Tales from The Muppet Show

If you're of a certain age, you're no doubt familiar with Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem, Gonzo the Great, the terrible jokes of Fozzie Bear and the dry humor of Statler and Waldorf. But are you familiar with what went on behind the scenes of The Muppet Show? Check out these tales from backstage (and a few others) for a few facts you may be less familiar with.

It's Good to be the Guest Host

Although The Muppet Show had well over 100 guest hosts (and no host ever appeared twice), at first it looked like even turning up a single star to kick off the season. Eventually, all of the producers started to call in personal favors from friends in the industry, begging them to come cavort with puppets for a mere half hour. That all changed in the second season when ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev appeared. The Muppet Show was, well, kind of a strange form of entertainment at the time, so when people like Vincent Price and Florence Henderson and Phyllis Diller appeared, it sort of made sense. Rudolf Nureyev opened up the guest hosting spot to celebrities from all walks - once someone of his prominence hosted, everyone wanted to host. Many times, guest stars would request scenes with their favorite Muppet. Not surprisingly, Miss Piggy was the highest in demand (not that she would expect anything less) with Animal coming in second. Sometimes The Muppet Show did theme episodes that usually revolved around the talents or interests of the guest host for the week. For example, the theme of the Vincent Price episode was Monsters and Ghosts; the Muppets busted out their Western wear for Roy Rogers and Dale Evans; and the theme of the Paul Simon episode, was, appropriately, Paul Simon songs. For the first few episodes, guest hosts were presented with a likeness of themselves as Muppets during the closing scenes. That's dancer and actress Juliet Prowse with her mini me to the left. However, this ended up being too costly to do for each show, especially while the show was struggling during the first season. The practice stopped after the second episode, which Connie Stevens hosted. However, guest hosts did sometimes still receive a Muppet likeness when it was relevant to a sketch - for instance, Paul Williams sang "Old Fashioned Love Song" with a couple of his Muppet clones later in the first season. Picture from Muppet Central. Kermit the Frog and Waldorf are the only two Muppets to appear in every single Muppet Show - 120 episode. Statler - Waldorf’s cohort - appeared in 119 episodes. He did not appear in episode 13, season four - but Waldorf’s wife Astoria does. Strangely, she looks exactly like Statler (that's her in the picture). Fozzie Bear was in 115 episodes, Miss Piggy claimed 111 and Gonzo was in 106. Picture from MuppetWiki.

Show Details

If you prefer to read your Muppet Show instead of watch it, you can do that. The Muppet Show Book chronicles the best parts from the first two seasons of the show. The scenes are illustrated and the dialogue looks like a script. One of the pilot episodes of the show was called The Muppet Show: Sex and Violence, and it aired on ABC on March 19, 1975. Kermit and Co. spent the half-hour show making fun of all of the sex and violence on T.V. at the time by performing skits such as “The Seven Deadly Sins Pageant” and “The Wrestling Match.” The other pilot episode was called “The Muppets Valentine Show” and aired more than a year earlier, featuring guest host Mia Farrow. Dr. Bunsen Honeydew used to have Muppet Labs all to himself - at least, until the second season. That’s when the red-headed, nonsense-speaking Beaker showed up to assist him with his experiments and inventions. Some of those inventions have included a gorilla detector, a banana sharpener, edible paper clips and exploding clothes.

A Muppet Memorial

Not directly related to The Muppet Show, but an interesting story nonetheless. If you’ve seen the movie Love Actually no doubt you remember the wedding scene where various members of the audience burst into “All You Need is Love,” complete with instruments. The movie’s director, Richard Curtis, got the inspiration for this scene from his attendance at Jim Henson’s memorial service. This is what he says about it:

“This was, in fact, inspired by Jim Henson's funeral, which was the most moving thing I've ever been to, and at the end of it, one of the ... Frank Oz was talking and he suddenly lifted up Kermit's puppet and started to sing this song called "One Voice" ["Just One Person"], and it turned out that all the guys in the, in the memorial service, had brought their puppets with them, and they lifted them up, and when you turned around and looked backwards, there were fifty puppets all singing, and Big Bird walked down the aisle of St. Paul's Cathedral. They all came forward, and just this massive chorus of puppets all singing.”

The Harry Belafonte episode of The Muppet Show was one of the most critically-acclaimed episodes in the show's entire run, thanks largely in part to the segment where he sings "Turn the World Around" with Muppets decked out in African tribal masks. It was reportedly one of Jim Henson's favorite Muppet moments ever, so it's fitting that Belafonte sang the song at one of Henson's memorial services (he had two - New York in addition to London). You can still see The Muppet Show performance of "Turn the World Around" in its entirety:

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I miss the Muppet Show, too. Got teary at the thought of all of the puppets at his memorial singing...that must have been amazing. Jim Henson was a great talent who is missed.
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This is a lovely article, and it's great to see so much love for the Muppets. My inner Muppet geek can't resist pointing out that The Muppet Show didn't actually have "guest hosts"... Kermit was always the host (except for an episode or two where it was part of the storyline that he was incapacitated). Florence Henderson, Connie Stevens, Rudolf Nureyev, etc. were guest stars, but unlike the way it's done on Saturday Night Live, the guests didn't have anything to do with hosting the show.
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If you haven't watched the Jim Henson Memorial before, you should. But be warned -- you will cry. I don't care how tough you are. You will weep oceans after only a few minutes of watching.
But it was also cathartic.
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