXer, juuust old enough to have technically watched the first episode of Sesame Street in 1969 (although I was too young for the memory to stick.) A Muppet Show watcher from the beginning.

what was The Muppet Show's target audience (demographic)? Did adults watch it too?

The target audience was me, more or less. Pre-teens and young adolescents. Too old for genuine children's shows like Sesame Street, not old enough for more "mature" shows shown after 9 pm. People keep mentioning "family-friendly" shows without much explanation - this was a whole entire market segment of shows meant to be shown after the 6 pm evening news and before 9 or 10 pm, in an era when there was 1 TV in the house and 3 to 5 over-the-air TV channels. If the TV was on, everyone in the house would be exposed to whatever was on. So the TV networks and broadcast stations needed material that would not be overtly violent, or sexual, or scary, the kind of material that parents would feel comfortable letting children watch, but with enough adult elements that older kids wouldn't find it boring or insultingly childish, and that adults could enjoy.

Did adults watch it? Depended on the adult, I think. In my house it was mostly a show I and my younger brothers could watch while my parents cleaned up after dinner. They rarely specifically sat down to watch an entire show, but they might dip in and out and sometimes got drawn in and watched to the end. My dad liked Waldorf and Statler and Fozzie Bear, my mom liked the musical guests.

Would most people have been familiar with the influences that make it up? Variety show, music hall, vaudeville, sketch comedy, theatre house as a backdrop, etc.? Or would it have seemed old-timey even in the '70s and '80s?

I think the adults would have been generally familiar, although vaudeville/variety shows as live theater would have maybe been something from their own childhood and young adulthood - by the 50's and 60's variety shows had moved to television. So it seemed a little old-timey - as redfoxtail points out, part of the Statler and Waldorf schtick is that they're a couple of oldsters (they read to me as "grandparent age") who refuse to give up on the entertainment style of when they were in their prime, even though the actual entertainment can be pretty crummy.

Also, by the time the Muppet Show hit the air, variety shows on TV were in their waning years, so the younger audience might catch things like Hee Haw or Donny and Marie or various one-time-only TV specials (especially around holidays), but to them (me) the variety show in general seemed a bit old-fashioned.

how do (and how did) people talk about this show?

Amongst my cohort of older kids, everyone knew about it, although not everyone watched it regularly. Chances were high that you could have a discussion about each week's episode the next day in school.

I'm not familiar with celebrities from that era: What type of celebrities came on to guest star? Were they big-name celebrities — household names? Or the kinds of actors and musicians only actors and musicians would know? Were they celebrities kids would have been interested in?

HUGELY varied. Definitely tending towards "big names", but how much kids would have known about them or been interested in them was very much YMMV. Did I know who Elton John, Alice Cooper, Debbie Harry, and John Denver were? Heck yeah, they were all over the radio. Anne Murray and Helen Reddy? Eh - I knew they existed but they were, like, singers my mom liked that I mostly heard in doctor's waiting rooms. Mark Hamill and Sylvester Stallone? Of course, they had current hit movies. Peter Sellers? Yeah, the Pink Panther movies were regularly shown on broadcast television. Danny Kaye & Lynn Redgrave? Big stars to my parents, but probably the only reason I knew who Danny Kaye was is that my parents were big PBS watchers, and PBS showed a lot of older movies.
posted by soundguy99 at 7:24 AM on July 7 [9 favorites]

Unlike many of the responders, I was an adult, in my early 30s, when The Muppet Show hit the airwaves. My husband and I never missed it. We were definitely among the target audience.
posted by Dolley at 7:34 AM on July 7 [9 favorites]

I was 7-12 when the Muppet Show first aired, and I can recall realizing it was a sendup of variety shows without really grasping the extent.  It certainly wouldn't work if aired for the first time today, if only because we've got infinite choices in media. In the 70s, with only 3 local VHF stations, and usually a single UHF station airing PBS—at least outside of major cities like Chicago with its WGN—programming was limited and variety shows polluted the three major networks far too regularly for a kid.  I detested them as a child, precisely because they so poorly translated pop tastes into cringe inducing stage numbers. It always felt so inauthentic, which the Muppet Show brilliantly took and ran with for comedic effect.

To me, the Muppet Show was the last of the successful variety shows, the final run of Vaudeville, really.  It's kind of charming that the last gasp of vaudeville-on-stage was the Muppet Show; they certainly came across as regarding its history fondly.

The Wikipedia entry on the shows from the 60s and 70s that the Muppet Show most directly grew out of seems to consider SNL as a variety show, which I guess is technically correct since it combines comedy with a musical act, but its singular focus on comedy skits feels too one-sided to me for that to apply.  It lacks variety, if you will.  It certainly doesn't have the feel of the variety shows the Muppet Show was satirizing.
posted by los pantalones del muerte at 7:38 AM on July 7 [5 favorites]

One thing that was a bit unique at the time: the Muppets made the jump from Public TV (which was still somewhat new at the time) to commercial syndication. The original slate of Muppet characters, and even the particular style of puppet construction, was strongly associated with Sesame Street, a cultural phenomenon in its own right. But: Sesame Street was explicitly "educational television", and they were seen as being very innovative and successful in that area.

The Muppet Show brought over the familiar puppet/Muppet style, and a couple of known characters (Kermit), and then expanded the Muppet world with new characters in a sketch comedy format, with just a bit of music added in. I think the Sesame Street connection helped them by contrast--there was an ongoing hint of surprise that this was The Muppets doing this more mainstream, funny show, beyond teaching kids to count and read and get along with each other.

The format was familiar--Sonny and Cher, Carol Burnett, Laugh-In--having PBS characters in it was not. When they came over, the Muppets hit just the right tone for that new audience, sassy, a bit sarcastic, zany and wacky enough to be engaging, but not super abrasive or edgy or confrontational.

For a counter example, the first cast and writers of Saturday Night Live were on the air in the late 70s for a different audience, pushing the envelope of what you could show on TV, and willing to be edgy and more boundary-pushing. Maybe it was more of a spectrum--a character like Miss Piggy or Animal could be a more family-friendly version of the vibe you got from Belushi in "Animal House". Or what was effectively sketch comedy in "Airplane!", released in 1980. The Muppet Show was PG rated versus R rated.

And as noted, the guest star list was pretty impressive for the day. You'd get a little frisson of "wow, that person is on the Muppet Show??" when someone like James Coburn was on. Getting everyone from Ethel Merman to Debby Harry shows a lot of range.
posted by gimonca at 7:40 AM on July 7 [3 favorites]

Did adults watch it too?

The adults in my family turned their kids on to the Muppets way before The Muppet Show.

Jim went to my high school, probably our most famous alumnus. It's in the DC area, which is where his creations were first seen, on TV commercials. One of these would come on, my mother would start shouting, and we'd all come running to see Kermit in black&white. The Jimmy Dean Show was also a family favorite, for Rowlf (who'd show up later on The Muppet Show). Eventually, Sesame Street arrived, just in time to educate my little brother and sister, but my mother loved watching that program with them, and so of course she never missed The Muppet Show, either; which was one of the very few programs the whole family would gather to watch. Fun Times.

One of the funniest things we ever saw on the show was guest star Spike Mulligan, when he disturbed Sam the Eagle.
posted by Rash at 7:46 AM on July 7 [9 favorites]

For adult viewers, I think they'd recognize the many references to earlier showbiz greats. Miss Piggy, for example, owed a big debt to Mae West, at the height of her career about forty years earlier, but still well-known as a cultural figure.
posted by gimonca at 7:49 AM on July 7 [4 favorites]

Here's a good overview of the Muppets and Fraggles. My favourite were the Doozers, they were so cute!
posted by foxjacket at 8:17 AM on July 7

Seconding the recommendation to watch the Jim Henson documentary - it adds a lot of good context. He didn't set out to do kids tv, and had always wanted to make the Muppet Show as an adult show. The US networks wouldn't go for it. He lucked out in finally finding a British producer with enough money who would let him do it as a music hall thing. It ended up being mostly family friendly but decidedly not a "kids"/educational show.

Sometimes the Muppet Show is falsely remembered as being saccharine kid stuff (e.g. Peter Jackson made a movie called Meet the Feebles whose whole concept is "what if muppets but with darker content" that really depends on seeing the Muppets as overly sweet/innocent) -- but that is a real disservice to the actual content and sensibility. Henson et al were avant garde people and were boiling with ideas - re-watching the show is worth it to see how much they are always wanting to experiment with weird stuff that sometimes doesn't land, with a mix of lighter and darker stuff - e.g. You're Always Welcome at Our House.

Shortly after the Muppet Show, there were a few(?) other adult-oriented puppet shows on tv eg Spitting Image which was political satire and not at all kid-oriented.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:23 AM on July 7 [7 favorites]

Adults at the time would also have been familiar with the Muppets from their pre-Sesame Steet appearances (starting in 1966) on The Ed Sullivan Show, which in an era of fewer available broadcast channels was pretty much Sunday night must-see TV throughout the U.S. and here in Canada.
posted by hangashore at 8:24 AM on July 7 [2 favorites]

I became an Alice Cooper fan thanks to the Muppet Show.

I suppose, I'm like the Muppet equivalent of a "Disney Adult". Some of the first tv I let my kid watch was Sesame Street, they have a Cookie Monster doll, and Sesame Street/Muppet stuff is the one exception I make in my "no media stuff on clothes" rule for my kid. (They are too little to demand it yet). If there were Muppet themed cruises without also Disney stuff, I would be tempted.

(I'm also a general Henson fan and love all the non-Muppet creations like the Storyteller, Labyrinth, and Farscape.)

I love the Muppets because they are fun, eclectic, irreverent - and most of all, not at all clean and polished. They are wholesome the way that food from a garden is, with dirt and worms and slightly risque humour, and messages of love and acceptance. They don't dumb things down, they have real, rounded characters -

And anyone who thinks that puppets aren't people has not been watching the right puppets.
posted by jb at 8:26 AM on July 7 [9 favorites]

For my family it was a kids' show, but I think my parents would have remained in the room and sort of watched it, too.

Bonus anecdote: I remember being at a friend's house when it was on and we wanted to watch it (this was pre-VCR, so you either watched it when it was broadcast or not at all) but they were strict Mormons, so one of the missionaries who was staying at their house came to the basement with us to make sure it was okay. Raquel Welch came out to perform and the missionary politely made us turn it off.
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:32 AM on July 7 [3 favorites]

I was a young parent when the Muppet Show aired and I loved loved loved it. I found it zany and clever and our kids watched along with us, but I don't know what they took from it. It was a reliably fun show that all ages could watch.
posted by Lynsey at 8:49 AM on July 7

I am a big fan of the Muppeturgu podcast, which gives a lot of context about the time period, the guests, and the music. Defunctland also did a Henson miniseries.
posted by PussKillian at 9:40 AM on July 7 [5 favorites]

Muppeturgy podcast- missed the edit window!
posted by PussKillian at 9:53 AM on July 7 [1 favorite]

Variety shows were hugely popular in the 70s, so the format was well-established. The conceit of also showing the behind-the-scenes stuff was definitely new and not commonplace.

As a child in the 70s I loved The Muppet Show. I think it was a hit pretty much right away. I feel like the humor aimed a bit higher than kids, but of course there was lots of slapstick and silliness. Me and my brother (1 year apart) loved it. I don't think I often knew who the guest stars were but it didn't really matter.

The pitch video Henson made for the show is a must-watch. And while he is clearly joking about how big it was going to be he turned out to be right!
posted by O9scar at 10:00 AM on July 7 [2 favorites]

I think it's hard to understand now just how revolutionary the Muppets were in terms of what puppets could be like. I think just the artistry of that was appealing to all ages. I was well into adulthood when the Muppet show premiered, and I loved it.

For instance, the Ed Sullivan show, mentioned above, featured other puppets as well. Senor Wences was hugely popular. Or check out the puppets on Captain Kangaroo and Mr. Roger's Neighborhood. Jim Henson was a genius. He changed everything.
posted by FencingGal at 10:23 AM on July 7 [4 favorites]

Sesame Street was specifically for kids, and educational.

The Muppet Show came on at night (in the US) and was meant for everyone. It riffed off of the old-school Variety Show template, with various recurring segments (ie., Pigs in Space, one of the best things to come out of the 80s) and gags etc., with a very star-studded roster of guest appearances. I think it was considered a pretty cool thing to be a guest.
posted by supermedusa at 10:48 AM on July 7

You might find some great stuff poking around in the references and external links on Wikipedia. For example:

The Jim Henson video collection at the University of Maryland has this 14 minute clip from news program 60 Minutes, 60 minutes: Backstage at the Muppet show

In the Television Academy Interviews, various performers, writers, and guest stars talk about the show

(Tangentially, once you've absorbed a bunch of the show, I encourage you to read this wonderful short story, Tomorrow is Waiting. It's the best story about Kermit I've ever read.)
posted by kristi at 10:55 AM on July 7 [2 favorites]

Fun fact: the pilot for the series was called "The Muppet Show: Sex and Violence".

From the wiki entry on the pilot:

Henson also wished to demonstrate that the Muppets appealed to adult audiences, saying: "A lot of our work has always been adult-oriented. So we'll be working a lot with those aspects of the Muppets. Through this pilot, we hope to be able to demonstrate that puppetry can be very solid adult entertainment."

posted by justkevin at 11:13 AM on July 7

So what was The Muppet Show's target audience (demographic)? Did adults watch it too?

As noted above, it was aimed at the entire family. In the US there was (and still is) a timeslot on TV (from 7-8 pm) that local broadcast channels can control the programing but it has to be "family friendly". The Muppet Show fit right in that slot perfectly.

But note that The Muppet Show was not just a US/UK thing -- as noted in the recent Henson documentary, it was the most popular (most viewed) show in the entire world in a time before worldwide TV really existed.

Henson created The Muppet Show because he had originally done puppets for adults (including ads and guest slots on other variety shows), and he was afraid that his (important) work with Sesame Street would lead to him being pigeonholed as "puppets for kids" which is very much NOT what he was.

Would most people have been familiar with the influences that make it up? Variety show, music hall, vaudeville, sketch comedy, theatre house as a backdrop, etc.? Or would it have seemed old-timey even in the '70s and '80s? Anything you can tell me about those — and about how on earth the show concept came to be — would be great.

TV Variety was in its heyday in the 1970s and early 80s in the US, and of course its a well established cultural landmark in the UK.

How does your generation view The Muppets? And what do you/they know The Muppets from? (e.g. from the show, the movies, toys, etc.)

I'm old enough to have watched The Muppet Show on broadcast tv as a child. My Gen Z kid knows the muppets through Sesame Street, The Disney Channel, the many movies they made, and general cultural osmosis.

Why puppets? I love puppetry, and I do remember a lot of my beloved early '90s kids' shows featured puppets, instead of cartoons or CGI. Would it have been a strange choice for this show to feature puppets back then?

Puppets are very cheap to film with (relatively) and because they're human operated they can ad lib in a way you can't get from cartoons. CGI was not a thing.

Also, Jim Henson was world-famous for being a puppeteer. It is who he was, and he built a troupe of people around him who were just as passionate about and talented.

I'm not familiar with celebrities from that era: What type of celebrities came on to guest star? Were they big-name celebrities — household names? Or the kinds of actors and musicians only actors and musicians would know? Were they celebrities kids would have been interested in?

They were all big name, although more famous to the adults than the kids in the first season. Later on they tell stories of basically everyone who was anyone trying to get on the show.

One thing you have to bear in mind is that there was generally only one TV, and just the channels on the car radio -- so there was not a huge divide between "famous to kids" and "famous to parents"

What is The Muppets Show's cultural legacy — what do people think of it now? Which shows bear its influence?

That's a big question. The Muppet Show is generally considered one of the greatest TV shows of all time, but one created by such a unique talent that it would be impossible to replicate. Disney and the Henson Workshop have actually tried to reboot the Muppet show, but without Jim and Frank Oz its just not the same.

Oh, and: what, exactly, is the connection between The Muppets and Sesame Street?

Henson was very famous as a puppeteer (Kermit and Rowlf the dog and a number of other puppets already were well entrenched in the culture) when Sesame Street began. They approached Henson to bring puppets (and also his animations) to the show, which he did, creating and performing specific muppets for the show. But Henson was not a children's performer - he was an everyone performer - so there are The Sesame Street Muppets and then there are Jim Henson's Muppets, which are two branches of the same family.

The Jim Henson Idea Man documentary will answer a lot of these questions plus many more.

Enjoy discovering the beautiful legacy of the Muppets - not only The Muppet Show, but the Henson movies, The Storyteller, and so much more.
posted by anastasiav at 11:18 AM on July 7 [3 favorites]

On YouTube, Be Kind Rewind’s episode about Miss Piggy literally went up today.

And as noted above, Defunctland did a brilliant multi-part series on Jim Henson that really sets the context for the Muppets as a cultural phenomenon.
posted by macdara at 11:37 AM on July 7 [1 favorite]

I was too old to have enjoyed Sesame Street, and The Muppet Show started when I was in college, so I don't remember watching it until I was out of school and likely married, in the early 80s. My wife and I loved it. I grew up watching variety shows, especially Hee Haw and Carol Burnett, and we saw a lot of variety specials as well. So the format of the show was familiar, and having the Muppet Show come along at the tail end of the era of variety shows seems like a fitting send-off to the genre.

The muppets themselves were well-known in North American popular culture at least (and in the UK as well, I see), and as a young adult I didn't think using puppets in a variety show spoof was odd at all. I was also familiar with most, if not all, the guest stars. The popularity of the show made it a welcome spot for a wide range of popular artists, who were often asked to work outside their comfort zones.

And of course the Muppet Movies are comedy classics.
posted by lhauser at 12:28 PM on July 7 [3 favorites]

In light here of other answers about the wide popularity and versatility of Jim Henson, you may also want to dig up Fraggle Rock, another Henson show populated with muppets.
posted by lhauser at 12:31 PM on July 7

The 1976–1981 series were made in the UK, because Lew Grade of ATV funded it before the US networks did. Consequently, there were a lot of UK stars on the show, but it picked up US stars when they toured or were appearing in London's West End.

It was required watching at our house, and one of the few shows that we watched on “commercial” television (that is, the one station with commercials, as opposed to the two BBC ones which didn't: it was a weird class thing that my family was stuck up on). It was particularly lovely watching it with my grandpa, who used to laugh so much that he'd go bright red, wheezing and coughing until he could catch his breath. It seems that we shared a similar delight in corny humour.

I got The Muppet Show Album for my 8th birthday (1977). It was the No. 1 album in the UK in June 1977. I can still recite much of it from memory. The album was pressed on thinnish vinyl (the Oil Crisis was still a worry) and the tracks were jammed pretty close together, so you could anticipate what was coming up by listing to the talkthrough from the next track.

The Muppets were wholesome, subversive, hilarious. I love them still.
posted by scruss at 1:28 PM on July 7 [2 favorites]

The Muppet Show is brilliant; it riffs on vaudeville, the '50s-'70s variety show genre, and then-current events & media. Jim Henson was in a class by himself, but puppeteers and puppets were not unusual. For example, Shari Lewis & Lambchop debuted on Captain Kangaroo in 1956, Lewis had her own show by 1960, and they did lots of guest spots on TV (with Ed Sullivan, Johnny Carson, Merv Griffin, Big Bird, Fran Drescher); during 1993's congressional hearings related to The Children's Television Act, Lambchop gave testimony.

A content warning was added to 18 episodes of The Muppet Show when Disney+ began airing the series 2021: "This program includes negative depictions and/or mistreatment of people or cultures. These stereotypes were wrong then and are wrong now. Rather than remove this content, we want to acknowledge its harmful impact, learn from it and spark conversation to create a more inclusive future together. Disney is committed to creating stories with inspirational and aspirational themes that reflect the rich diversity of the human experience around the globe. To learn more about how stories have impacted society, visit:
posted by Iris Gambol at 2:39 PM on July 7 [1 favorite]

I think part of what blew my mind as a kid was how thorough-going the realisation of the puppetry/props was. The attention to details, the world building, the way that some random object could come alive and talk. Sure, I knew about puppets, but this was something else.

And the genius of having humans interact is they lent credibility somehow. I knew the puppets were puppets but I still fully believed that at a deep level they were real. The nearest parallel I can think of is years later when Who Framed Roger Rabbit came out and we saw actors mix with the toons.

My mother also particularly loved Waldorf and Stadtler. They were, in hindsight, lampshading the cheesiness and cringe that was lurking in all the brighter numbers and making any sense that they were lame part of the fun. But also their gleeful nastiness was appealing. (And man, as characters, so real, haven't we all met old folks who know they can say anything and get away with it?)
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 2:58 PM on July 7 [1 favorite]

In terms of legacy, I was born in 1985 and was exposed to Muppets in many other forms before I became aware that The Muppet Show existed. The first was Muppet Babies, a kids cartoon show about the Muppets as babies living together in a nursery. There are a bunch of live-action movies where the Muppets perform other characters in adaptations, like The Muppet Christmas Carol and Muppet Treasure Island. There are live-action movies and specials where the Muppets cross over with other Jim Henson characters, like Follow That Bird and A Muppet Family Christmas. There are also theme park experiences, music projects, public service announcements, every piece of merchandise you could possibly imagine… All of which is to say, I suppose, that the legacy of The Muppet Show feels more like it lies in the characters and their adaptability/reusability, rather than in the form factor of the originating show. (Although maybe I only say that because, of the many hundreds of hours I have spent with the Muppets, only a handful of those have been with The Muppet Show.) I think it is fair to think of them as a progenitor of what today people would call IP.
posted by CtrlAltDelete at 3:52 PM on July 7

I think for most Gen-Xers The Muppets are a huge touchstone, whether through Sesame Street, The Muppet Show, Fraggle Rock, Muppet Babies (not the best IMO), or the movies. It's one of those rare shows that truly appeals to both adults and kids in that things are genuinely funny, sweet, and not at all condescending or saccharine.

Favorite clips for me are with Harry Belafonte, Madeline Kahn, Gilda Radner,
posted by brookeb at 4:03 PM on July 7 [3 favorites]

Late to the discussion, but for another glimpse into the Muppets' pop culture significance at the time, take a look at the Miss Piggy celebrity calendars of the early '80s.
posted by paper scissors sock at 5:53 PM on July 7

I almost can't answer this question, because where do I begin and how could I ever finish? The Muppets are more human than humans, somehow.

I was born in the mid-1970s. Jim Henson's works framed my early life; I can't overstate this. Sesame formed my idealism; The Muppet Show my sense of humor. The subversion! The chaos! The fourth-wall-breaking! Fozzie's terrible jokes giving us all permission to tell terrible jokes!

When video rental arose, many Friday nights as a kid my choice would not be a movie but a Muppet Show tape. I had a Miss Piggy lunchbox and a lot of other Muppet stuff.

When Jim Henson died in 1990, it was end of my childhood. I've never really gotten over his absence from the world. I believe it wouldn't be in quite the state it is if he'd lived longer.

Everybody my age knows what Muppet they most resemble and what you'll mean if you describe someone as being like a particular Muppet. I'm a Grover married to a Kermit. I know a person who identifies as Sam the Eagle, and like Sam the Eagle himself, doesn't realize that you really aren't meant to do that. See? More human than humans.

As people have covered a lot of the ground already, here are a few items I haven't noticed shared:

A Unified Theory of Muppet Types: Chaos and Order Muppets (Grover: Chaos; Kermit: Order)

Jim Henson's short film Time Piece, which was nominated for an Academy Award.

You also must, must see The Muppet Movie. Jim Henson sought out as director Jim Frawley, because of his work on the TV show The Monkees, which was not just directing but teaching the members of The Monkees improvisational comedy and that shaping the show significantly. The Monkees was a giant pop culture phenomenon in its own right and has a lot of the same elements - characters trying and failing to be famous and sending up entertainment tropes and chaos and subversion and fourth-wall-breaking. It was also the first show with characters wearing long hair and bell bottoms. And that's Jim Frawley in The Muppet Movie, in the El Sleezo, working as a waiter.

Jim Henson was also a big fan of Monty Python, and if you know them you'll immediately see why and if you don't you're in for another treat.

From Muppet fansite ToughPigs (a fine place to learn much more): "If you want to know how popular the Muppets were in 1979, all you have to do is watch Siskel & Ebert talk about The Muppet Movie."

I wish more of the pitch reel was online. It's 25 minutes and on the DVD of the first season of the show, if you want to hunt it down. I think it's worth it if you're interested in digging in on the show.

And I concur on reading the Brian Jones biography.
posted by jocelmeow at 6:07 PM on July 7 [9 favorites]

Addressing a couple of these:

Would most people have been familiar with the influences that make it up? Variety show, music hall, vaudeville, sketch comedy, theatre house as a backdrop, etc.? Or would it have seemed old-timey even in the '70s and '80s?

I was born in '70. My memories of 70s TV included a lot of variety show specials - don't forget, this was the same decade that saw The Star Wars Christmas Special, for pity's sake. I was seven/eight/nine/ten, I rolled with it.

How does your generation view The Muppets? And what do you/they know The Muppets from? (e.g. from the show, the movies, toys, etc.)

Sesame Street taught me how to read at the age of two, and according to family lore, Arlo Guthrie serenaded me once with the Sesame Street theme. (I remember none of that.) The Muppet Show was an important childhood touchstone, and remains one for Gen-X'ers.

I'm not familiar with celebrities from that era: What type of celebrities came on to guest star? Were they big-name celebrities — household names? Or the kinds of actors and musicians only actors and musicians would know? Were they celebrities kids would have been interested in?

A mix of everything. I remember Sylvester Stallone being on and I recognized him from Rocky. John Denver was on the radio all the time, Harry Belafonte was the guy who did that album Mom played around the house a lot and I liked (his Carnegie Hall performance), Roger Moore was that era's James Bond, Peter Sellars was on The Pink Panther, Rita Moreno I recognized from The Electric Company...and there were a couple people like Gene Kelly or Carol Channing that maybe my parents had to tell me who they were, but I honestly don't even remember asking, I just shrugged and went with "this just happens to be the lady who's the guest star this week" and I'd wait to see what Fozzy would do.

...Now that I'm a bit older, the closing number from the Gene Kelly episode is one of my sentimental favorites; the conceit throughout the show has been that Kelly was confused and thought he was invited to be an audience member, not a performer. And he wants to just watch the show, resisting Kermit's persuasions throughout. They even mock up a set resembling the stage set from the "Singin' In The Rain" number in hopes. And towards the end, Kelly finally explains to Kermit why he's resisted singing for them.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:27 PM on July 7 [3 favorites]

Very good, Empress - Gene was the best (even here, Xanadu-Gene). To see him at his prime, yeah, the Rain is great but don't miss The Young Girls of Rochefort.

Another favorite sequence was in Muppet Labs when Beaker was duplicated the time Mac Davis was the special quest.
posted by Rash at 7:15 PM on July 7 [2 favorites]

humbug: Every once in a while, the show would turn up something that child-me wished would go on forever. One I can't seem to find on YouTube, but it was (if I remember right and I may not) an East Asian paper-puppetry (possibly origami?) performance that was just jawdroppingly beautiful.

Was it by chance, Mummenschanz?
posted by toxic at 10:18 PM on July 7

Don’t overlook Muppets Tonight! Watching it alone in my parents’ bedroom in the late 90s is a core memory for me. It probably wasn’t my first exposure to the Muppets, but it’s definitely what made me a Muppet Fan.

I remember the guest stars being targeted at an older/adult audience—even when I recognized the names of the celebrities, they weren’t ones I cared about as a tween, but the writing struck a nice balance of not dumbing things down for kids, but still being accessible enough that I felt welcome/included in whatever was going on. The adult guest stars were treating the silly muppets with respect and playing *with* them in a way that felt really refreshing.
posted by itesser at 12:57 AM on July 8

Mod note: [Some say it's not easy being on the green, but people haven't passed you over – this post has been added to the sidebar and Best Of blog!]
posted by taz (staff) at 1:52 AM on July 8 [8 favorites]

I should have also mentioned the Muppet Wiki, a great reference on the show and on The Muppets overall.
posted by jocelmeow at 2:37 AM on July 8

Oh, and Muppet Guys Talking, Frank Oz and company having a conversation about what it was like behind the scenes.

I don't think you should watch Jim Henson's memorial service at this point, but when you've spent more time with the show and the characters, you might want to. Enormously moving. Frank Oz's eulogy is heart-wrenching and sublime.
posted by jocelmeow at 2:46 AM on July 8 [2 favorites]

I keep thinking of things. There's a lot of great behind the scenes stuff in Of Muppets and Men: The Making of the Muppet Show (1981).

The Muppets Celebrate Jim Henson is the special that aired after his death. Again, don't watch that yet, but perhaps later.

Do an internet search for talk shows of him with Kermit - he's always a good guest and it's remarkable how you forget sometimes that he's there at all.
posted by jocelmeow at 3:30 AM on July 8

I'm not sure when "Variety" shows ended in the UK. But I've been reading Adrian Edmondon's autobiography and he mentioned that cult comedy "The Young Ones" in 1982 was produced by the BBC's Variety department, not Comedy. They wanted that because Variety had bigger budgets. And that's why there had to be a band performing in every episode.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 3:40 AM on July 8 [1 favorite]

For the Sesame Street connection, i recommend watching Street Gang: How We Got To Sesame Street, based on the book of the same name.
posted by softlord at 4:58 AM on July 8 [1 favorite]

I know it's hard for millennials to appreciate what TV was like when there were only 4 channels and basically no home video, but there is nothing on TV now (save the World Cup final) that is even close to as widely viewed as the Muppet Show was every week.

It's widely understood that through syndication, The Muppet Show reached a weekly audience of around 235 million people around the world during its run. To put that in perspective, the final episode of Friends was watched by about 52 million, and the Taylor Swift Super Bowl was watched by about 153 million.

One other interesting aspect is because it was produced and funded in the UK, where a half-hour show had fewer commercials than in the US, every episode includes a musical number that was only broadcast in the UK and never seen in the US until the DVD releases years later. These are almost all British Music Hall classics, such as "Don't Dilly Dally on the Way (aka My Old Man said Follow the Van)".

all my genx pals with the "I appreciate the Muppets on a Deeper Level than You" Tshirt from The Onion, raise a flipper
posted by ulotrichous at 6:28 AM on July 8 [9 favorites]

only 4 channels

There were only three in the UK when The Muppet Show originally aired, and if you had an old B&W television (which we did, until May 1976) you could only get two channels: BBC 1 and ITV.
posted by scruss at 7:24 AM on July 8

Agreed on watching Street Gang. If you can pick up David Karp's Sunny Days, that will also help make sense of how President Johnson's Great Society was the cultural moment (that will seem almost impossible in the present) that paved the way for Sesame and thus for The Muppet Show.
posted by jocelmeow at 7:32 AM on July 8

I don't have much to add from a UK 70's child point of view. I don't think we had Sesame Street in the UK till later so the Muppet Show would have been our first exposure to the muppets.

I do remember the local BBC TV news "Look North" doing an interview with Miss Piggy (presumably for a film release, I don't remember). The interviewer was trying to do it as a serious interview but kept cracking up while Miss Piggy was deadpan throughout (making him laugh harder). Of course, they showed all the retakes on the news programme. It was great.
posted by antiwiggle at 8:34 AM on July 8 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure when "Variety" shows ended in the UK.

One of these was still available and lingered in the US, because of the UK. The domestic one I remember watching was the Red Skelton Show which was on TV all through the 1950s and 60s but finally fizzled out in 1971, about the same time as the rest. But into the late 70s and beyond we would see Benny Hill reruns on late-night TV - that's the musical variety show for Gen X.

Like Monty Python, hjs programs all began with that screen-split Thames logo, so we knew it would be funny. And like The Prisoner, The Muppet Show began with that twirling red-green-blue ITV logo, so we knew it would be great.
posted by Rash at 9:30 AM on July 8

One of the funniest things we ever saw on the show was guest star Spike Mulligan, when he disturbed Sam the Eagle.

Spike MILLIGAN!!!!!, the goddamn creator of the goon show; the ur comedy show from the 1950s that was seminal to fucking postwar western pop culture, basically the fucking BIBLE: Cited as a major influence by the Beatles, Firesign Theatre, Monty Python amongst millions.
posted by lalochezia at 10:32 AM on July 8 [6 favorites]

Back to what Iteki said: Muppets Tonight was the sequel and had a different character running the show. The Garth Brooks episode can be viewed at that link and turned me into a Garth Brooks fan. I laughed until I cried.

I grew up with the Muppets. I remember them being on Saturday night when I was a little kid. I didn't know most of the guest hosts, but my parents did. It was one of those things that all of us could watch together.

There is a fantastic Muppet fan website called Tough Pigs which was on the Blue a couple of days ago.
posted by rednikki at 12:40 PM on July 8

Muppets Tonight once featured a parody band call "Nine Inch Snails", which is a reference you certainly wouldn't expect (or hope) a child to understand.
posted by chmmr at 8:00 PM on July 8 [2 favorites]

I'm a little late to the party, having come via popular posts but this Muppets parody, and what I consider to be Peter Jackson's finest work, Meet the Feebles is not for the feint-hearted.
posted by gible at 8:39 PM on July 8 [1 favorite]

A few years ago I went to the Jim Henson exhibit at the puppetry museum in Atlanta when I was there for a work thing. I had such a good time and also surprised myself by bursting into tears when I rounded a corner and saw Big Bird.

I saw that exhibit when it was travelling, at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, MI. I also had a similar reaction when I saw Kermit.
posted by 41swans at 7:18 AM on July 9 [2 favorites]

I was pre-K and grade school when the original show aired on Monday nights. I was soooooo very in love with Kermit the Frog that I swore I would marry him someday. The theme song is burned into my brain and the dance song where everyone is waltzing and telling jokes gives me an immediate smile even after all this time. Granted, I didn't know who everyone who guest starred on the show was, but by god I knew John Denver and Luke Skywalker. And Roy Clark and Johnny Cash. And Harvey Korman (We watched a lot of Carol Burnett when I was a kid)

Our normal routine was that Mom would go to the laundry mat on Mondays and Dad and I would watch the Muppets. My dad and I had a similar sense of humor so it was not a stretch for him to watch. One Monday, Dad had to attend a School Board meeting and Mom broke the news that I would have to miss the Muppets and go to the laundry mat with her. I was not a child who threw temper tantrums or cried and pouted but that time I absolutely refused to move. Eventually, my mom gave up and packed me, the laundry, and the 13" black & white tv with rabbit ears we had in the car and she did laundry while me and three other kids trapped at the laundry mat watched the Muppets. Both of those kids were older than me, 3rd grade or so, but they'd never watched the show before and thought it was amazing.

Jim Henson died while I was in high school and it hit many of us harder than other pop culture deaths. Like I remember at least three girls crying in homeroom that morning.

Decades later, my family was out to eat in our small town and a young man came up to us. He introduced himself and said, "You brought a tv to the laundry mat and we watched the Muppets. That was one of the best days of my life and I always meant to thank you." He ended up going to college and becoming a reporter for our local tv station in the big city.

And I still would have liked to marry Kermit. Although I understand how hard it is to be a performer and in the public eye. So yeah, for me, little girl in the Southeast, the Muppet Show and the Muppets were a big freaking deal.
posted by teleri025 at 9:18 AM on July 9 [10 favorites]

I remember watching the show but was too young to remember many details.

The overall impression I still have is the show was cool.

The movies of course did a lot for the muppet legacy, but in my mind the show kind of opened the door for adults to be in on the fun, and perhaps that's a big part of why muppets are still so beloved and thought of and treated as real people even now. (The rare exception only proving the rule.[1])

Maybe some of that reverence is fading now, but for the majority of my decades on this earth muppets were untouchable. A kind of global kayfabe around them being real creatures ("NOT merely puppets, how dare you"), which by my even bringing up now I feel as though I'm breaking some unspoken law of cool. Like you're more likely to see an adult say santa isn't real than a muppet isn't real (which is a sentence I actually feel terrible putting into the world because of how loaded with sourpuss energy it is).

I primarily remember the structure of the show: I remember it as a show about putting on a show. And you get clips from the "behind the scenes" about running a show mixed with clips of the show-within-a-show.

In my mind I associate it with another show I barely remember (and this one I only saw later as an adult): The Larry Sanders show. I couldn't break down exactly why these are so intertwined in my mind, but I think it's because they are both a fictional show about putting on a fictional show? And they both do the mixing thing where the show is clips from both "layers" (the show-within-a-show and the behind-the-scenes-of-the-show-within-a-show)? Maybe they both play fast and loose with the fourth wall, too? Now we're talking details which have been washed over in my mind by time. Only the general sensations and vibes remain vivid.

Whatever that sort of structural conceit was to the storytelling, it has been buried in my mind ever since. And, while rare, whenever I do come across something even close, it always really does things for me. Maybe this is part of why something even as different in content as Garth Marenghi's Darkplace seems to really land with me.

In terms of modern legacy, I think the big one is 30 Rock. (I guess "modern" being nearly 20 years old now.) It's another show about putting on a show, although I don't remember many clips in 30 Rock of the shows they were actually producing, it feels like a spiritual successor if there ever was one. A show that's both hip and funny. A show that "gets it" and gets laughs. A show at the top of the game.

(On review, found some more discussion of this connection.)

[1] In the interest of full disclosure I had to look up if sesame street characters are muppets and (embarrassed to ever doubt it) of course they are. But there is (I suppose) a kind of separation between these groups, perhaps as evidenced by another "exception proving the rule" during the rare crossover like A Muppet Family Christmas where we get antics such as the swedish chef, seeking a bird to cook for dinner, first sets eyes on big bird. Which, in a complete coincidence, seems to be a moment (first setting eyes on big bird) that's surprisingly on topic in this thread! :)
posted by Flaffigan at 9:33 AM on July 9 [2 favorites]

What a great thread!

The DVD collections have some backmatter that’s interesting; mostly Brian Henson reminiscing about his father (and a funny anecdote about teenage Brian being too tongue-tied to talk to Debbie Harry). Apparently one of the reasons Jim Henson had on a lot of older stars like Gene Kelly, Danny Kaye, George Burns, etc was that he wanted to chronicle them before they passed away. That probably informs the nods to vaudeville.
posted by Eikonaut at 12:17 PM on July 9 [3 favorites]

This recent Youtube video is more of a Miss Piggy origin story, but it has some really interesting information about the development of The Muppet Show in general (including the fact that Jim Henson's original working title was "Muppets: Sex and Violence").
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:50 AM on July 10

I was born in Montreal, Canada, in the late 1970s and I can hardly remember a time in my youth where some form of Muppets weren't around. I grew up on Sesame Street (and was reading by age 3). Having said that, the original air dates for the Muppet Show seem to make me think I watched most of it in syndication.

I do remember being really excited to see Christopher Reeve (aka SUPERMAN!!!) on the show, as well as the Star Wars cast. I didn't normally know most of the guests (although I know most of them at least by name now). Much of the humour was definitely going riiiiight over my head. But you didn't need to understand too much to laugh at the Swedish Chef, who was fairly unintelligible anyway. And there was always Kermit, whom I knew and loved from Sesame Street.

Everyone I knew as a kid knew the Muppets. Everyone from Kermit and Big Bird to Miss Piggy and Gonzo to Gobo and Boober. Fraggle Rock was something I remember watching on Sunday evenings, and I was so excited for my nephews to get to know the Fraggles, too. :)

A friend of mine who is several years younger than me and spent her formative years in Australia really shocked me a couple of years ago when she admitted to not knowing much about the Muppets. "There's a pig, I think?" and I was just AGOG. How did anyone not know Miss Piggy by name!? As worldwide of a phenomenon as the Muppets have been, their relevancy dropped somewhat when the Muppet Show went off-air. Others in this thread have mentioned Muppet Babies (Saturday morning cartoon that wasn't nearly as good as the actual Muppet Show) and Muppets Tonight and such, but very little can compete with having The Muppet Show on TV weekly.

And as others have mentioned, Jim Henson's death in 1990 was absolutely heartbreaking to me. I was in my early teens and was only just understanding how talented Henson had to be to not only be this amazing puppeteer, but the very soul at the core of the entire Muppet family. Having grown up with Sesame Street and The Muppet Show and Fraggle Rock, I remember sobbing at the news of his passing. It was on the same level for me as when Mr. Rogers passed away in 2003.

All the Muppet-based shows are huge cultural touchstones for me as a late Gen Xer and for my brother as an early millennial. As an example, my brother was once out drinking with friends about 20-some years ago. It's like 2am, and he knows I'll be awake. He calls me, very intoxicated.

Brother: "You'll know this. You'll know this."
Me: "Know what?"
Brother: "The name of the giants on The Fraggles."

I blinked several times.

Me: "The Gorgs?"
Brother: "THE GORGS!!!!" (Then, to someone nearby.) "YOU OWE ME A DRINK, DUDE!!!" (Back to me) "Thanks, big sista!!!!"

And then he hung up, leaving me somewhat bewildered, but grinning at the interaction and memories of sitting there watching the Fraggles on Sunday nights.

This thread is lovely and fills me with warm memories. Thank you for asking your question, and I hope we have collectively helped you to better understand what the Muppets meant (and continue to mean) to us. :)
posted by juliebug at 11:09 PM on July 10 [2 favorites]

A couple of fun videos that may also support just how globally loved the Muppets were:

There's an Australian comedian, Adam Hills, who is now primarily known for being co-host of a UK comedy panel show. But this is a video about how in 2012, he was on the docket at a comedy festival in Montreal - one being co-hosted by The Muppets. He did his entire act that night about The Swedish Chef, and the Henson team loved it - and in fact had come up with a Swedish Chef routine, and Hills was put on the bill AFTER him. (You do get to see both acts.) Then in 2018, Adam Hills got to cook with The Swedish Chef in another comedy festival.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:31 AM on July 11

Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, you might enjoy The Muppet Christmas Carol. Michael Caine stars as Scrooge with a cast of muppets that are hilarious.
posted by bluesky43 at 6:36 AM on July 13

This thread prompted me to start watching the episodes properly for the first time, which has lead to the following realisations: (a) it's technically extremely well-made, right from the get-go, using all the electronic and optical technology available at the time in a very sophisticated way; (b) I apparently committed The Muppet Show Album to memory as a child, and some of the series 1 sketches make sense now that I've seen the visuals; (c) my parents, who would have been in their early 20s when it first aired, quoted the show all the time when I was growing up.
posted by offog at 5:01 PM on July 13 [3 favorites]

and some of the series 1 sketches make sense now that I've seen the visuals
What, you couldn't hear his ears wiggle?
posted by polytope subirb enby-of-piano-dice at 3:56 AM on July 14 [1 favorite]

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