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The Jim Henson Hour

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Title.jhh
First aired April 14, 1989
Last aired July 30, 1989
Network NBC
Seasons
No. of episodes 12
Promo.jimhensonhour01

Ubu, Xandra, Digit, Kermit, Leon, Lindbergh, and Jim Henson.

Jimhour

Jim Henson with the Thought Lion hosts an hour of television.

The Jim Henson Hour was an hour-long prime-time anthology series produced by Jim Henson as a showcase for a variety of Jim Henson Productions' television work. The short-lived series aired over the course of four months in 1989. During this time, a total of nine episodes (out of twelve produced in total) aired on NBC, before the low-rated series was cancelled.

Format

The Jim Henson Hour was modeled after the old Walt Disney Presents specials, in which every week Walt Disney would show off the latest innovations and creations of his production company. At the beginning of each episode, Jim Henson would enter a computer-generated set (alongside the Thought Lion from The Storyteller) and introduce the evening's show.

Ordinarily, the hour was divided into two parts. The first half hour would feature a modernized variation of The Muppet Show, titled MuppeTelevision. Hosted by a mix of old and new Muppet characters, the shows featured celebrity guests, musical numbers and comedy sketches.

The second half-hour featured more serious and sometimes darker content, such as installments of The Storyteller and Lighthouse Island. Occasionally, a light-hearted story or more Muppet antics (such as Miss Piggy's Hollywood) would close out the hour.

Several episodes featured extended full-episode mini-movies: such as the comedic film noir "Dog City"; the more dramatic "Monster Maker" and "Living with Dinosaurs"; and a behind the scenes special, entitled "Secrets of the Muppets".

Development

Jhhmups

Clockwise from left: Unnamed bird character, Jim Henson, Lindbergh, Kermit, Zondra, and Digit.

Jim with devil Monster Maker episode

The idea for The Jim Henson Hour was first made by Henson to NBC head Brandon Tartikoff on August 22, 1987. Tartikoff liked the idea enough that he asked Henson to prepare a formal proposal and pitch reel—which NBC paid for—that Tartikoff could share with other network executives.[1]

Henson filmed a pitch reel on September 25, 1987 on a set designed to resembled an idealized version of the Muppet Workshop. In the pitch reel, and an accompanying written proposal, Henson outlined his original vision for the series.

The original plan was for the show to have a rotating schedule of four different kinds of episodes; one for each week of the month. The first week would feature an hour-long episode of The Storyteller. The second week would feature Lead-Free TV, Henson's concept for "The Muppet Show from the future." The third week would feature a picture-book special in the vein of Emmet Otter's Jug Band Christmas, The Christmas Toy and The Tale of the Bunny Picnic. In the fourth week "anything could happen"—a detective story with Kermit and the gang, a story about an enchanted bowling ball, an outer space adventure or a look behind the scenes.

The anthology format of The Jim Henson Hour recalled Walt Disney's popular Sunday-night series known under various titles, including DisneylandWalt Disney Presents and The Wonderful World of Disney.

In December 1987, NBC picked up the series for a half season order (13 episodes) and originally planned to begin airing the series in January 1989 (it was later delayed until April).[2] However, NBC insisted on some format changes to Henson's original proposal; the executives did not like Henson's proposal of a weekly rotation of episode types. Instead of comprehensive themed hours, the network suggested that the first half hour be made up of various Muppet and comedy segments, while the second half hour could be a long piece, such as an installment of The Storyteller or another original feature.

Henson was allowed to produce one hour-long special per month, but seems to have bent the rules slightly to produce more than that. These included Monster Maker and Living With Dinosaurs, but also Sesame Street: 20 and Still Counting , and arguably Secrets of the Muppets and Dog City . No hour-long Storyteller episodes were ever produced.

Henson's idea for Lead-Free TV evolved into "MuppeTelevision"—a segment featuring existing and new Muppets characters lead by Kermit the Frog in a futuristic television control room.

Muppet Show director Peter Harris was selected as director for the series; other notable directors considered included Sam Raimi and Brad Bird.[3]

According to Henson biographer Brian Jay Jones, Henson was skeptical about appearing on camera and originally wanted Kermit the Frog to host the series; however NBC wanted Henson to host. In July 1988, Henson was put in the hands of a coach and stylist to help him get comfortable in front of the camera. To help Henson look less stiff on camera, Peter Harris suggested they give Henson someone, or something, to interact with. So Henson hosted the show alongside the mostly silent sidekick of the Thought Lion originally from The Storyteller. Jerry Juhl said the lion was selected for no reason at all "except that it was kind of wonderful and gave Henson something to talk to without folding his arms."[4] While Henson hosted his pitch reel from a Muppet Workshop, Henson wanted something more dynamic and high-tech for the series and a magical computer-generated set was designed for Henson and the lion to host from.

Working titles for the show include "Jim Henson Presents," "The Jim Henson Family Hour" and "The Jim Henson Show."[5]

Airing

In April 1989, NBC began airing The Jim Henson Hour on Friday nights. In the same time slot a week before the series debuted, the special Sesame Street: 20 and Still Counting aired with the same closing credits font and closing logo as the series proper, and was referred to by critic John J. O'Connor as "really sort of the first installment of The Jim Henson Hour."[6]

Critics were not kind to the show, calling it "flawed"[7] and "dull."[8] The show on average brought in a mere 5.3 rating and ranked 100th out of 105 programs to air that season. In May, with the series' fifth episode, NBC moved the show to Sunday night. The episode brought in the show's lowest ratings. NBC cancelled the series after the episode, burning off remaining episodes by airing them over the summer and leaving three episodes unaired. During its time on NBC, only a total of nine episodes aired. Two remaining episodes later made their US television premiere as specials on Nickelodeon in 1992 and 1993, and the final episode never aired in the United States.

In the company's 1989 summer quarterly report, Henson lamented the cancellation, writing: "I don't particularly like the way NBC handled us, but what they 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."[9]

In a late 1989 interview with American Film magazine, Henson was asked if he would "try again" with The Jim Henson Hour. "I don't think so," Henson responded. "That was with NBC, and they cancelled us after the fifth show was on the air, so that was a bit of a frustration. Though we had six Emmy nominations from it, the ratings were quite bad. 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."[10]

Frank Oz spoke of the series saying: "Whatever Jim did, even some of the things that failed, there was always amazing stuff in it, but The Jim Henson Hour just didn't have the usual Jim focus. It was more like a grab bag of the brilliant thing he'd done.""[11]

The MuppeTelevision segments have been rerun, by themselves, on CTS in Canada (part of the package that also includes The Muppet Show and Muppets Tonight). Since the show is now only half an hour long, Henson's introductions are entirely different, with Henson only talking about the MuppeTelevision half of the program. The title, meanwhile, is changed to The Jim Henson Show. As a result, the first half of the opening theme is flipped left-to-right so that the Griffin's crystal ball lines up with the letter O in "show" rather than "hour."

Episodes

Unused Ideas

In addition to the abandoned hour-long Storyteller episodes, Lead-Free TV and picture-book specials, Henson had many ideas for potential episodes or features that were never produced. These ideas included: The Saga of Fraggle Rock, a Fraggle Rock origin story; Inside John, a variation on Henson's Limbo concept, in which the various parts of a seventeen-year-old boy's brain try to wrest control of him throughout a typical day; and ASTRO G.N.E.W.T.S., a special that would have blended puppets with animation, computer graphics, and video effects.[12] Other stories were proposed involving enchanted bowling balls, extraterrestrial mailmen, outer-space adventures, and even a detective story with Kermit and the Muppet gang.[13] Henson also considered adapting Madeleine L'Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time and the works of A. A. Milne.[12] Also proposed was "an hour-long musical special featuring The Electric Mayhem in Mexico".[14]

Gallery

Video releases

Many of the specials featured on the series, such as all of The Storyteller episodes, "Dog City," "Song of the Cloud Forest," "Monster Maker," and "Lighthouse Island" have received DVD, digital download, video-on-demand, or other home video releases. Internationally, "Miss Piggy's Hollywood" was released on a Portuguese DVD (entitled A Fantástica Miss Piggy) and "Dog City" and "Monster Maker" were released in Japan on laserdisc by KSS Films.

None of the MuppetTelevision episodes have received home video release.

Notes

Lion outtake from Jim Henson Hour 00:44

Lion outtake from Jim Henson Hour

Staged outtake from "Fitness" (Half-hour version)

  • Footage from earlier Muppet productions is shown on the television monitors at the Muppet Central control room throughout the series, as well as footage shot specifically for the series. Footage from The Muppet Show and Sam & Friends can be spotted, as well as footage of Kai-Lee and PJ from the Play-A-Long video series
  • An outtake was staged featuring the Thought Lion nearly attacking Jim. This was shot at the same time as the alternate half-hour intro to Fitness.
  • A promotional photo of Henson with the show's main cast shows an unknown pink reporter bird character, who appears on the monitors with Lindbergh in several episodes and was probably intended for a larger role in the series.
  • A promotional booklet for what was then called "The Jim Henson Show" shows a photograph of a man digging a grave, which appears in no known episode.
  • An NBC TV advertisement for the first episode shows two shots from "Living With Dinosaurs", which is not from the episode (it featured The Storyteller "The Heartless Giant").
  • Ads for the rest of the episodes were presumably edited along with the show itself, since they use effects seen in the series—a page peel ("Power") and box-shaped monitors spinning in space ("Secrets of the Muppets").
  • In 1989, Thermos produced a plastic Jim Henson Hour lunchbox to tie in with the series. The lunchbox features a picture of the series' new characters—Ubu, Zondra, Digit, Leon and Lindbergh.

Promotional booklet

Sources

  1. Jim Henson: The Biography by Brian Jay Jones (pages 404)
  2. Jim Henson: The Biography by Brian Jay Jones (pages 405-406)
  3. Jim Henson: The Biography by Brian Jay Jones (page 416)
  4. Jim Henson: The Biography by Brian Jay Jones (page 423)
  5. 8/22/1987 - Meet with Brandon Tartikoff/ Propose The Jim Henson Hour. All summer - filming "The Bear" Jean Jacques Amiel in Alps Creature Shop project
  6. The New York Times. April 7, 1989
  7. "A Madcap Mix of Jim Henson's Muppetry" by Matt Roush (USA Today). April 13, 1989.
  8. "Henson's Happy Ending" by Tom Shales (Washington Post). April 14, 1989
  9. Jim Henson, HA! Quarterly Report, Summer 1989
  10. "Jim Henson: Miss Piggy went to market and $150 million came home", American Film. November, 1989.
  11. Jim Henson: The Biography by Brian Jay Jones (page 430)
  12. 12.0 12.1 Jim Henson: The Biography by Brian Jay Jones (page 413)
  13. The Jim Henson Hour Pitch Reel
  14. Jim Henson: The Biography by Brian Jay Jones, page 410.

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