The Most Wanted: Why The Muppets Need to Return to TV

By  · Published on March 19th, 2014

Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

On Friday, we’ll get our second Muppet caper in three years courtesy of Muppets Most Wanted, the latest offering from writer-director James Bobin and Nicholas Stoller. The time since 2011’s The Muppets, also written by Jason Segel (the project’s poster boy, star and arguably biggest, giddiest fan) has seen a mini resurgence in Muppets mania, at least in some facets of the media.

We’ve had Lady Gaga host a Muppets Spectacular full of singing and dancing and Jimmy Fallon invite the whole gang on his last episode of Late Night to perform “The Weight,” and we’ve seen Kermit and friends infiltrate everything from the Thanksgiving Day Parade to Lipton Tea commercials to brief moments of psychosis on 30 Rock. Whether or not Muppets Most Wanted is a success, it’s the gateway in a long list of examples that prove one important fact: it’s time for the return of The Muppet Show.

Think about it. The classic variety show ran from 1976–1981 and pitted Kermit as the manager of the swankiest cabaret in town. The problem for our dear Kermie (but fantastic for the rest of us) was that every Muppet and their famous counterpart wanted to get in on performing at the club, making the slate jam-packed full of singing, dancing and jokes. A modern day reboot of the show would take these core principles and shake them up after nearly 30 years off the air to create a program that’s still palatable for kids and adults – just as it was back in the ’70s and ‘80s.

The hallmark of The Muppet Show was its ability to be edgy while still appealing to kids. It didn’t pander to the adults at home by sliding in a few over-the-head jokes as a courtesy to the chaperones; it was a show for adults, starring puppets, and that was okay. Their guest stars ran the gamut from Elton John to John Denver to Roger Moore, and while it’s not as if they were sitting around talking about death and taxes, the gang didn’t dumb down their content to cater to children either.

The new version of The Muppet Show should mimic that original premise and become Muppet SNL. With the license to be raunchy and not necessarily “cute,” – which is the novelty territory they’re quickly sliding into every time they’re brought out as a Gaga prop (that holiday special was pretty dismal) and used to endorse tea – the Muppets can climb back to where Jim Henson first asserted his creations so many years ago. And it’s not as if they don’t have the support and resources to make it happen. With 30 years since their last episode, just think of the wealth of pop songs, potential guest stars and spoof material they’ve got ripe for the taking.

After “The Weight” on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon (and so many other visits – the man loves him some Muppets), that rousing all chicken rendition of “Cluck You” from The Muppets, the barber shop quartet doing “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and their (insanely good) version of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” both also from the last film, it’s proven that they haven’t lost any momentum in their journey back to relevance. There are just a few parameters that need to be set in order for the show to be successful on today’s brand of television.

In keeping with not pandering to adults, the guest stars can’t be Disney flavors of the week or anyone catering to a tween set. With so many celebrities willing to appear in The Muppets — and check out the list of the cameos in Muppets Most Wanted if you want to get excited/spoiled – there is a staggering number of respected comedians, actors and musicians who would kill to get a chance to sing along with Rowlf while he plays the piano. Imagine hearing “It’s the Muppet Show, with our very special guest star, Steve Carell” blast out of your TV on a Thursday night. Good, right?

The new Muppet Show must also focus mainly on the Muppets, and less on the guest stars, no matter how great of a guy or gal they book. The Muppets was fantastic, and you could see Jason Segel’s love for every character pour out of every pore, but there were sins committed: there were scenes that didn’t include Muppets. It’s not that watching Segel and Amy Adams interact wasn’t lovely, but that’s not what audiences came to see. A Muppet Show reboot can contain no scenes without a Muppet present, otherwise it’s pointless.

As long as the show respects its audience as much as it respects the characters we love so much, it’s going to work. And maybe brings these guys back permanently for a segment every night.