The Muppet Show depicted a song-and-dance variety show, as well as the backstage antics involved in putting the show on. Most of the shows revolved around Kermit The Frog trying to keep control of the varied, outrageous, kinetic Muppet characters, as well as keep the human guest stars happy and secure. The show was well known for outrageous, highly physical and sometimes absurd comedy and parodies. Many major celebrities were eager to perform with the Muppets on television and in film. Each show featured a human guest star such as Steve Martin, Mark Hamill, Elton John, Brooke Shields, and John Cleese.
Episode 1: Jim Nabors
Two interesting observations about Scooter's debut.
His entrance is in conflict with the Muppet Movie which shows him being the Electric Mayhem's road manager and Muppet Babies where he grows up with the other characters. While some fans lose sleep over this, this is hardly a serious contradiction as we're reminded throughout the Muppet Movie that it is just a movie, one with an alternate "history" (indeed if the films were to be taken at face value, they all contradict each other) and the Muppet Babies is also to be thought of as "just a cartoon" BASED ON the characters. The babies' Muppetized debut in Muppets Take Manhattan was part of a dream sequence. (But then there's the home movies of the Muppet Babies the Muppets watch in Muppet Family Christmas, Scooter included, but don't lose your head pondering this).
This is episode 6, and Scooter's already appeared in episodes 1, 2, and 4! The first two episodes were shot before the rest as "pilots" so obviously the writers thought once the character was established that it would be fun to explain Scooter's entry. If it helps, think of this as somewhat of a "flashback" episode. A number of early episodes didn't include Scooter in them so they could be aired before this one as to not cause confusion. (Indeed, in some markets the Scooter-less Rita Moreno episode was the debut, but in others the Jim Nabors show was the second to air after the Sandy Duncan one which included Scooter.
Since the Muppet Show was in syndication, meaning that episodes might air in different orders in each market, the writers probably didn't worry too much about this. Annie Sue's "debut" episode in season 3 also aired after the audience had seen her, and was also done after the character had been used.
The original name for Miss Piggy was Miss Piggy Lee. This idea was quickly scrapped though the first Muppet Show Annual refers to her as such as well as a few articles around the time. The Talk Spot in this episode is the only time in the series where Piggy is addressed as "Piggy Lee".
Guest starring: Jim Nabors
Episode 2: Sandy Duncan
Though never seen on camera, Gags Beazley will be a recurring reference throughout the Muppets' history often alluded to as Fozzie's writer - and as one of the quote sources at the beginning of the 1981 "Muppets Go to the Movies" special.
Unlike the hatrack in the Peter Ustinov episode, "Gags Beazley" does not get a writing credit.
Guest starring: Sandy Duncan
Episode 3: Rita Moreno
Rita Moreno won an Emmy for her performance on the show. This was a significant achievement considering this was only The Muppet Show's fifth episode. Three years later, Rita would co-host the special, "The Muppets Go Hollywood" and once again find herself trying to keep Animal under control!
Frank Oz and Richard Hunt switch off performing Piggy in this episode. The only time she is not performed by Hunt is the Talk Spot.
Marvin Suggs' Muppaphones, although there are many, are all voiced by Jim Henson and Jerry Nelson. This is Marvin Suggs' and the Muppaphones debut.
The Conversation Panel features a rarely seen character, The Guru, who only had three minor speaking parts the whole run of the show. This character was known as Brewsters on The Muppets Valentine Show (1974), the first pilot for The Muppet Show.
Sweetums' second appearance still recalls his debut from "The Frog Prince" as he keeps referring to Rita as "Nice Lady."
Some names of Marvin Suggs' Muppaphones include Lucy, Bernard, and even one named Marvin!
Miss Piggy's shining star is already taking off. She's in the first three onstage acts of the show as well as the discussion panel.
The unseen announcer is usually performed in season one by John Lovelady though in its debut, it's done by Jerry Nelson. Jerry would do the announcer a couple more times in season one then become the regular announcer from season two onward.
Guest starring: Rita Moreno
Episode 4: Ruth Buzzi
While Miss Piggy continues to pine for her frog, we also learn in this episode that she actually has a healthy libido in general! Throughout her career on The Muppet Show and beyond, Kermit will occupy a special place in her heart, but that doesn't stop Piggy from flirting with other men.
Ruth Buzzi, in all of her sketches (talk spot in particular) demonstrates a marvelous rapport with her Muppet costars. Fourteen years later, she would become a regular cast member on "Sesame Street" playing Ruthie, the wacky owner of thrift shop Finders Keepers and breathing well-needed life into the adult characters on the show.
This is Jerry Nelson's first credited episode.
Ruth Buzzi was originally going to be the guest in episode one, but due to scheduling conflicts she had to appear later in the season.
[In an odd moment, when Ruth starts to get tickled by the cast, a smiling Muppet Beach Ball briefly pops up into frame - though this puppet was not used anywhere else.]
Guest starring: Ruth Buzzi
Episode 5: Joel Grey
Fozzie Bear was originally intended as being the show's second banana (the main star next to Kermit), but even though we've seen him tell jokes in the opening theme and figure in the backstage plots, this is the first episode where we actually see him in one of his regular comedy spots. Since the "hook" of this particular act is that he needs audience members to call out joke subjects, this sets up interaction between him and Statler and Waldorf in the balcony. This is a lucky and significant development for each character since it serves as the first time we've seen Statler & Waldorf interacting with people onstage (instead of with just each other).
This gives Fozzie's comedy spot an extra touch. Instead of just "A Comedian On Stage Telling Jokes", we have "Comedian Tries to Perform while Suffering the Heckling of the Geezers In the Balcony". This would become a regular component of the comedy spots, which in a way was fortuitous. The writing team would soon learn that Fozzie's "bad comedian" hook by itself, was hardly strong enough to create a strong character. What will end up being Fozzie's saving grace is how he interacts with other characters. His interaction with Statler and Waldorf is the first major relationship that's explored with his character onstage while backstage his relationship with Kermit will continue to develop throughout the series.
Gorgon Heap is a modified furry version of a classic Muppet monster originally known as Big V. Also, regarding names of Muppet monsters, for the purpose of this episode guide, "Gloat, the Green Frackle" will be referred to throughout this guide by the name "Gloat" as was revealed in the "Great Santa Claus Switch", even though he was usually referred to on set and in scripts as "Green Frackle". When this guide does mention the "Green Frackle", the reference will be to the puppet that looks like a green version of Boppity (the "Blue Frackle").
While "Pachalafaka" was taped as the UK sketch, the actual original airing of this episode in the States included this number and instead took out the Sherlock Holmes sketch.
The Newsman is seen here in his original version, without glasses and a slightly different voice.
Jerry Nelson does not perform in this episode.
Jane Henson, once quoted as having stopped puppeteering when it was time to do voices, does a rare puppeteering stint in this episode, but with no voices.
Because this was in some regard the first "official regular" episode of The Muppet Show, the show runs 30 seconds longer than most (partly due to the extra verse in the opening.) This is pretty typical with Henson productions - the first episode of Bear in the Big Blue House is a minute longer as is the first filmed episode of Farscape, "Exodus From Genesis". Some strange edits also appear in the episode as well with one-frame shots popping up in a couple of places as if some revisions were being made to the order shots were appearing in and weren't done well. The first time this happens is in the opening theme - a frame of Zoot/Crazy Harry can be seen after Animal's shot. Then a frame of Kermit in front of the curtain is seen before the second Newsman spot.
Guest starring: Joel Grey
Episode 6: Paul Williams
The Paul Williams episode was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Writing in a Comedy-Variety or Music Series.
This marks the beginning of Paul Williams' collaborations with the Muppets. He would later write the music for "Emmett Otter's Jug-band Christmas," "The Muppet Movie" (and provides a cameo), and "The Muppet Christmas Carol".
Twenty-five years later, Paul would be the special guest star at the Muppets' first fan convention, MuppetFest, where he participated in a panel discussion and played a special grand finale medley during a live performance of "The Muppet Show".
Fran Brill, the main female Muppeteer at the time, makes her Muppet Show debut in this, her first of only two episodes.
Dr. Bunsen Honeydew's design was reportedly based on Sir Lew Grade's appearance. During the first season of The Muppet Show, Bunsen would be working alone in the lab. His assistant Beaker will debut in Season Two.
Mary Louise must love frogs! She'll sing with them again in the Sandy Duncan and Steve Martin episodes.
Having been mercilessly heckled by Statler and Waldorf in his monologues, the writers start to experiment with Fozzie's comedy spot, sensing it may not be working. Last week, Fozzie did impressions and this week he does a duo scene with Scooter. With a few exceptions, the rest of Fozzie's monologues this year will follow their standard format but Fozzie will also start to be used more in sketches and backstage plots in order to salvage the character.
In later seasons, Floyd and Janice would become a couple, but in the show's first season, Janice would often be paired with Zoot! In this episode, they appear together in "At the Dance" and "Rowlf's Poetry Corner." Especially in these early episodes, Zoot is featured quite a bit, perhaps due to Jerry Nelson's fleeting availability as Floyd. In later seasons, Zoot would become more mellow and quiet since Dave Goelz tended to agonize over the delivery of Zoot's lines. He saw Zoot as someone who best expresses himself through the saxophone.
The final number incorporates a chorus of Muppets gathering around the guest as he sings, providing backup. This would typically be done throughout the show's run and often allow some of the show's "non-performers" like Hilda the costume lady and George the janitor opportunities to come onstage.
Guest starring: Paul Williams
Episode 7: Lena Horne
Lena Horne first performed with Kermit in the early seventies on Sesame Street. She sang a poignant version of "Bein' Green".
She returned to Sesame Street about five years later helping Grover overcome his shyness in the song, "How Do You Do". (This song was released on the 1979 album "The Stars Come Out on Sesame Street").
In this episode, she demonstrates her natural rapport with the Muppets, most notably in her scene with Gonzo.
Guest starring: Lena Horne
Episode 8: Peter Ustinov
This is one out of only three episodes this season to not contain an official "Talk Spot" although there is a slight exchange between the guest and frog in front of the curtain before Peter's first sketch.
The Newsman finally develops the voice he would have for the rest of the series and gets glasses. (Which fly to the back of his head and back on his face at the end of the sketch.)
This is the first episode of two that Cynthia Adler performs in. Her main character, Cynthia Birdley, appears during the talks spot, a shorter nosed, brasher version of Mildred what with the curly hair, purple skin and rhinestone glasses.
Making its Muppet Show debut, the song "Bein' Green" was already well associated with Kermit. The song had previously been sung on Sesame Street and various guest spots on other shows. Kermit will sing it once again on the show next season and the song would become Kermit's best known song until 1979's "Rainbow Connection" from the Muppet Movie.
A running gag throughout the show, "The Hatrack" is even listed in the closing credits as one of the writers! A similar running gag occurs with the name Gummo in the 1981 special "The Muppets Go To The Movies".
Peter Ustinov would later make a cameo as a truck driver in 1981's "Great Muppet Caper" movie sharing screen time with both Miss Piggy and Sesame Street's Oscar the Grouch!
Guest starring: Peter Ustinov
Episode 9: Florence Henderson
Miss Piggy's first use of the word, "Moi". When Kermit notes, "Jealousy doesn't become you.", Piggy replies, "Jealous? Moi?"
Much has been made in interviews and articles about how Miss Piggy went from chorus girl to taking the writers by surprise as to how she was becoming a star and her role was elevated in the second season. This episode shows how this story has become slightly exaggerated. The first part is true. About Miss Piggy's starting out a chorus girl (though some magazines said the whole bit about Piggy's declaring her love for the frog was improvised on the spot when this was obviously scripted). But the writers knew early on in the first season that Miss Piggy was destined for main character status, even if they may not have known HOW MUCH the audience would love her.
In this episode, the whole show is built around her pursuit of Kermit and jealousy of Florence. Miss Piggy would also be a major player in other episodes of the first season. A more accurate (but less tailored to sound-bites) version of events is that Fozzie was initially thought to be Frank Oz's main character; the "second banana." After the pilot episodes (Prowse and Stevens) were taped, the writers saw potential in this supporting player, Miss Piggy, and her part was increased to core character status.
Between the two seasons, the staff recognized that Piggy was due to replace Fozzie as Frank's main character and Kermit's "costar" (both due to the strengths of Piggy's character including the advantage of being a strong female character, in a male dominated cast and her being in love with the "male lead". The weaknesses in Fozzie's character, the "bad comedian" angle wasn't working as an effective hook to make him an endearing character. Piggy was featured heavily on stage and in backstage plots while Fozzie was de-emphasized as the writers tried to explore his possibilities as a rounded character "off-stage" as opposed to the the one dimensional "bad comedian".
Guest starring: Florence Henderson
Episode 10: Valerie Harper
This is one of only a few Muppet Show episodes that open the show after the theme song with some kind of offstage scene.
There's also a couple of scenes with the guest star in her dressing room conversing with Muppets instead of onstage in the Talk Spot. The dressing room would become more heavily integrated into the structure of the show in its second season.
In last week's "At The Dance", Boppity danced in drag with another monster. This week Boppity appears as normal but his partner is in drag. In both instances, he ends up headless.
Guest starring: Valerie Harper
Episode 11: Candice Bergen
Candice Bergen is a longtime friend of the Muppets, her father being noted ventriloquist Edgar Bergen (who will guest next season). A year prior, she shared the stage cheering up Scred and King Ploobis on Saturday Night Live with her rendition of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" when their castmates abandon their bash for the Bees' Christmas party. Candice also made a visit to Sesame Street.
She would later lead the proceedings during Jim Henson's induction into the Television Hall of Fame (her speech ends up forming one of the introductions to the biography "Jim Henson: The Works").
Miss Piggy gets her big moment this episode, and interestingly even though she had been a shared character between Frank Oz and Richard Hunt, the more gifted singer of the two (Miss Piggy is even alternately played by both throughout this episode), it's FRANK who performs her first solo and does rather admirably in the first of many songs where he really lives up to the challenge of stretching the pig's (and his own) vocal cords!
Waldorf must have been telling the truth in his closing comment regarding liking the show. Aside from their interruption during Kermit's intro, they stay silent throughout the show.
Guest starring: Candice Bergen
Episode 12: Bruce Forsythe
The Snerfs, though rarely seen on The Muppet Show are actually a classic type of Muppet creature that had often been featured in sketches of the Ed Sullivan type variety, as a type of Frackle in "The Great Santa Claus Switch" and even in some early episodes of "Sesame Street" Their most notable characteristic is the ability to extend their bodies into a long pole or contract into a small roundish creature. The horns-as noses were added for this appearance. When toy puppets of Rowlf and Kermit were manufactured in the '60's, the ads indicated that a Snerf puppet existed also.)
Both opening acts demonstrate the black background style of puppetry often used by the Muppets where the characters are manipulated by the puppeteers behind them dressed all in black and rendered practically invisible due to the black sets and effective lighting, making the characters appear to move about on their own. The Gawky Birds are among some of the largest puppets in the Henson arsenal (a related type of creature known as The Bossmen, being the largest).
Both the Snerfs and the Gawky Birds were planned to be performed live in a Muppets on Broadway idea Jim Henson had wanted to explore. He finally gets to use both ideas on screen here. Twenty-five years later, his idea finally hits the live stage as the Bossmen, huge characters similar to the Gawky Birds join the grand finale of MuppetFest's Muppet Show Live.
This is an important step in the evolution of Miss Piggy's ascent to superstardom. Even though Miss Piggy has insisted on her being the show's resident female singer, up until now she's mostly just been in the chorus (with the notable exception being her taking the solo from the ranks of the chorus in the first episode).
Her duet with Bruce is the first time she's featured prominently in a serious number (aside from last episode's UK sketch) and she holds her own, even managing to upstage Bruce with her big finish. Two episodes from now, she'll finally get her first solo number (though it's through her forceful insistence).
Guest starring: Bruce Forsythe
Episode 13: Harvey Korman
Finally, success with Fozzie's comedy spot! While maybe not "the world's funniest joke", this routine is by far the funniest of the season. The experimentation that the writers have been taking finally pays off. The key ingredient being the interplay between Fozzie and Kermi. The rest of the season will return to the monologue format, but as a result, more interplay between the bear and the frog will be seen backstage leading to the redemption of a possible failed character. Next season will see more experimentation occur in Fozzie's act as he tries roller skating, ventriloquism, and in another classic pairing with Kermit, a phrenology demonstration!
A side benefit of Fozzie having more involvement in backstage plots will be more character development as we learn more about his offstage persona. Most of Fozzie's stories this season will concern his struggling for success, be it overcoming Statler and Waldorf's heckling, the threat of being canceled or replaced when he's stuck in a magician's box, and bringing in his agent to negotiate his contract. Second season episodes will deal with Fozzie's desire for acceptance as he meets his idol, tries to impress his mother in the audience, finds ways to improve his act, and takes on more backstage responsibility. Then in the third season, we'll follow Fozzie confronting his insecurity by going to group therapy, asking Kermit for a list of his good points and bad points, and trying to become more assertive.
Harvey Korman would later have the honor of being the only actor to perform in both of the Flintstones movies (with contributions by The Jim Henson Creature Shop) in different roles (The Dictabird and Colonel Slaghoople).
Guest starring: Harvey Korman
Episode 14: Mummenschanz
This episode marks the debut of one of Gonzo's trademarks. Him rapidly rushing on camera with a "WHOOSH" sound effect.
This is John Lovelady and Eren Ozker's final episode. Only the core five of Jim Henson, Frank Oz, Jerry Nelson, Richard Hunt, and Dave Goelz will return for season two joined later in the second year by an uncredited Louise Gold.
Behind the scenes, Jack Burns will retire from the show bumping longtime Henson Associate Jerry Juhl up to the position of head writer. We'll see the significant effects these changes have on the show when The Muppet Show Episode Guides returns with its look at Season Two.
Eren leaves the show to have a child and John will resurface in the '80's as a puppeteer for a non-Henson puppet show called "The Great Space Coaster" along with some guy named Kevin Clash.
Episode 15: Charles Aznavour
The now famous opening number "I Feel Pretty" was first performed on the 1973 special "Julie on Sesame Street" starring Julie Andrews and Perry Como. The character "changes" are much more smooth three years later. In the Muppet Show version Beautiful Day Monster arrives at the door while on the 1973 Sesame Street version, Frazzle is waiting for his beauty!
Before Charles tries his French experiment in the talk spot, he asks Kermit if Piggy speaks any French to which he replies she doesn't speak a word - although Piggy's demonstrated her use of the word "moi" two episodes ago.
In later seasons, her vocabulary would be peppered with more French. This isn't too much of a contradiction though as this episode takes place before any of Piggy's French speaking, excepting her use of "moi" which she could have easily picked up anywhere without knowing any other words. Even in later seasons, Piggy's mastery of the language is questioned, most notably in the Elke Sommer and Jean Pierre-Rampal episodes, implying that while Piggy has mastered a few select words/phrases, she doesn't know enough to pass a French 101 exam.
Guest starring: Charles Aznavour
Episode 16: Kaye Ballard
When Kermit asks Animal if he likes the theme, he starts to agree until Floyd prompts him otherwise. This is the only indication in the first season that Floyd has some kind of caretaking role with Animal.
Floyd's "Fugue for Frog" probably was ahead of its time in 1976. 25 years later after a thriving alternative music scene, it doesn't sound that bad in retrospect. It actually doesn't seem that far removed from the opening theme of The Muppet Show: Sex & Violence.
PUPPETEER SPOTTING: Dave Goelz's head can be seen throughout practically
the entire One Note Samba number in the crevice in the set dividing Zoot from Animal's drumkit.
Guest starring: Kaye Ballard
Episode 17: Ben Vereen
Ben Vereen received a Tony Award for his role in "Pippen". Before he became a star in his own right, Ben was an understudy for Sammy Davis Jr. in 1964.
A new version of Janice premieres in this episode. Janice has a new head sculpt.
Sam also received a makeover. The builders revised his head and made him slightly bluer in color.
Guest starring: Ben Vereen
Episode 18: Vincent Price
The Muppet Show's first (and the debut season's only) theme show. The spookiness and Muppet Monster motif will be reprised in season three's episode starring goth rocker Alice Cooper.
This episode largely features some refurbished versions of several puppets...a more polished and deep blue version of Sam Eagle appears along with a more detailed design of Boppity and a more refined Janice.
Dismembered body parts are a running gag throughout the episode. In addition to the "let me give you a hand" gag being done twice within five minutes, a lone hand can be seen walking off Kermit's desk earlier in the show and a monster also helps another one "get a head".
Thudge McGerk scares Statler out of the balcony in one of the earlier balcony scenes only to be replaced by Statler again throughout the rest of the episode up until the closing scene. Perhaps the first Thudge scene had been initially intended to appear later in the show but got bumped up because it had to follow an onstage piece with Vincent.
Out of the four Talking Houses, this is the only episode to focus on the two on the right.
For the first time, we see the Muppet Newsflash happening on another character's television screen. Even though this in itself is a significant departure from the norm, more noteworthy is the fact that at the end of the sketch, the Newsman's desk starts to attack him. Up until now, the humor in the News Flashes either derived from the oddness of the stories he was reading (which most likely flew completely over the children in the audiences' heads) or from a chromo-keyed interview the reporter would perform with the guest star playing a character. Beginning in the second season, the News Flashes would typically feature physical comedy with the Newsman often becoming victim of his own story.
The Newsman refers to Sheriff David Goelz (performer of Gonzo and Zoot) in his broadcast.
Vincent Price would have a reunion with Uncle Deadley and the rest of the Muppets when he appears as one of Kermit's guests during his guest-host stint on "The Tonight Show" in 1979.
Guest starring: Vincent Price
Episode 19: Twiggy
The Muppet Show was conceived not only as a showcase for Jim Henson's creations but also as a program where guest stars could show off talents they're not generally known for and Twiggy's stint is an excellent early example. One of the world's first "supermodels" before the term was phrased, Twiggy proves throughout the episode that she's a multitalented performer in her own right. She sings country convincingly and in her opening number, the temptation for the viewer may be to focus on the photo montage but it's also worth watching Twiggy's captivating performance on the other half of the screen. She also demonstrates a great comedic talent during her sketch with the Newsman.
Uncle Deadley is "introduced" in this episode even though he was already quite prominent in Vincent Price's show. While most of the Muppet monsters in the show's first season had evolved from pre-Muppet Show trunk puppets and Frackles from "The Great Santa Claus Switch", Deadley was created for The Muppet Show and his design is more elaborate and frightening. Many Muppet fans have confessed in the various fan forums to being scared of him when they were younger.
King Rupert is a classic Muppet that had evolved from a character named King Goshposh. Goshposh had appeared in "Tales of the Tinkerdee" and "Hey, Cinderella", and was given a makeover and name change when The Frog Prince was taped most likely to be able to use the same basic character but still be a "different" king.
And speaking of classic characters appearing in "The King's Breakfast", the sketch also features a cow who bears a notable physical and aural resemblance to Gladys the Cow from Sesame Street. Is it indeed supposed to be Gladys making a cameo? Aside from Kermit who was a well established character before Sesame Street made its debut, the few other characters who have also appeared on Sesame Street had been rebuilt with some design modifications for their Sesame Street appearances perhaps due to Children's Television Workshop's co ownership of the Sesame Street characters. (The exception being Ernie and Bert who were treated as "guest stars" in the Connie Stevens episode.)
The other characters who had appeared on both shows were the Snerfs, Beautiful Day Monster, and Mahna Mahna. (Rowlf had also made an appearance on Sesame Street, but this was more of a "star cameo" being that he had already gained fame in the Jimmy Dean Show.) Technically speaking, the version of Mahna Mahna that appears in the Muppet Show is the original design that had done the talk and variety show rounds before Sesame's debut and the Mahna Mahna used on the Street was built out of an Anything Muppet. Then later after Mahna was being viewed more of a member of the Muppet Show ensemble, the Sesame version was redesigned further with actual sunglasses and renamed Bip Bipadotta.
The difference between all of these characters and "Gladys" is that everyone else had been in existence before their Sesame Street appearances. Still whether it be due to contractual issues or perhaps the ease of rebuilding another character in London instead of searching for storage in New York, all the Muppets (except Kermit) who made the crossover were different puppets. Gladys however was a definite Sesame Street character created for the show. So whether the cow here was another example of a Sesame Street character crossing over with a different puppet design or just an inadvertent mindset from the puppet builders and Richard Hunt as to what a cow should look and sound like remains up for fan debate.
The German edition of this episode replaces Twiggy's opening number with German singer Mary Roos singing "Lean On Me" with The Electric Mayhem (with Rowlf filling in for Dr Teeth on piano). Floyd plays bongos. Since the German episodes of The Muppet Show also had specially shot openings with Kermit appearing in a "Die Muppet Show" logo, Kermit is able to announce the show's "two guest stars" here.
Guest starring: Twiggy
Episode 20: Phyllis Diller
Jim's love of jazz is evident in the performance of "Hugga Wugga". This sketch had evolved from a longtime favorite Henson sketch originally titled "Sclrap Flyapp" in the early sixties. It was originally performed on "The Today Show", "The Tonight Show" and "The Ed Sullivan Show". Jim played with the idea of combining eerie music, visual imagery and special effects. He tied-in one of his favorite songs, "You Are My Sunshine" with this sketch. It was renamed "Hugga Wugga" for Nancy Sinatra's early seventies' Las Vegas show.
Guest starring: Phyllis Diller
Episode 21: Ethel Merman
Who is the audience member that heckles Fozzie? It could be Wally, the host from The Muppets Valentine Show making his only speaking Muppet Show appearance. However he appears here without sunglasses and in other episodes of The Muppet Show, Wally is seen with sunglasses in the audience and dressed differently than the heckler. The personality doesn't quite fit with what had been established either.
More likely, it's a cameo from Leo from the Muppet Meeting Films making his only Muppet Show cameo! Even though his partner Grump would come later, Leo had already been making his sales pitches in 1975 with his classic "Sell, Sell, Sell" routine and was featured in a pitch tape for CBS to persuade them to pick up The Muppet Show. The heckler's talent for wordplay is much more in keeping with Leo's character.
This is the only first season episode to not contain an At The Dance segment.
Some other interesting observations on that audience scene...Fozzie's act concludes when everyone leaves when he demands only Fozzie Bear fans remain in the audience and is dejected to find his cousin has left as well. However his cousin exits his seat even BEFORE Fozzie turns his back and counts to three. (Maybe he slipped out to the concession stand?) He's gone before Leo starts counter-heckling Statler and Waldorf. Also, Miss Mousey switches seats with Mary Louise between the two exchanges!
Finally in regards to that audience, even though everyone leaves except Statler and Waldorf, they're all back in their seats to cheer on Ethel as she takes the stage and can be seen applauding at the end of her number (though this shot is one of the stock footage audience shots that's used throughout the season, complete with Wally with sunglasses and different outfit and Miss Mousey seated in another spot). They had apparently rushed back into their seats when they heard Ethel start her song from backstage.
Guest starring: Ethel Merman
Episode 22: Connie Stevens
Jerry Nelson is not credited for this episode.
As mentioned in the Prowse summary, a lot of these two episodes were reshot or reworked. Miss Piggy's karate chopping Kermit was probably added later as was the Newsman. This is the Newsman's debut episode, but this particular bit would have been shot toward the latter part of the season since he has his glasses and later voice.
The Swedish Chef (previously seen on Sex & Violence) debuts here. The Chef would become such a classic character that he would later get his own short-lived cereal, Croonchy Stars and even a newsgroup devoted to him! Jim Henson would operate the main puppet speaking in mock-Swedish while Frank Oz controlled the hands (using his real hands) often surprising Jim in the process.
Singing duo Wayne & Wanda are also introduced this episode as singers that Kermit obviously has been giving the run-around. They won't actually sing until next episode - and it will be the show's self appointed censor, Sam the Eagle who brings them on each episode. Wanda will only be seen this season (due to her puppeteer, Eren Ozker leaving the cast) while Wayne would pop up every now and then in later seasons. We learn in season 4 when the duo makes a surprise appearance that Kermit had fired them!
This is only one of two At The Dance segments in the first season where George & Mildred don't dance together; Mildred dances with Dr. Teeth while George is paired with Zelda Rose (first seen dancing with Sam Eagle in Sex & Violence).
"Sax & Violence" is a true Muppet classic - the song itself is instrumental, making it an odd choice for inclusion on the original soundtrack album! Especially since the joy in this piece is visual. All the humor comes from Zoot and Mahna's movements and reactions. It's very simple but extraordinarily funny!
In the first season scripts, the Newsman is referred to as "Muppet Reporter". Content with never actually naming him, he would come to be known as The Newsman from second season onward.
The "tradition" of giving the guest a Muppet likeness ends in this episode, having given Juliet Prowse a likeness the episode before.
Guest starring: Connie Stevens
Episode 23: Avery Schreiber
Much is made in this episode about Avery Schreiber's being one half on the comedy duo Burns & Screiber. The other half? First season head writer Jack Burns.
This would be the first of a few times when Scooter ends up assisting Miss Piggy in her wacky schemes.
Guest starring: Avery Schreiber
Episode 24: Juliet Prowse
While The Muppet Show had two specials that aired on ABC as pilots, The Muppets Valentine Show and The Muppet Show: Sex & Violence, this debut episode and the subsequent Connie Stevens show were shot before the rest as pilots as well.
According to Jerry Juhl, a lot of these two episodes were reshot or reworked. Though not as anarchic as the show would eventually become, it nonetheless stands out as a strong pilot episode. Having the show done in a theater (as opposed to a random assortment of sketches) added a sense of unity. Kermit, a well established character, makes a stronger host than Wally or Nigel. Let's see one of them get kissed twice in 25 minutes!
Much of the cast either came from one of the two pilots or previous Muppet productions, but the major supporting characters, Fozzie, Scooter, and Miss Piggy were brand new (although it could be argued a prototype Piggy appeared in Sex & Violence or even a 1974 Herb Albert Show appearance). Throughout the year, more new characters would be created as well as expanding the cast with more older characters from various specials.
Although most major characters had a continual puppeteer, there was a lot of character switching in the first season. Many background characters and monsters would have a different performer/voice each appearance. Jerry Nelson, who played Statler in Sex & Violence (and Waldorf in the Muppet Meeting Films) reportedly did Statler a few times, Mildred would have at least three performers (who all did a good job trying to use the same voice), and Miss Piggy was initially traded off between Richard Hunt and Frank Oz, often in the same episode.
Indeed, in this episode, she's first played by Richard Hunt in "At the Dance" then in "Temptation", the infamous scene where she goes from chorus girl to star, she's voiced by Frank Oz speaking and Richard Hunt singing!! It's possible that Oz's voice could have been dubbed later but more likely, Frank is physically performing Piggy and the song was prerecorded with Richard's vocals.
It's interesting to note how Piggy may have sounded had Hunt ended up performing her regularly instead of Oz. While Richard is known for his vocal talents, Oz was initially scared of doing voices and not as strong a singer as Hunt, Jerry Nelson, and John Lovelady. Yet, later in the season, Frank would stretch his ability surprising everyone, including himself, as he started doing some Piggy singing. Also note Piggy does not wear long evening gloves.
The pig with brown hair in the closing number is a rebuilt Dr. Nauga from "Sex & Violence". This pig would be seen frequently throughout season 1. Next year it will be transformed yet again into the Dr. Nauga-inspired Dr. Julius Strangepork.
The "Temptation" number is really the high point of the episode - even aside from its significance as Miss Piggy's launching. Before the song even begins, the whole routine of Kermit trying to conduct the clueless Glee Club is hysterically funny and becomes wilder when the song begins - Piggy's a joy to watch even when she's still in the chorus. Keep your eye on Piggy when she sings, "Here is my heart" and thrusts her chest into Kermit's face...and Kermit's priceless reaction!
Mildred and George, not having been romantically linked in their previous appearances, would end up as dancing partners in almost each installment of At The Dance this year. Each week, Frank Oz attempts to upstage the other performers with Mildred/George's dancing which gets wilder each week. Interestingly enough, in England around this time, there was a sitcom called "George & Mildred" which was a spin-off of "Man About the House", the show that the American "Three's Company" was based on. ("George & Mildred" would have been the British equivalent of "The Ropers".)
Standup comedian Fozzie Bear was originally planned to be the "second banana". Even though he's on stage in other songs and sketches, he doesn't actually do any monologues (aside from his opening theme jokes) in the aired versions of the first two episodes. (However, Fozzie's comedy act is the very first act in the original unaired version of this episode).
Jerry Nelson, one of the veteran Muppeteers at this point, was not involved with a lot of the season's earliest episodes but would become a regular performer in the latter half of the season. Muppet fans may also have been surprised that the cast does not include Fran Brill, who was the main female puppeteer with the Muppets at the time, having performed in "Sesame Street", "Saturday Night Live", Muppet Meeting Films, and the "Sex and Violence pilot". She would eventually do a couple episodes this season only. Eren Ozker would be the main female presence on the show, but did not return for season two in order to return to the States and start her family.
For the purposes of this episode guide the purple monster that appears in the Western Sketch will be referred to as "Miss Kitty" since this is the only time where any name was given to the character.