|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
|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 he was also played by Hunt and Henson would be largely
unavailable to play Kermit due to commitments overseas). They discovered 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. They 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 and Tik Tok). 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 provided by
Marvel 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.
Jim Henson’s 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 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 with Toei Animation and the overall 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 their resources were stretched thin 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 with 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 planned debut date. Henson,
feeling the show failed to meet his high standards, ultimately decided to pull it
after the third and final episode, conceding with the network that the concept
wasn’t as well thought out as it could have been. It was replaced in the block by
a rerun of Babies. When the ratings
exploded for the hour after that move, CBS decided to ditch Monsters entirely, leaving the remaining
episodes unfinished and the completed episodes were 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 different 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 cards by Hallmark,
belts by Lee Belts, pajamas by PCA Apparel, and party supplies by Beach Producers.
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.
Beginning” (9/14/85) – After Scooter sends the monsters to the basement, they
find some studio equipment and decide to create their own show.