The History of The Muppets and Puppeteer Jim Henson

Matthew Gower

For decades “The Muppets” have been a household name for many families. There have been many reboots of the show, films, video games and spinoffs throughout the years as well as theme park attractions. With the addition of the original show to “Disney Plus,” there is now the option for many subscribers to watch the show for the first time or watch it again with their friends and families. There is also the opportunity to do some research into the show and its characters.

One of the first and most popular characters, Kermit the Frog, has been around since he was created by Jim Henson in 1955. Kermit first appeared on the TV show, “Sam and Friends.” This lasted for six years with Henson making appearances on late night shows such as “The Ed Sullivan Show” to showcase his puppet creations. After this, Kermit was featured in many commercials.

Henson was not just the mind behind most of the characters for “The Muppet Show,” though. Henson was also approached to help create characters for “Sesame Street” in 1969; where he created many fan favorites such as Big Bird, Oscar the Grouch, Bert, Ernie and Cookie Monster.

Henson’s innovation also led to specials known as “Tales from Muppetland.”

Many of Henson’s Muppet characters were featured on “Saturday Night Live” in 1975. This was short lived, as some of the “Saturday Night Live” writers stated they did not think they could write for the characters.

Henson then began working on “The Muppet Show” in 1976. The original show lasted five years, from 1976 to 1981, but little did Henson know it was the first of many.

In 1979, the first Muppet movie was shown in theaters. “The Muppet Movie” was a hit and led to many more films throughout the upcoming decades.

Later in 1989, Henson was working on a deal with Walt Disney Company to sell his company, Jim Henson Company, but died in 1990 before the deal could be finished and signed.

But before Henson’s passing, the Jim Henson Company worked with the Walt Disney Company on an attraction for Disney’s Hollywood Studios called “Muppetvision 3D.” Henson directed the project, but passed before the opening in 1991.

The attraction is still open to this day. However, the same attraction built in Disney California Adventure was closed in 2014 according to “” Originally there were plans to make “Muppetland” in Disney’s Hollywood Studios larger with more attractions, but these plans did not make it into the theme parks.

Despite Henson’s passing, there have been many Muppet movies throughout time. To name a few, “The Muppets Christmas Carol,” “Muppet Treasure Island” and “Muppets From Space” are all very popular muppet titles. Henson’s family kept the rights to “The Muppets” before selling them to another company and later buying them back again. Then a year after buying the rights back, Henson’s estate sold them to Walt Disney Company in 2004.

Shortly after this, Walt Disney Company began to create movies and TV shows using “The Muppets” in works such as “The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz” and “A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa.” It was not long before Disney began production on a new theatrical film in 2008 with Jason Segal called “The Muppets.” The plot was centered around the Muppets trying to save their theatre by putting on a show and featured many celebrity cameos. The film was a success, and in 2011, a sequel “Muppets: Most Wanted” was released. 

“The Muppets” also had many other reboots and new shows throughout the past decade with more in production for “Disney Plus.” “The Muppets” TV series premiered in 2015 on ABC Network and was more targeted towards adults and partly was filmed like a mock-umentary in the style of shows like “The Office” or “Parks and Recreation.”

“Rightfully or wrongfully, the Muppets became more of a kid’s product over the years [. . .] We want to bring them all the way back to what they were intended to be and then some. But never so much that anyone has to explain anything uncomfortable to their kids,” said one of the creators of the “The Muppets” TV series Bob Kushell, in an interview with The New York Times.

The show was cancelled after 16 episodes due to disappointing ratings and some feeling the show was not family friendly enough. However, it was nominated for an Emmy and other Muppet series were made to make up for it. For instance, “Muppet Babies” was made in 2018 and based on an animated show from 1984. The newest Muppet project “Muppets Now” is on “Disney Plus” with its first six episodes and most Muppets movies and shows are now available to watch this platform as well

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