Maybe you saw this tweet and accompanying poll that caused a moderate amount of hub-bub last week.
As you can see, reason prevailed in the end, and the vast majority of replies correctly asserted that the Sesame Street puppets are Muppets. But there were a lot of people in the thread confidently spouting wrong answers. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that most people aren’t reading the credits or watching the behind-the-scenes material that refers to Grover and the gang as Muppets – or when they do, they don’t retain that detail.
Some people essentially said “No, the Sesame Street characters aren’t on The Muppet Show, so they’re not Muppets.” Some people essentially said “No, they’re all puppets, but only the ones on The Muppet Show are Muppets.” And I’m pretty sure I saw two different people claim that most of them are Muppets, but Big Bird and Snuffy aren’t.
I was quite proud to see that at least three people in the thread linked to my Tough Pigs article “Yes, the Sesame Street Characters Are Muppets” as evidence. And only one of those people is married to me! (If you haven’t read that, or if it’s been a while, check it out! It’s full of screenshots and stuff!)
Despite all this, I’m not mad at anyone who answered “No, they’re not Muppets” in this poll. It’s confusing for the average person, who may not even be aware that the word “Muppet” is trademarked. It’s even more confusing when you consider today’s split ownership of multiple groups of characters who all used to be under the same umbrella. If anyone asks, I’ll tell them the Fraggles are Muppets, but that statement needs an asterisk because the Jim Henson Company can no longer promote them by calling them “the Fraggle Rock Muppets.”
So when we’re talking about a show that predates The Muppet Show and is generally a separate entity, but had some overlap with appearances by Kermit and occasional cameos and crossovers… Well, it’s considerably more challenging than identify which one of these things is not like the others.
If you really think about it, it’s Jim Henson’s fault. When he made his own show, he called it The Muppet Show, despite the fact that his characters “the Muppets” were already known from Sesame Street. We wouldn’t be having these conversations if he had just called it something else. Like, say… The Funny and Musical But Not Educational Show. Except that doesn’t work because there have been a lot of other TV shows that are funny and musical but not educational.
He could have called it The Kermit the Frog and His Friends Show, except that doesn’t really work because Kermit was also on Sesame Street and I’m pretty sure he’s friends with those characters even though a lot of them annoy him.
It’s pretty clear what Jim should have called his show: The Zany Puppet Variety Show That Takes Place in a Theater. Then there would be a little note on the title screen that says “starring Jim Henson’s Muppets, but not the ones from Sesame Street, these are some different ones.”
This would have eliminated all ambiguity. No one would have to ask “Are the Sesame Street characters also the characters from The Zany Puppet Variety Show That Takes Place in a Theater?” because the answer is obvious. It would be like asking “Are the characters from Taxi the same as the characters from Cheers?”
The movies, of course, would be called The Zany Puppet Variety Show That Takes Place in a Theater Movie, The Great Zany Puppet Variety Show That Takes Place in a Theater Caper, The Zany Puppet Variety Show That Takes Place in a Theater Takes Manhattan, and so on. When a new production starring these characters came out, nobody would be asking “Where’s Cookie Monster?” because they would know Cookie Monster only appears in Sesame Street projects and not in Zany Puppet Variety Show projects.
And when ABC aired the 2015 sitcom starring Kermit and Miss Piggy, it would be called The Guys from the Zany Puppet Variety Show But Now They’re Less Zany. This would also send an immediate message to viewers so their expectations would be realistic. What a missed opportunity.
It’s not too late. Disney owns the Muppets and the “MUPPETS” brand, and they can do anything they want with them. In recent years they’ve mostly chosen to do nothing with them, but I’m sure it would only take a slightly huge stack of paperwork to change the name. They should do it now, while the Twitter thread is fresh in the minds of the few thousand people who participated. We’ll do our part by changing the tagline of this website to “Fans of the Muppets, Including The Zany Puppet Variety Show That Takes Place in a Theater and Sesame Street and Other Things, Who Grew Up.”
The confusion will be cleared up in no time. And families will never argue about anything ever again!
Click here to be confused on the Tough Pigs forum!
by Ryan Roe – Ryan@ToughPigs.com