The title character was a humanoid named Sam, but a more enduring star of the series was Kermit, who was not yet a frog. Other characters included the voracious Yorick, beatnik Harry the Hipster, excitable Professor Madcliffe, Chicken Liver, and utility players Hank and Frank. Other characters possessed more ephemeral personalities, and in many cases, their existence is defined only by photographs and surviving puppets. This roster includes Mushmellon, Icky Gunk, Henrietta, Omar, Moldy Hay, and the earliest Muppet star, Pierre the French Rat, amongst others. Characters were performed by Henson and Jane Nebel, with Bob Payne (who joined in 1958 to substitute for a Europe-bound Henson) and Jerry Juhl filling in for Nebel in the final season.
The series was heavily reliant, particularly in its earliest installments, on puppet characters lip-synching to records, usually novelty songs or comedy routines from the likes of Stan Freberg, Bob and Ray, Spike Jones, and Louis Prima, amongst others. Henson experimented with character voices in such sketches as "Visual Thinking," and in commercials for the show's sponsor, Esskay Meats. Though the earliest skits were in black and white, later sketches such as "Poisen to Poisen" were transmitted in color.
Some of the show's original puppets have appeared on display in museum exhibits such as the Muppets and Mechanisms: Jim Henson's Legacy exhibit at The Smithsonian Institution (which later became a part of the Smithsonian's permanent collection), and the Worlds of Puppetry exhibit at the Center for Puppetry Arts.
According to the Jim Henson Company Archives, very few of the original shorts have survived over the years. In the days before videotape, shows would have to be deliberately recorded on kinescope by pointing a film camera at a video monitor. Jim Henson "rarely bothered to record his programs, unless he was trying out a new technique or wanted to review a particular aspect of his performance."
Some of the existing spots can be viewed at The Paley Center for Media; others are shown at special screening events at venues such as the Museum of the Moving Image. As airdates are mostly unknown, segments are listed here alphabetically by the most well-documented title (with the exception of the final episode).
|C'est Si Bon||In a French village setting, Moldy Hay lipsynchs to Stan Freberg's rendition of "C'est Si Bon," with Hank and Frank repeating his dialogue too literally as backup choir.|
|Chef Omar||Omar prepares a chef salad, which blows up in his face when he serves it flaming.|
|Glow Worm||Humming along to "The Glow-Worm", Kermit is bugged by some inchworm-like fingers and is later met with a human hand.|
|A Horse Named Bill||Kermit lipsynchs and plays the banjo to a recording of "A Horse Named Bill". This sketch is sometimes called "Loona" (referencing the singer's object of affection, Luna) when featured in exhibits.|
|Hunger is From||Lipsynching to "Hunger is From", Yorick details his midnight snacking while eating a plate full of food.|
|Huntley and Brinkley||In a parody of The Huntley-Brinkley Report, Kermit hosts an interview with NBC News anchormen Chet Huntley and David Brinkley (as played by Hank and Frank).|
|I've Got You Under My Skin||Icky Gunk, and Hank and Frank serve as chorus singers in a lipsynched rendition of Stan Freberg's "I've Got You Under My Skin" while Kermit, in spoken dialogue, messes up the lyrics.|
|Poison to Poison||Lipsynching to the Spike Jones track "Poisen to Poisen", Harry the Hipster (as "Ed Burrow") interviews Chicken Liver (as Alfred Hitchcock) in his rather horrifying home.|
|Powder-Burn||A pun-filled Gunsmoke parody with Marshall Dilly (Chicken Liver) preparing for a showdown with Black Bart (Yorick) which results in a game of chess.|
|Singin' in the Rain||A little girl Muppet lipsynchs to a double-speed version of "Singin' in the Rain". The scene ends with her submerged in a bucket of water.|
|That Old Black Magic (1957)||Kermit and Sam lipsynch to a recording of "That Old Black Magic" by Louis Prima and Keely Smith .|
|Visual Thinking (1959)||In a mix of puppetry and animation, Harry demonstrates the art of Visual Thinking to Kermit -- and what it does to you once it gets out of control.|
|The Westerners||Lipsynching to the Bob and Ray recording The Westerners, Kermit and Chicken Liver are two cowboys who are having a little trouble getting off their horses. This sketch is sometimes called "Riding Horses Backwards" in exhibitions.|
|Weather Warehouse||Harry demonstrates to a skeptical Kermit his new business for selling weather, and gives him a tour of the warehouse.|
|The Yellow Rose of Texas||Kermit lipsynchs to a Stan Freberg recording of "The Yellow Rose of Texas" and deals with an out-of-control drummer.|
|Final Episode (December 15, 1961)||Kermit sings a song, then discusses the end of the series with Harry -- who blows up all the scenery and equipment since they won't need it anymore. (This sketch is not generally available for viewing, although the footage is known to still exist.)|
While video footage exists for some segments, others have been documented either by the Henson Archives or newspaper articles published while Sam and Friends was still on the air.
- The Muppets made regular appearances on Today beginning in 1961. Some of these segments were performed from their Sam and Friends set, communicating with Today hosts via satellite. One such performance of "Yes! We Have No Bananas" is documented in Time and Again; whether these segments were also done on Sam and Friends is unknown.
- Hank, Sam, and Moldy Hay in a car by a roadside sign. Video footage is not known to exist, but a photo appears in Jim Henson: The Works.
- Stan Freberg himself pops his head into frame and criticizes the Muppets for using his records without giving him credit. Kermit says "here's a little credit" and pounds him back out of frame with a mallet.
- Henson used a puppet made from the skull of a squirrel to lipsynch to a recording of "There's a New Sound."
- In The Muppet Show episode 218, Kermit introduces "Tweedle Dee" as "the very first piece of material the Muppets ever did ... about 23 years ago."
- A sad love song is sung by a Muppet who holds a picture of his lady-love upside-down.
- One segment involves a character running around frantically looking for a hammer to use on his rocket.
- ↑ Report by Andrew Young of a panel at The Paley Center for Media.
- ↑ 2.0 2.1 Shown as part of "Henson in High Definition: The Early Years" at Museum of the Moving Image on May 22, 2015
- ↑ ToughPigs forum
- ↑ Jim Henson's Red Book 12/15/1961 – ‘Sam and Friends Last Show’
- ↑ Documents found in visit to Henson Archives via User:Toughpigs, User:Pantalones, and User:Scarecroe
- ↑ The GrantCast EPISODE #001 – Stan Freberg Talks About Jim Henson!
- ↑ Jim Henson: The Biography by Brian Jay Jones (page 63)
- ↑ J. Y. Smith, "Jim Henson, Creator of Muppets Dies at 53," Washington Post, May 17, 1990
- ↑ Jim Henson's Red Book 1/13/1966 - Tonight Show - "Money" and "Sclrap Flyapp"
- ↑ 10.0 10.1 10.2 Christian Science Monitor "Muppets Win Way" by Ursula Keller, December 15, 1959, via Jim Henson's Red Book "2/-/1955 – ‘Began working together. [Jane]‘"