You may have noticed that there’s not much on ToughPigs about EM.TV and who’s going to own the Henson Company. When I started working on the site, I dutifully printed out all the articles I’ve collected about EM’s financial problems. I read all about the possibilities of Disney buying Henson, or Viacom buying Henson, or Henson employees buying Henson– And I just looked at it all and thought, For goodness sakes. Who really cares?

Well, apparently, Muppet fans do. Lots of my Muppet-fan friends talk about the company’s finances constantly, fretting over every rumor and every detail in a way that wouldn’t have been possible five years ago – back in those happy days before the Internet proved that if a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, then a lot of knowledge is even worse. I have talked to twelve-year-olds who are actually worried about EM’s stock price. The mood among Muppet fans is grim, and the talk turns to doom and despair.

And it just doesn’t make sense. By any reasonable criteria (mine), 2001 has been an amazing year for Muppet fans. The Henson Company has announced a year-long celebration for the Muppet Show‘s 25th anniversary. A new version of MuppetVision 3D opened at Disneyland’s California Adventure, and Disney produced a line of new toys, including the very first Beaker doll ever. Then, just a couple months later, Junior Toys released a second Beaker doll, plus a lot of other new toys, and they’re now available to American fans over the Internet. Midway put out Muppet Racemania – a fun, well-produced game that’s very faithful to the Muppet spirit. Henson was mercifully released from the disastrous Odyssey deal, making it possible to get their most beloved shows off a channel that nobody watches. Bear in the Big Blue House has become a big hit, and the new Bear videos are best-sellers.

Meanwhile, in the UK, Henson is scoring more TV hits with Mopatop’s Shop, The Hoobs and Construction Site – all of them adorable, funny shows – and two of those are coming to America soon. This summer, the Muppet movies were released on DVD, followed by uncut Muppet Show episodes on DVD. As if that wasn’t enough, in a month we’ve got Muppetfest – the biggest thing that the Henson Company has ever done targeted directly at adult Muppet fans.

Honestly, I haven’t been this optimistic about the Muppets since ’95, when Treasure Island and Muppets Tonight were first announced. It’s that good right now.

But some Muppet fans won’t be happy unless Disney owns the Muppets– and some won’t be happy unless the Henson Company is independent again. The arguments go back and forth, and everyone’s fretting about The Future of The Muppets as if we were Henson executives instead of audience members. It has to

I am entirely serious about this: If you are a Muppet fan, and the prospect of Beaker dolls, uncut TMS videos, and an honest-to-goodness Muppet fan convention does not make you uncontrollably happy, then your heart is consumed with bitterness and you must turn back now before it is too late. Go make yourself a snack. Lie down on the couch. Watch Bear in the Big Blue House until you feel better.

Look! It’s Tutter the mouse. Tutter is so funny. Funny, funny Tutter.

There. All better? Good.

So let’s review some of the basic facts of capitalism. The American entertainment and licensing industries exist solely to take money out of your pocket and give it to whoever owns the Muppets. The Muppets are beloved evergreen characters, recognized around the world. Therefore, anyone who sells Muppet Movie soundtracks to college students will make money. Therefore, the Muppets will never die. They want your money. You want Kermit T-shirts. You do the math.

Don’t be fooled into being pessimistic just because Henson’s financial roller-coaster is in a momentary downturn. We are not stockholders. We are audience members. Henson is a big, grown-up company, and it can take care of itself. It always has. And we’ve always been there, through good times and bad, through The Dark Crystal and Muppets From Space – and even through Henson’s death.

If there was ever a dark time for Muppet fans, a time when it was possible that there would be no more Muppets, it was the summer of 1990. Remember? All of a sudden, with no warning – Jim was just gone. It was like the world ended. The Disney deal was falling apart. Everybody was suing everybody. Nobody knew if another puppeteer could ever perform Kermit again. The Henson family gave serious thought to just turning the lights off and closing
the doors.

They pulled through. They will pull through again. The show will go on. Keep believing, keep pretending. That’s what show business is all about. That’s what the Muppets are all about.

I’ll see you at Muppetfest.

by Danny Horn

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