April 04, 2015

JIM HENSON'S MUPPET BABIES



JIM HENSON’S MUPPET BABIES
(CBS, September 15, 1984-December 12, 1990)

Henson Associates (1984-87), Jim Henson Productions (1987-91), Marvel Productions



MAIN CAST:
Frank Welker – Kermit, Beaker, Camilla, Skeeter (season 3-7)
Greg Berg – Fozzie, Scooter, Dr. Julius Strangepork
Howie Mandel – Skeeter, Animal, Bunsen Honeydew (all season 1-2)
Russi Taylor – Gonzo, Robin, Camilla, Aunt Fanny
Katie Leigh – Rowlf, Mrs. Mitchell
Dave Coulier – Animal, Bunsen Honeydew, Janice, Camilla (all season 3-7), Bean Bunny, Statler, Waldorf (all season 6-7)


Jim Henson working on the original Kermit puppet.


While in high school, puppeteer Jim Henson was tasked with making puppets for WTOP-TV’s Saturday morning program The Junior Morning Show. After reaching college, Henson took a job on Washington, D.C.’s WRC-TV program Sam and Friends where he created his trademark character: Kermit the Frog. Although, at that time, Kermit was depicted as more of a lizard creature, made from a discarded coat of Henson’s mother and a halved ping pong ball for eyes.


The original Kermit with the cast of Sam and Friends in the Smithsonian.

In the following years, Henson’s puppets graced numerous commercial spots and he ran the talk show and variety circuit. Henson founded Muppets, Inc. in 1958 and took on writer Jerry Juhl in 1961 and puppeteer Frank Oz in 1963; both of whom Henson credited with the development of the humor and characterizations that became a staple of the Muppets franchise. By the time Henson moved to New York City, he had begun revolutionizing puppet making by using flexible fabric-covered foam rubber in order to attain more facial emotions from his characters. Straddling the line between puppets and marionettes, Henson began calling his creations “Muppets.” Henson’s big break came that same year when his next breakout character, piano-playing Rowlf the Dog, became a regular guest on The Jimmy Dean Show between 1963 and 1965.


Rowlf with Jimmy Dean on The Jimmy Dean Show.

The next major leap for the Muppets came with Sesame Street in 1969, in which Henson was contracted to create the characters for. Henson was heavily involved with the production of the first two seasons, even loaning Kermit (who had been refined and firmly defined as a frog by the time the series began) to star for a while. At the same time, Henson produced Tales from Muppetland, a series of TV specials hosted by Kermit that were comedic retellings of classic fairy tales. In order to avoid being typecast as solely producing children’s entertainment, Henson’s company joined the fledgling Saturday Night Live in 1975 for a series of sketches until an inability to gel with the show’s writers ended the segments in 1976. 


The large cast of The Muppet Show.

That year, with financing from Lew Grade, Henson moved Muppets, Inc. to England and they began work on The Muppet Show; a sketch variety show that introduced and starred many of the well-known Muppet characters. The series proved a hit and ran for five seasons. With The Muppets’ profiles now raised, Henson was able to produce three movies based on The Muppets: The Muppet Movie (1979), The Great Muppet Caper (1981) and The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984). It was that last movie that led to The Muppets entering Saturday mornings.


Babies Fozzie, Kermit, Piggy, Gonzo, Scooter and Rowlf from The Muppets Take Manhattan.

Manhattan featured a fantasy sequence in which the characters were depicted as babies in a nursery. That segment gave executives the long-sought after angle they were looking for to turn The Muppets into an animated property different enough from what Henson was already doing with his puppets. Brought to the attention of Marvel Productions President and Chief Executive Officer Margaret Loesch, they entered into a deal with Henson to produce the series. 


The animated babies Skeeter, Scooter, Rowlf, Bunsen, Beaker, Gonzo, Piggy, Kermit, Fozzie and Animal.

Taking the designs straight from the movie, the series starred stalwarts Kermit (Frank Welker), the de facto leader of the group, and Rowlf (Katie Leigh), the musical prodigy. Joining them were Kermit’s diva love Miss Piggy (Laurie O’Brien); the wild and untamed (and aptly named) Animal (Howie Mandel & Dave Coulier); the truly bizarre hook-nosed Gonzo (Russi Taylor) with his stuffed chicken, Camilla (occasionally voiced by Welker, Taylor & Coulier); the bad joke spewing comedian Fozzie (Greg Berg); and the brainy tech-savy Scooter (Berg). Created specifically for the series was Scooter’s tomboyish twin sister Skeeter (Mandel & Welker) and their caretaker called simply Nanny (Barbara Billingsley), who, like all other adults on the series, was never shown above her shoulders. Scientist Bunsen Honeydew (Mandel & Coulier) and his long-suffering assistant Beaker (Welker) made occasional visits to the nursery. 


Kermit outracing the boulder from Raiders of the Lost Ark.

The series was designed to emphasize the power of imagination. The babies frequently went on fantastic adventures while never once leaving the nursery. These adventures were usually accompanied by utilizing stock footage or licensed clips from movies and television shows (including other Muppet productions). Whenever the adventure became too dangerous or was interrupted by an outside source, the scene would dissolve and leave the babies right back in the nursery. Imagination was also used to help them solve problems, find new ways to play with old toys, or overcoming fears. Of course, the negative side of imagination was also explored as sometimes theirs would allow them to be carried away with incorrect conclusions and assumptions. 


The most you ever see of Nanny.

The series premiered on CBS on September 15, 1984 with animation provided by Japanese company Toei Animation. The series’ opening and closing theme were composed by Hank Saroyan and Rob Walsh, with the closing theme referred as “Hank in the Box” in reference to Saroyan. Alan O’Day and Janis Liebhart co-wrote almost every song featured in each episode’s musical number, with Saroyan, Walsh and Scott Brownlee providing the others. After the 11th episode of season 6, the episode title card music was changed to a new tune by Saroyan and Robert Irving, who also assumed scoring duties from Walsh the following episode.



After the first season proved a success, Henson and Marvel tried another series together called Jim Henson’s Little Muppet Monsters, which featured a return to Henson’s puppets. CBS eagerly paired it up with Babies to create the hour-long block Muppets, Babies & Monsters. However, only three episodes of Monsters aired (for reasons that will be explored in its own entry) before it was replaced by reruns of Babies. Remnants of the block’s theme were heard in the Babies closing from that point onward. The series finale also incorporated the segments “Kermit the Frog: Private Eye” and the animated version of “Pigs in Space” from the Monsters episode “Space Cowboys.”


Animal and Gonzo disguised as Spider-Man.

After the second season, Mandel left the series and his regular characters were distributed amongst Welker and Coulier. For the third season, CBS expanded the show to encompass a full 90-minute block. While this partly done due to the popularity of the series, the real reason was because the heavily-promoted new series, Garbage Pail Kids, was quickly removed from their schedule amidst protests from Action for Children’s Television, the National Coalition on Television Violence, and the Christian Leaders for Responsible Television. They felt the series served as little more than an infomercial for the trading card series on which it was based, as well as glorified violence while ridiculing the handicapped.  

 
"Uncles" Statler and Waldorf.

After five episodes of season 4, animation duties were switched to Korean-based AKOM Productions for the remainder of its run. Bean Bunny, who first appeared in the 1986 HBO special The Tale of the Bunny Picnic, and the two old hecklers from The Muppet Show Statler and Waldorf, began making regular appearances on the show beginning in the sixth season. Unlike other adults, Statler and Waldorf’s faces were shown. They were also more friendly and jovial with only the occasional hints of grumpiness, and both wore hats associated with working on a railroad. All of the new characters were voiced by Coulier. 


Bean Bunny, Rowlf, Fozzie, Animal and Kermit as operatic Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Throughout its run, the series was nominated for numerous awards and won several of them. It won the Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Animated Program from 1985-88, while it was nominated and lost in 1989. It also won for Outstanding Film Sound Editing in 1985, while losing out in 1987-88, 1990 and 1992. It took home the 1989 Emmy for Outstanding Film Sound Mixing, losing that in 1986-87 and 1990. It was also nominated in 1986 for Outstanding Achievement in Music Direction and Composition. Barbara Billingsly was nominated for Outstanding Performer in a Children’s Series in both 1989 and 1990. It was nominated in 1985, 1988 and 1990 for a Humanitas Prize in the Children’s Animation Category, only taking home the 1985 award. It also took home the 1987 Young Artist Awards for Exceptional Family Animation Series or Specials.



With a powerhouse animation franchise in the works, plenty of companies wanted to get in on the wave of success. Items ranged from beginner musical instruments, toys, PVC figurines, clocks, calendars, bath products, lunch boxes, watches, sunglasses, pins, mugs, lights, banks, Halloween costumes, Christmas decorations, crafts, puzzles, plush dolls and more. Various publishers released books based on the show, including Macmillan Publishing Company, Western Publishing and Golden Press. Marvel Comics published 26 issues between 1985 and 1989 as part of their Star Comics imprint, and later reprinted them in Star Comics Digest. Marvel UK also published a weekly series between 1986 and 1987, including a Summer Special. Harvey Comics reprinted the American Marvel books between 1992 and 1994 in a 6-issue mini-series and special, as well as released the Big Book in 1992.



In 1987 McDonald’s released their first set of Happy Meal toys based on the show, with Kermit, Piggy, Gonzo and Fozzie each riding an interchangeable vehicle. In Canada, Animal was added to the set and Gonzo was depicted as barefoot. For the younger crowd, PVC figurines of Kermit and Piggy and roller skates were available. In 1988, McDonald’s had two promotions. The first included three books featured in Happy Meal boxes that looked like Kermit, Piggy and Fozzie. Around the holidays, McDonald’s offered a set of “Holiday Huggable” plushes of Kermit, Piggy and Fozzie that were available for purchase with a Happy Meal. In 1994, a second set of plushes were released for the Mexican market, featuring Gonzo in place of Piggy and new designs for Kermit and Fozzie. A final set of toys were released in 1990 featuring the same line-up (minus Animal) each riding a new vehicle. McDonald’s released one final toy of Kermit and Piggy in 1994 to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the Happy Meal. Their piece could connect with 14 others exemplifying popular Happy Meal franchises to form a long train



            In 1989, Babies entered into syndication until partway through the seventh season and continued on in reruns following its final episode for the next decade; airing on FOX channels and its affiliates primarily. Maintaining its popularity, additional merchandise was made. In 1993, Golden Press released magic slates while Eden Toys had a line of plush rattles. In 1997, Toy Biz made their own line of plush toys, while NANCO produced a set as amusement park prizes in the early 2000s. In 2003, Toy Play released a series of plush dolls in various sizes: clip-ons, beanies, 10 inch and 24 inch. The 10 inch came with a DVD of a single uncut episode, the only DVD release of the series thus far due to the rights issues involved with the clips used in the imagination sequences. Between 2004 and 2006, PC Treasures, Inc., Multimedia Entertainment, Jim Henson Interactive, Compedia and Brighter Minds Media produced a series of educational CD-ROM games featuring the Babies.


VHS collection box.

            While no DVDs were released, Babies was featured across several VHS collections. 18 VHSs were released in the United States between 1993 and 1995, with an additional four through McDonald’s and another three from Video Buddy Interactive. The United Kingdom and Australia each had their own releases, leading to a total of 25 of the episodes released to home video. Two records were released featuring music from the show. In 1985, Parker Bros./Columbia Records released Rocket to the Stars, which featured an all-new story written by Saroyan that interweaved songs from the show as part of the narrative. In 1987, Music is Everywhere just featured extended versions of the songs. In 1993, when Jim Henson Records joined together with BMG, Rock It to the Stars was re-released onto CD with a new title.


Scooter reintroduces Skeeter in The Muppet Show comic by Roger Langridge.

            In 1991, Kermit, Piggy and Gonzo appeared in the drug prevention special Cartoon All-Stars to the Rescue amongst other assembled Saturday morning characters. A Muppet Family Christmas featured puppet versions of the characters, minus Skeeter, in a home movie that the adult Muppets watch. The scene was cut from the home video release due to a failure to obtain the rights for the song “Santa Clause is Coming to Town.” Skeeter made her only non-Babies appearance during the “Family Reunion” story arc of BOOM! Studios’ The Muppet Show comic series by Roger Langridge in 2009. 


"We're going back...to our childhood!"

Probably the most lasting effect of the series was the babyfication boom of the 1980s and early 90s. Seeing how successful the show was with its concept, many other studios looked to their own franchises and decided they could reach new audiences by taking some of their established characters and de-aging them in a similar fashion. Muppet Babies was the first, and far from the last.



EPISODE GUIDE:
Season 1:
"Noisy Neighbors” (9/15/84) – The babies have to keep Animal from waking up their neighbor, a police officer who works nights.

“Who’s Afraid of the Big, Bad Dark?” (9/22/84) – The babies try to help Beaker overcome his fear of the dark.

“Dental Hyjinks” (9/29/84) – Fozzie is afraid of the dentist so the babies try to help him pull out his loose tooth.

“Raiders of the Lost Muppet” (10/6/84) – Animal vanishes during a game of hide and seek.

“Scooter’s Hidden Talent” (10/13/84) – Scooter can’t figure out the talent that makes him special.

“The Case of the Missing Chicken” (10/20/84) – Camilla goes missing.

“Eight Take-Away One Equals Panic” (10/27/84) – The babies think Nanny is planning to get rid of one of them.

“What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?” (11/3/84) – Kermit is trying to figure out what he wants to be when he grows up.

“Close Encounters of the Frog Kind” (11/10/84) – Kermit’s cousin Robin visits and escapes his bowl.

“Gonzo’s Video Show” (11/17/84) – The babies go Hollywood by creating their own movies.

“Fun Park Fantasies” (11/24/84) – Excited about going to the amusement park, the babies dream about what it will be like.

“From a Galaxy Far, Far Away” (12/1/84) – When a creature enters the nursery, the babies assume it’s an alien and work to return it home.

“Good, Clean, Fun” (12/8/84) – The babies try to make up for breaking a lamp and end up causing more problems.

Season 2:

“Once Upon an Egg Timer” (9/14/85) – The babies tell stories about searching for Rowlf’s lost voice.

“Piggy’s Hyper-Activity Book” (9/21/85) – The babies find themselves inside Piggy’s activity book on a rainy day.

“Fozzie’s Last Laugh” (10/5/85) – When Piggy gives Fozzie an “F” for joking around while they play school, Fozzie decides to give up his comedy career.

“The Great Cookie Robbery” (10/12/85) – Tired of being ridiculed by the others, Gonzo keeps a box of cookies Nanny gave them for himself.

“Out of this World History” (10/19/85) – The babies use their imaginations to explore history through Nanny’s book until Gonzo decides to take them all to Planet X.

“Snow White and the Seven Muppets” (9/28/85) – The babies decide to put on their own production of Snow White, but Piggy is jealous she lost the title role to Skeeter.

“I Want My Muppet TV!” (10/26/85) – With the TV on the fritz, the babies make their own out of a cardboard box.

“Musical Muppets” (11/2/85) – The babies all write their own songs to enter in a contest, but the tape breaks and putting it back together jumbles everything up.

“What’s New at the Zoo?” (11/9/85) – Rowlf doesn’t want to go to the zoo, feeling bad for the caged animals.

“The Great Muppet Cartoon Show” (11/16/85) – The babies make their own cartoon flip books, which Nanny then lets them turn into actual cartoons.

“The Muppet Museum of Art” (11/23/85) – The babies decide to open their own art museum when Skeeter’s hurt ankle cancels their trip to the real one.

“By the Book” (11/30/85) – Nanny provides the babies with books to keep then entertained while they wait for the repainted nursery to dry.

“When You Wish Upon a Muppet” (12/7/85) – Animal plays genie when Kermit and Piggy fish a lamp out of a box.

Season 3:

“Pigarella” (9/13/86) – Piggy imagines herself as Cinderella when she has to clean up the kitchen after getting caught trying to return food the others snuck out.

“The Best Friend I Never Had” (9/20/86) – The babies imagine their perfect friends.

“The Weirdo Zone” (9/27/86) – Gonzo shows the babies what it’s like to be weird.

“Muppets in Toyland” (10/4/86) – At first seeming cool, Scooter’s new toy robot becomes disruptive in the nursery.

“The Muppet Broadcasting Company” (10/11/86) – To entertain themselves during a TV outage, Nanny introduces the babies to old time radio shows.

“Kermit Goes to Washington” (10/18/86) – In order to establish rules in the nursery, the babies elect Kermit as the nursery president.

“Fozzie’s Family Tree” (10/25/86) – Fozzie’s tomato plant grows into a family tree, and he climbs it believing it to be his family tree.

“The Daily Muppet” (11/1/86) – The babies decide to publish their own newspaper in order to replace Nanny’s ruined one.

“Scooter’s Uncommon Cold” (11/8/86) – The babies shrink themselves down to enter Scooter’s body and fight his cold virus.

“Treasure Attic” (11/15/86) – The babies play pirate in the attic.

“Around the Nursery in 80 Days” (11/22/86) – In order to avoid a horrible replacement sitter, the babies take Nanny on a pretend trip around the world so she doesn’t need a real one.

“Fine Feathered Enemies” (11/29/86) – Nanny introduces a rude talking parrot to the nursery.

“Muppet Goose” (12/6/86) – Nanny reads the babies to sleep with nursery rhymes.

“Bad Luck Bear” (12/13/86) – Fozzie breaks a mirror and is worried about seven years of bad luck.

“Of Mice and Muppets” (12/20/86) – The babies accidentally let Officer Carruthers’ pet mouse escape from its cage.

“Back to the Nursery” (12/27/86) – The babies go back in time to re-take a picture of Nanny as a waitress that they accidentally ruined.

Season 4:

“Muppetland” (9/19/87) – The babies make their own theme parks.

“Water Babies” (9/26/87) – A new aquarium has the babies imagining exploring beneath the ocean.

“The Incredible Shrinking Weirdo” (10/3/87) – When Gonzo’s basketball jersey suddenly becomes too big for him, the babies all think he’s shrinking.

“Where No Muppet Has Gone Before” (10/10/87) – On a camping trip, Bunsen’s lecture about space sends the babies there in their imaginations.

“Journey to the Center of the Nursery” (10/17/87) – The babies head into the Earth to find Fozzie’s lost skate key.

“This Little Piggy Went to Hollywood” (10/24/87) – Piggy imagines she goes on Star Search and becomes a famous movie star.

“My Muppet Valentine” (10/31/86) – When Nanny loses Rowlf’s Valentine’s Day cookie, the babies try to make it up to him with a surprise.

“Invasion of the Muppet Snackers” (11/7/87) – The babies think the horrible thing Nanny is mixing up is destined to be their next snack.

“Twinkle Toe Muppets” (11/14/87) – Scooter tries to figure out what kind of dancing he likes.

“Weirdo for the Prosecution” (11/21/87) – Gonzo is on trial for stealing cookies.

“Muppet Island” (11/28/87) – As Nanny cleans leaving the babies stuck in the nursery, the babies imagine they’re on an island.

“The Frog Who Knew Too Much” (12/5/87) – Kermit has to try to keep from telling the others about Nanny’s secret surprise for them.

“Beach Blanket Babies” (12/12/87) – The babies have to help Fozzie overcome his fear of swimming.

“Old MacKermit Had a Farm” (12/19/87) – The babies imagine themselves in various professions that will allow them to replenish the blueberry muffin supply.

“Adventures in Muppet-Sitting” (12/26/87) – The babies are tasked with babysitting Robin.

“The House That Muppets Built” (1/2/88) – The babies set out to redesign and fix Piggy’s wrecked dollhouse.

“Masquerading Muppets” (1/9/88) – The babies make costumes for a party.

“Nanny’s Day Off” (1/16/88) – As a thanks, the babies give Nanny the day off and handle her chores.

Season 5:

“Muppets Not Included” (9/10/88) – A strange objects leave the babies to wonder what kind of functions it has.

“Beauty and the Schnoz” (9/17/88) – After being insulted by Piggy, Scooter and Rowlf help Gonzo see his own beauty.

“The Pig Who Would Be Queen” (9/24/88) – The babies pretend to be various fairy tale characters.

“Is There a Muppet in the House?” (10/1/88) – After telling the babies about a scary movie he saw, Rowlf disappears during naptime.

“Slipping Beauty” (10/8/88) – Piggy is separated from the others because of chicken pox and is given a walkie talkie to be entertained.

“Muppet Baby Boom” (10/15/88) – The babies prepare to meet Mrs. Mitchell’s new baby.

“Scooter by Any Other Name” (10/22/88) – Gonzo helps Scooter reinvent himself when he’s sick of being book-smart.

“He’s A Wonderful Frog” (10/29/88) – The babies think Kermit is moving away and set up a tribute for him.

“Elm Street Babies” (11/5/88) – Dreams wake the babies up in the middle of the night.

“Plan 8 From Outer Space” (11/12/88) – When the Royal Family is announced as having trouble finding a nanny, the babies believe aliens are abducting nannies.

“Junkyard Muppets” (11/19/88) – A mess in the nursery has the babies looking for their possessions.

“The Air Conditioner at the End of the Galaxy” (11/26/88) – When the air conditioner breaks, the babies imagine they’re in the jungle looking for a cool place.

“Bug-Busting Babies” (12/3/88) – The babies hunt for the bug messing up Scooter’s computer.

Season 6:

“This Old Nursery” (9/16/89) – The babies find a time capsule in the wall.

“And Now A Word From Our Muppets” (9/23/89) – The babies make ads for their items at Nanny’s garage sale.

“Six-to-Eight Weeks” (9/30/89) – The babies daydream about their new playhouse.

“The Green Ranger” (10/7/89) – Kermit’s favorite show is cancelled.

“Not Necessarily the Babies” (10/14/89) – The babies make their own news program.

“Comic Capers” (10/21/89) – The babies journey through the Sunday funnies.

“Faster Than a Speeding Weirdo” (10/28/89) – Camilla ends up damaged after Gonzo’s latest stunt.

“Skeeter and the Wolf” (11/4/89) – Skeeter leads the search in the attic for Nanny’s record.

“Romancing the Weirdo” (11/11/89) – Finding an old typewriter inspires Gonzo to write.

“The New Adventures of Kermo Polo” (11/18/89) – The babies imagine they’re famous explorers.

“Goosetown Babies” (11/25/89) – The babies try to help Mother Goose fix Goosetown.

“It’s Only Pretendo” (12/2/89) – It’s Gonzo vs. Piggy for the video game championship.

“Quoth the Weirdo” (12/9/89) – The babies read poetry to Bean.

“Operators are Standing By” (12/16/89) – The babies wonder who was on the phone that Animal hung up on.

“Babes in Toyland” (12/23/89) – Scooter’s lecture sends the babies into the world of Greek mythology.

“Puss ‘n’ Boots ‘n’ Babies” (12/30/89) – The babies help babysit Officer Caruther’s pet cat.

“Muppets of Invention” (1/6/90) – The babies are encouraged to invent.

“A Punch Line in the Tummy” (1/13/90) – Fozzie’s effort to hear his own jokes only lets him hear the others insulting him.

Season 7:

“Muppet Babies: The Next Generation” (9/15/90) – The babies wonder what the future will be like.

“Buckskin Babies” (9/22/90) – The babies journey to the Old West.

“Sing a Song of Superheroes” (9/29/90) – The babies become Operatic super heroes to find Nanny’s missing water.

“Gonzee’s Playhouse Channel” (10/6/90) – The babies put on their own children’s programming.

“Kermit Pan” (10/13/90) – The babies revisit the world of Peter Pan.

“Whose Tale is it, Anyway?” (10/20/90) – Piggy becomes jealous of their new neighbor Janice’s ability to read.

“At the Movies” (10/27/90) – The babies fantasize about visiting Statler and Waldorf’s new theater.

“In Search of the Bronzed Beetle” (11/3/90) – Statler and Waldorf’s beetle broach goes missing, prompting the babies to try and find it.

“The Transcontinental Whoo-Whoo” (11/10/90) – The babies build a railroad.

“Get Me to the Perch on Time” (11/17/90) – The babies deliver the mail for an injured carrier pigeon.

“Bearly Alone Babies” (11/24/90) – Nanny prepares for a storm while Fozzie prepares for a burglar.

“Remote Control Cornballs” (12/1/90) – Bunsen and Beaker’s invention scrambles everyone’s favorite TV shows.

“Nice to Have Gnome You” (12/8/90) – The babies help Piggy rewrite the library book she lost.

“Happy Birthday Uncle Piggy” (12/15/90) – The babies make a surprise party for Statler.

“Hats! Hats! Hats!” (12/22/90) – Statler and Waldorf bring hats to the nursery.

“Eight Flags Over the Nursery” (12/29/90) – In anticipation of a new amusement park opening, the babies imagine their own.

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