October 27, 2018

JIM HENSON'S LITTLE MUPPET MONSTERS


JIM HENSON’S LITTLE MUPPET MONSTERS
(CBS, September 14-September 28, 1985)

Henson Associates, Marvel Productions




MAIN CAST:
Muppets:
Richard HuntTug Monster, Scooter, Janice, Beaker (animated), “Muppet Sports Shorts” narrator
Cheryl Blalock – Cow, Raggmopp
Michael Earl Davis – Penguin
Jim Kroupa – Nicky Napoleon
Noel MacNealRat, Cow, Magic Book
Kathryn Mullen – Penguin, Rat
Martin P. Robinson – Rat, Cow, Walrus

Animated:
Frank Welker – Kermit, Chicken Who Crossed the Road, Banana Nose Maldonado, Milo Sockdrawer
Hal Rayle – Animal, Gonzo, Miss Piggy


Little Muppet Monsters was a show that combined traditional puppetry with animated segments. Or, that was the plan, anyway.

Michael Frith's design for Molly.


Following the unexpected success of Muppet Babies, CBS decided to try and expand on that by having Henson Associates and Marvel Productions create another series they could use to make a one-hour programming block. Jim Henson and Babies executive producer, Michael Frith, came up with an idea that would allow them to make use of the classic Muppets in occasional appearances with the conclusion of The Muppet Show while also complimenting the themes of imagination and creativity Babies was meant to encourage. Frith served as the creative producer and conceptual designer, coming up with the new character designs.

The monsters (from top): Tug, Boo and Molly.

The series centered on three new characters: Tug (Richard Hunt), Boo (David Rudman) and Molly (Camille Bonora). They were monsters sent to play in the basement of the Muppets’ building by Scooter (Hunt) in order to keep them out of trouble (initially Kermit was meant to be the main Muppet contact, but Scooter was chosen since his actor was also Tug and Henson would be largely unavailable due to other commitments overseas). They discovered and props from the Muppet Show days that would allow them to broadcast their own show in a similar format, albeit only to the house above. The idea for the show was borne from the advent of the hand-held video camera. felt that device would allow anyone, especially kids, to be able to express their creativity on television and, in a few years down the line, allow them to shift into the professional aspect of the medium (a prediction that ultimately would come true with the rise of the internet and sites like YouTube). Where Babies was meant to encourage imaginative play, Monsters was meant to encourage hands-on creativity.

Model sheet of the animated Muppet characters.

The monsters produced episodes of their show with the help of their in-house band, Nicky Napoleon and his Emperor Penguins (a group of penguins that broke into the basement and lived there), and sometimes the adult Muppets themselves. What would follow would be shows within the show, with animated segments such as “Pigs in Space”, a parody of space programs starring Miss Piggy (Hal Rayle) that originated on The Muppet Show; “Kermit the Frog, Private Eye”, where Kermit (Frank Welker) and Fozzie (Greg Berg) parodied mystery movies; “Muppet Sports Shorts”, which saw Animal (Rayle) performing various athletic feats; and “Muppet Labs”, with Dr. Bunsen Honeydew (Bob Egen) and Beaker (Hunt) performing feats of science. Recurring Muppet segments were “Fozzie’s Comedy Corner”, with Fozzie (Frank Oz) discussing jokes and Gonzo (Dave Goelz) presenting a variety of weird things. Each episode featured an original song bringing everything together.

Molly and Tug with Nicky by their transmission device.

Little Muppet Monsters debuted on September 14, 1985 as part of the program block called Jim Henson’s Muppets, Babies & Monsters. The show was introduced the night before on CBS’ Saturday morning preview special, All-Star Rock ‘N’ Wrestling Saturday Spectacular, by Pee-wee Herman and Rowdy Roddy Piper. A scene from an unaired episode was shown, as well as alternate takes of ones that were aired. The series was written by David Babcock, Sarah Durkee, Chris Grabenstein, Bradley Kesden, Steve Morgenstern, Kathryn Mullen and Julia Murray, with consultation on the animated segments by Chuck Lorre, Barry O’Brien, Jack Mendelsohn and Bob Smith. Rick Merwin and Hank Saroyan served as story editors. The music was composed by Robert J. Walsh, with songs by Alan O’Day, Janis Liebhart, Scott Brownlee, Michael Carney, Michael Carroll, Joe Carroll, Christopher Cerf, Kevin Joy and Durkee. The series’ theme was a mash-up of the Babies and Monsters themes.

Bunsen and his latest invention.

Unfortunately, Little Muppet Monsters didn’t get much of a chance to see if Henson and Marvel could duplicate Babies’ success. Because of the tight timeframe both studios had to produce the program for airing in the upcoming season, the idea was not being properly fine-tuned to ensure the concept would gel together. Many on Henson’s staff felt that the superior puppet work overshadowed the comparatively inferior animation; the quality of which varied from piece to piece due to translation issues and the rushed nature of the project. While Henson’s crew managed to produce 18-episodes’ worth of Muppet sketches, Marvel was unable to provide the animated segments in a timely fashion as they were also working on Babies simultaneously. Marvel also had to serve as a mediator between Henson Associates and CBS as the network became more involved with the production over concerns of the scripts they saw. Had Marvel been able to provide the animation quicker, attempts would have been made to have the puppet and animated segments interact with each other; such as having puppet Kermit rewrite the mysteries his animated counterpart was in, or by having Boo argue with the space pigs on where to place a cliffhanger.

The continuing adventures of Pigs in Space.

Only three episodes were ready to air by the time the show was set to premier. Henson, feeling the show failed to meet his high standards, ultimately decided to pull it after the third and final episode. Both Henson and CBS conceded that the concept wasn’t well thought out, and a second half-hour of Babies was put in Monsters’ place. When the ratings exploded for that hour, CBS decided to ditch Monsters entirely, leaving the remaining episodes unfinished and the completed episodes never broadcast again. The concept of a combined puppet/animation show was more successfully revisited by Henson’s company in 1992 with the airing of Dog City.

Henson newsletter talking about the show.

Ghosts of Little Muppet Monsters remained. An instrumental version of the show’s theme song served as the closing credits theme of Babies until that series’ conclusion. The monsters made an appearance in the special The Muppets: A Celebration of 30 Years broadcast on CBS that January. The special was filmed before Monsters was cancelled and plugged the new show. Animation from the Kermit segment was reused in the final episode of Babies, providing that show with a single line of dialogue uttered by Henson himself. Tug appeared in the introduction of The Muppets at Walt Disney World, a special designed to build awareness at the then-upcoming Disney acquisition of Henson’s company, mauling then-Disney head Michael Eisner. The penguin band was featured in the Disney World attraction Muppet*Vision 3D. All three monsters were later reused in various Henson projects as a variety of characters.

The sole piece of released merchandise for the show.

According to the Henson newsletter, a wave of merchandise based on the show was set to debut at Toy Fair 1986. Amongst them were a plush by Hasbro, board games and puzzles by Milton Bradley, puzzles by Playskool, costumes by Ben Cooper, stickers by Diamond Toy, balloons by Balloon Concepts, clothing by Allison Manufacturing, greeting card by Hallmark, belts by Lee Belts, pajamas by PCA Apparel, and party supplies by Beach Producers. Only a Playskool puzzle ever saw release in limited quantities. There has been no indication of any intention to ever finish or release the remaining episodes of the series. In 2015, puppet segments from the episodes “Foo-Foo Phooey”, “Gunko” and “Gonzo’s Talent Hunt” were leaked onto the internet. Each one is missing some scenes and their respective animated segments, and run just over a half hour in total. The three aired episodes have also found their way online.



EPISODE GUIDE:
“In the Beginning” (9/14/85) – After Scooter sends the monsters to the basement, they find some studio equipment and decide to create their own show.

“Space Cowboys” (9/21/85) – The monsters can’t seem to get on the same page of what kind of show they’re going to do: space or cowboys.

“The Great Boodini” (9/28/85) – Boo attempts to make use of a magic book on their show, but ends up changing the forms of his friends.

“Hi, Mars”

“Monster Measles”

“Gonzo’s Talent Hunt” – Tug tries to set up a talent show that will impress the judges and Gonzo.

“Can’t Stop the Music”

“Boo Monster Ace Reporter”

“Feels Like Rain”

“Foo-Foo-Phooey” – Scooter asks the monsters to watch after Foo-Foo, which Tug feels gets in the way of his acts for the show.

“Penguin for a Day”

“Gunko” – When Tug announces a strange unknown product as their show’s new sponsor, the monsters try to figure out what exactly the stuff is good for.

“Mail-Order Guest”

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