Sunday, June 15

How Sex and Violence Made Jim Henson a Star

Jim Henson grew up, like many teenagers in America, as an outcast. He suffered from bad acne, which later in life led him to grow a beard to conceal the scars. The “facial hair mask” also worked for two other famous nerds, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. Like Mickey Mouse’s white gloves and red pants, the beard became part of Henson’s trademark look.

In 1969, Joan Ganz Cooney of Children’s Television Workshop (CTW) began working on a new television project that seemed tailor made for Jim’s talents. She wanted to explore the use of his talents with puppetry as a key element to the show. At first, this could look like an ideal situation. Not from Jim’s perspective. He wasn’t thrilled, to say the least.

Cooney’s project was to be called SESAME STREET, and it was meant to revolve around a strict curriculum in each episode. Jim spent years developing his career and talents, to show that puppetry wasn’t just for the young to enjoy. He felt that if he teamed up with CTW he would forever be associated with children’s programming. After much deliberation, he did decide to join her on the project. It later turned out, he was right to be concerned.

In the mid 1970’s, he felt it was time to pursue his dream of creating a variety show with puppets. Jim was met with a lot of resistance from network television. He had created some of the most beloved characters on the small screen through his work with Sesame Street, but it didn’t make it any easier for him to get backing for his new project. As soon as he pitched the show as a prime time program for adults and kids, the cynical look from the Executives across the table followed.

He decided to create a pilot (one of two) that aired as a television special. It was called “The Muppet Show: Sex and Violence.” If that didn’t get attention, what would? Well, even with the scandalous title it didn’t get enough notice. There was almost a deal completed with CBS TV but the restrictions on the contract weren’t going to work for Jim.

Jim’s saving grace was from a heavy set, cigar chomping gentleman named Lew Grade. Grade was the head of a British television station, and came to the table with money and studio space in England. Jim signed on, and The Muppet Show was born. The episodes were sold to various stations in the UK, around the world and via syndication in the US.

Obviously, it became a huge hit and I’m sure some suits at the networks wish they realized that Sex and Violence from Jim Henson sounded like a pretty good deal.

Related Posts:

Jim Henson Memorial Service (Video)

Tribute to Jim Henson (Video)

How Muppets Are Brought To Life...

RIPPLES - short film by Jim Henson (Video)

Jim Henson - Original Video Pitch for THE MUPPET SHOW


Anonymous said...

WOW I saw a show on Dudley More that included his appearance on the Muppets.

I always thought it was a mistake that the show had him filming this while in England.

Well now I know, for years (Decades) I thought it was filmed in the States.

FinnFactory said...

When Jim passed, everyone felt like he was one of their own - England, USA and Canada because he had produced shows and films in all those places.

Anonymous said...

I found the write up very interesting, especially that they filmed it in England. I thought that is was filmed in the US. I am just glad that he was allowed to make such a great show for many generations to enjoy and watch.