Friday, May 13, 2016

The Muppets Cancelled!

It seems not even corporate synergy was able to save ABC's The Muppets

Yesterday word spread of ABC's decisions to cancel the series after only one season.

After digesting the news, I'm now able to compile my thoughts on the cancellation of the show. Though, I think a little history is due. 

First and foremost we need to acknowlege that The Muppets do not have a great history with network TV. 

In 1975, when Jim Henson pitched his idea for The Muppet Show the big three networks - ABC, NBC, and CBS all turned him down. This was before cable, kids. When they said no, there weren't many options left. 

As many fans already know, the show was eventually produced in the UK and aired in the US in first run syndication. For the most part that meant that The Muppet Show usually aired in the time slots before the network shows came on. Sometime usually between 6pm - 8pm in the slots currently now reserved for local programming and shows like Jeopardy, and Extra.  

That means that not only did The Muppet Show not directly compete with prime time shows, but it also aired in different times on different days in different areas.  

It was also broadcast worldwide with a full 22 episode commitment. 

I'm not telling you anything new when I say that audiences around the world found the show when it aired, loved it, and it became widely sucessful. We all know that. When speaking about The Muppets cancellation some reports said that even The Muppet Show was canceled. While I guess that's technically true, I don't consider it a "cancellation" when shows creators decide to end a series. In 1981, after 5 years Jim Henson decide that was enough of The Muppet Show and wanted to move on to new ideas.

It would be 8 years before the next  primetime Muppet series

The Jim Henson Hour was very ambitious and paired the Muppets with other more mature content created by Jim Henson's Creature Shop. After a 10 minute pilot presentation and some notes from the network, NBC picked up the anthology show and aired it Friday nights at 8pm.

As is typically with Friday night shows, the rantings weren't very good. The series averaged a mere 5.3 rating and ranked 100th out of 105 programs to air that season. With the show's fifth episode, and little promotion, NBC moved the series to Sunday night. That episode was show's lowest rated and NBC cancelled the series after it aired. They burned off the remaining episodes over the summer and left three completed episodes unaired. 

Needless to say Jim Henson wasn't happy about the cancellation, writing in that year's company's report that "I don't particularly like the way NBC handled us, but what the hey, that's network TV. [The series] was really coming together nicely and I'm sure that we would have made it even better in subsequent seasons." In an interview with American Film magazine, Henson added "They put us in a time slot that they had been consistently not doing very well in, and we also did not do very well."

In 1996, The Muppets made their return to primetime in a more straight forward update of The Muppet Show Muppets Tonight.

ABC aired the show as a midseason replacement during their Friday TGIF block of family comedies. 13 episodes were ordered, though only 10 would air before it was canceled.  
The show was then picked by the Disney Channel, which ordered an additional 9 episodes.

Like The Jim Henson Hour, Muppets Tonight focused on new characters while many of the more established Muppets like Fozzie and Miss Piggy were sidelined, or like Scooter and Dr. Teeth, not featured at all. This was due to a variety of reasons, and while some great characters emerged like Pepe and Bobo, audiences missed their favorite Muppet Show characters. 

Ten years later, The Muppets went back across the pond for their next series, Muppets TV.
The French series aired on TF1 and didn't have any of the regular Muppet performers. 

Instead, the show was performed entirely in French by French puppeteers and featured only  French celebrities. Due to station management changes and poor ratings, the show was cancelled after 10 45-minute episodes.

Which bring us to the present cancellation of The Muppets.

In spring of 2015 Bill Prady floated the idea of new Muppet series that would be shot mockumentary style and focus of the characters lives outside of a late night talk show. ABC boss Paul Lee liked the concept so much, the show was rushed into development and the show was picked up of for fall 2015 instead of 2016 as the producers had intended. As there wasn't enough time to make a full pilot, only a 10 minute presentation was made. 

ABC loved the presentation and announced The Muppets would air Tuesdays 8pm. 

When The Muppets was announced by ABC the internet went nuts with joy and anticipation. This was partly due to to it being reported as a return of The Muppet Show. Once it was revealed that the show wouldn't be a variety show, but focus on the characters personal  lives enthusiasm waned. 

ABC sent a bus showing the presentation to select cities around the US to drum up publicity. And after the 10 minute pilot presentation made it's way online many people decided to check out the new show after all. 

The show premiered with 9 million viewers and a 2.7 in the coveted 18-49 demo. Audiences (and One Million Moms) grumbled about the more adult humor, the tone of the show, and the behind the scenes concept. 

Halfway through the series Kristen Newman was brought on to course correct the show and add more "joy." While the quality and tone vastly improved there was little on air promotion to emphasize the changes. This was further compounded by the network changing the show's time slot to 8:30PM. 

Promos for social media that were already made (by The Muppets themselves  - NOT the network mind you) had to be altered and by the time the two-part finale aired at 8pm (not even at the shows now usually time slot of 8:30) it had only 2.7 million viewers and a 0.8 adults. 

During the change in show runners, there was also a shake up up at the ABC network itself. ABC president Paul Lee, who championed the show from start (if rushing it) was ousted, and replaced by the networks head of drama Channing Dungey.

As you see The Muppets have been cancelled numerous times for low ratings, shifting network priorities, and the like. 

Their time at ABC is over (again). They now either need to shop The Muppets around to a new home like Netflix, other Disney owned outlets like Disney Channel and Freeform (formerly ABC Family), or create an entirely new series. 

The point of this history lesson is that we've been here before. I liked The Muppets, it was  better then Muppets Tonights and either of the last two feature films.

There was talk about the show being developed for Netflix, before Paul Lee wanted it for ABC.  So let's see if we can make that happen. As kermit once said "the show's not dead as long as we believe in it."

It's time to get the social media hashtags #PickupTheMuppetsNetflix, #SaveTheMuppetsNetflix, or #Muppets4Netflix or something similar trending. 

We can do it. The big three and cable are no long the only games in town. 


  1. The ratings for the show were terrible to say the least. Two episodes that aired on Sundays during the summer couldn't even manage a 10 percent audience share.

    Fridays at 8:00 pm:
    Episode 1 (April 14, 1989): 7.7/14
    Episode 2 (April 21, 1989): 6.2/13
    Episode 3 (April 28, 1989): 5.8/11
    Episode 4 (May 5, 1989): 5.6/10

    Sundays at 7:00 pm
    Episode 5 (May 14, 1989): 5.2/11

    Summer Burnoffs.
    Sundays at 7:00 pm
    Episode 6 (July 9, 1989): 4.6/10
    Episode 7 (July 16, 1989): 3.9/8
    Episode 8 (July 23, 1989): 4.0/9
    Episode 9 (July 30, 1989): 4.6/10

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Based on the airdates, I guess you're referring to The Jim Henson Hour. Do you have a source for those numbers?

    3. Yes, I'm referring to The Jim Henson Hour and I got most of my info from Broadcasting Magazine: