?The Muppets! They’re as much an American cultural institution as your mice Mickey or your bunnies Bugs. Odds are if you were a child any time in the past 40 years or so, you were more or less raised on Sesame Street, The Muppet Show, the Muppet movies, the Muppet Babies cartoon, and that video where all the Muppets sang a really terrible Beach Boys song.
Okay, that last one maybe wasn’t so iconically great, but it was one a lot of people sure remember, because it was all over Nickelodeon in the late’ 80s. But not all Muppet-related things were so widely seen or have been preserved for the ages — some for no particular reason, and some for very good reasons indeed. Here, in no particular order, are some of those various Muppet-tainments which you might have forgotten about.
9) Sam and Friends
Before The Muppet Show made Kermit, Miss Piggy and Gonzo household names, this show, which ran from 1955 to 1961 on Washington D.C.’s NBC affiliate station, introduced the very earliest Muppets — none of whom get used anymore outside of Kermit, who wasn’t yet a frog, but had the same basic personality we all know. The show mainly consisted of puppets singing along to recorded songs and comedy bits, though there was some original, seemingly drug-induced, beatnik-style material like the short sketch above. Of note: The Sam in the title isn’t Sam the Eagle, as you might think. It was just a puppet that looked like a bald dude.
7 &8 ) The Muppet Valentine Show and The Muppet Show: Sex and Violence
Nearly 15 years after Sam and Friends went off the air (and about five years after the start of Sesame Street in 1969), Jim Henson and ABC began developing what would eventually become The Muppet Show. Two pilots, The Muppets Valentine Show and The Muppet Show: Sex and Violence aired in 1974 and 1975, respectively. The Valentine Show is pretty vastly different from what The Muppet Show would become; it plays sort of like a manic Muppets sitcom set in what looks like a hotel lobby and starring Wally, a sort of hipster dude who wants to write a script about love. Kermit tells a story and sings a song, but that’s about it for the famous Muppets to come.
Sex and Violence is much closer to what The Muppet Show would turn into. It’s still not a show about a show yet — the parts between sketches take place in vague “conference room” — but it’s still a collection of fast-paced sketches broken up by host segments. The host, by the way, is a guy named Nigel, who looks like he could be Scooter’s dad but acts and talks like a less-excitable Kermit. Kermit’s there in some sketches. Sam the Eagle, Animal, Swedish Chef, and Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem also show up. Statler and Waldorf have a sketch, but they’re way out of character. I should note here that it’s a lot harder to forget these two pilots, since they’re available on The Muppet Show season one and two DVDs.
6) Rocky Mountain Holiday with John Denver and the Muppets
If you’re like me, and you should be, you believe John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together is the finest holiday album ever recorded. But you may not recall their lesser follow-up collaboration, a 1983 TV special and soundtrack album about a camping trip in the mountains. There was little in way of a plot or even sketches (though Fozzy getting chased by a bear is pretty great) — more just an excuse for Denver and the Muppets to sing songs about the outdoors and tell goofy campfire stories. But it’s one of your only opportunities to see Gonzo in a flannel shirt and Kermit in a jacket-vest, so there’s that.
5) Jim Henson’s Little Muppet Monsters
After the Muppet Babies cartoon turned out to be a hit, CBS decided in 1985 to air a full hour of Muppets on Saturday mornings with this show, a mix of animated bits and segments featuring classic Muppets like Fozzy and Gonzo. Supposedly these segments were airing on a TV station run by three monsters named Tug, Boo and Molly. It was pulled off the air after only three of the produced 18 episodes aired, after Henson Associates and CBS decided it just wasn’t up to par. At the time, fans unfortunately couldn’t demand via the internet that the remaining episodes see the light of day, and they never have.
4) The Christmas Toy/Secret Life of Toys
About a decade before Pixar took the concept and made into a moneymaking machine that’s still going today, Henson and company made the ABC TV special The Christmas Toy, where a bunch of toys talk about how they’ll welcome the new toys to the fold. One of the toys, Rugby Tiger, decides he wants to be a present again, but somehow that’s going to be a problem, I guess, so the other toys save him. In 1994 — the year before Toy Story came out — Jim Henson Productions made a one-season show out of the concept that aired on The Disney Channel.
3) The Jim Henson Hour
In 1989, Jim Henson pitched an idea to networks for an anthology show that would include Muppet Show-like comedy bits called “Muppet Television” starring Kermit and a muppet Christopher Lloyd named Digit, but also half-hour stories from John Hurt as “The Storyteller.” Other episodes were devoted entirely to showing off how the Henson Creature Shop operated and explaining how special effects work. (I wore out a VHS tape in which Henson explained to a Muppet dog how blue screens work, for instance.) After nine episodes, NBC canceled the low-rated show. Two of the remaining episodes aired on Nickelodeon, and one never aired on U.S. TV.
2) Dog City
Another episode of The Jim Henson Hour I watched over an over again was the one-hour sorta-movie “Dog City,” a 1930s gangster spoof hosted by Rowlf and featuring a mutt mob boss who loved senselessness. It was great. It had a gag about a stunt cat, Abbott & Costello-style routines, fake trailers and all kinds of awesome Muppet stuff. It’s on DVD. Dig it up if you can. But I digress. In 1993, Henson Productions started a cartoon based on that episode about a Muppet cartoonist and his animated detective creation. It became less like that special as it progressed through its three seasons, though, eventually ending up in some sci-fi and sitcom territory.
It was 1993. Bands of teenagers roamed city streets rapping their raps, wearing their hats backwards and learning lessons about diversity. At least, that was life for the human stars of CityKids, of which 13 episodes were produced until its cancellation in early 1994. The show featured a bunch of never-before seen Muppets including a guy with purple dreadlocks and his pet bird, the three robot-looking things that lived in some characters’ heads (one was named libido), some alien creatures and a group of hip-hop hot dogs. No kidding.