The Land of Gorch was a recurring sketch on the first season of Saturday Night Live. Lorne Michaels, executive producer of the show, stated in a Tomorrow Show interview prior to the series' premiere that these sketches would feature a whole new group of adult Muppets "who can stay up late."
The Land of Gorch is a swampy alien landscape ruled by the blustering, oafish King Ploobis, who ignores his shrewish wife, Queen Peuta, in favor of his lovely female servant Vazh. Ploobis' right hand creature is the toady Scred, who cravenly sucks up to the king while carrying on a discreet love affair with Peuta. Ploobis' son, Wisss, is a dropout "crater-head", who sucks intoxicating gases from holes in the ground. The ultimate authority in Gorch is the Mighty Favog, who offers wisdom in exchange for regular sacrifices.
Jim Henson, Jerry Nelson, and Frank Oz performed the roles of Ploobis, Scred, and the Mighty Favog respectively, while Alice Tweedie, Fran Brill, and Richard Hunt performed the roles of Peuta, Vazh, and Wisss. Opening narration for the sketches was supplied by Saturday Night Live staff announcer Don Pardo.
Henson's original notes include the phrases "Jung/types" and "comedia del arte" (sic), indicating that Henson thought of the Gorch characters as broad comic archetypes -- the "loud / angry / dominant" king, the "haughty / pretentious / shallow" queen, and the "evil / sneaky / crafty" henchman.
The series of sketches lasted from SNL's premiere in October 1975 to April 1976 (and became a recurring joke in the next season). The original proposals and scripts refer to the sketches as Gortch rather than Gorch; over time the spelling was changed, and both versions are found in the Henson files.
According to the Muppet Morsels on The Muppet Show: Season One DVD, only hired writers for Saturday Night Live, and not Henson employees, were allowed to write Gorch sketches. Other writing credits went to SNL contributors Chevy Chase and Al Franken. Despite this, Jim Henson did write one sketch, for the episode hosted by Raquel Welch. In a 2009 interview Jerry Nelson revealed that he wrote the sketch with Lily Tomlin and Scred.
The writing staff were generally less than pleased with the presence of the Muppets. Writer Alan Zweibel expressed his views on the topic:
“Whoever drew the short straw that week had to write the Muppet sketch. The first time I met [Michael] O'Donoghue, I walked into Lorne's office... and I look in a corner of the room and there's a guy I learned was Michael O'Donoghue. What was he doing, you ask? He had taken Big Bird, a stuffed toy of Big Bird, and the cord from the venetian blinds, and he wrapped the cord around Big Bird's neck. He was lynching Big Bird. And that's how we all felt about the Muppets.
Franken and Davis and I were the rookie writers, and the others always rigged it so we were the ones who wrote the Muppet sketches. So I went over to Jim Henson's townhouse on like Sixty-eighth Street with a sketch I had written. There was one character named Skred [sic], and I remember we're reading the sketch, Jim Henson's reading the pages, and he gets to a line and says, 'Oh, Skred wouldn't say this.' And I look, and on a table over there is this cloth thing that is folded over like laundry, and it's Skred. 'Oh, but he wouldn't say this.' Oh, sorry.”
During the middle of the season, after a deal to produce The Muppet Show in England had been made, the sets were destroyed, and the Muppets were officially "let go" from the show's regular cast. All of the Gorch sketches from the second half of the season revolved around the idea that the Muppets had been fired, and were trying desperately to get their jobs back. In 1983, Jim Henson commented on what happened behind the scenes at Saturday Night Live:
“I saw what he (Lorne Michaels) was going for and I really liked it and wanted to be a part of it, but somehow what we were trying to do and what his writers could write for it never jelled. ... When they were writing for us, I had the feeling they were writing normal sitcom stuff, which is really boring and bland. ... Yeah, it just never jelled with the particular writers we were working with, but at no time did I ever lose my respect for the show. I always liked what they were doing.”
In early 1999, Frank Oz also commented on the show:
“There was good and bad. The bad unfortunately was that I think we didn't really belong on Saturday Night Live. I think our very explosive, more cartoony comedy didn't jive with the kind of Second City casual laid-back comedy, so the writers had a lot of trouble writing for us. They weren't used to that kind of Muppet writing. But the good part was that every Saturday was very exciting - going through rehearsal, then dress [rehearsal], then air - and meeting and seeing the beginnings of Andy Kaufman, and the great little films of Albert Brooks, and seeing John [Belushi] and Chevy [Chase] and Danny [Aykroyd], the beginnings of all that. That was very, very exciting. A live show on Saturday night is always exciting. But it was good at the end of the year that The Muppet Show was there for us, because it was just too difficult for them. We didn't belong on that show anymore. But we had a great time.”
The segments dealt with a number of racy issues: alcohol abuse, adultery, species extinction, drugs, and other "adult" topics, though each was treated with the expected SNL irreverence.
Skits were indeed performed live. The exception was the January 24, 1976 episode; that sketch was pre-taped on January 10th, during the pre-shoot of the Elliott Gould episode.
The Muppets were supposed to have appeared on the Saturday Night Live episode hosted by Gerald Ford's press secretary, Ron Nessen, as evidenced by a behind-the-scenes photo and Don Pardo's announcing the Muppet cast during that episode's credits. Nessen explained at the end of the episode that they could not be there due to "technical complications."
The Gorch sketches from the first season were included on the Saturday Night Live: The Complete First Season DVD set.
While the Gorch characters were never significantly utilized following their expulsion from SNL, they can be glimpsed in the crowd of Muppets during the "Rainbow Connection" finale in The Muppet Movie (1979). The Coneheads' first appearance on SNL used a backdrop from Gorch.
“"Come with us now from the bubbling tarpits, to the sulfurous wasteland; from the rotting forest, to the stagnant mud flats, to the Land of Gorch.”
|October 11, 1975||George Carlin||Ploobis and Scred are sent to The Mighty Favog for medical advice. Transcript|
|October 18, 1975||Paul Simon||The Mighty Favog provides fiscal assistance.|
|October 25, 1975||Rob Reiner||Ploobis and Scred find out that Wisss is smoking craters, and they do what they can to get Wisss to stop. "The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind." Transcript|
|November 8, 1975||Candice Bergen||Ploobis wants to eat some Gligs, but there are only two left. He goes to the Mighty Favog for advice on making more, and Favog charges a Glig as payment.|
|November 15, 1975||Robert Klein||Scred does everything he can to cure Ploobis' headache.|
| ||November 22, 1975||Lily Tomlin||Scred falls for Lily Tomlin, and they sing a duet of "I Got You Babe." Transcript|
|December 13, 1975||Richard Pryor||Ploobis and Scred "hit the sauce" and go see the Mighty Favog.|
|December 20, 1975||Candice Bergen||Ploobis throws a Christmas party. However, most of the invited guests have chosen to go to the Killer Bees' Christmas party instead. Even Vazh and Wisss duck out to go to the Bees' party. Candice Bergen shows up, and is disappointed with what she sees. Candice, Ploobis and Scred sing "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas", and then Scred invites Candice to go to the Bees' party with him.|
|January 10, 1976||Elliott Gould||Peuta reveals to Scred that she feels guilty about their affair, and that he should confess to Ploobis or else risk losing her. Ploobis, meanwhile, vows to kill whoever has been fooling around with his wife. Scred seeks advice from the Mighty Favog, who refers him to page 212 in "The Joy of Sex."|
|January 17, 1976||Buck Henry||With Ploobis out of town, Scred is able to show Peuta the new sex device he just got. Rollie Krewson served as assistant puppeteer for this sketch.|
|January 24, 1976||Peter Cook & Dudley Moore||Gilda Radner is about to introduce the musical guest when Scred, in bee costume, comes on-stage. Scred has been asked to participate in a Bee sketch, a bee version of The Andy Griffith Show (he was supposed to play Aunt Bee), but learns that the sketch has been cancelled. Gilda lets him introduce musical guest Neil Sedaka.|
|February 28, 1976||Jill Clayburgh||The Muppets are at the Grammy Awards in California, so Chevy Chase performs a sketch on the Gorch set.|
|March 13, 1976||Anthony Perkins||Ploobis and Scred ask Anthony Perkins to help them get back their jobs on the show. They come back during the middle of a later sketch for help, and at the end of the episode, they come on-stage during the credits.|
| ||April 24, 1976||Raquel Welch|| Backstage, Ploobis and Scred face facts: the Muppets just aren't welcome on the show. They can't even "get lucky" with Raquel Welch because, as she points out, they "don't exist below the waist." Chevy Chase comes by to tell them that their act has been cancelled.Later in the show, Scred and Ploobis encounter The Mighty Favog, who tells them the Muppets have no choice but to get in the trunk. After all, they're only puppets. They enter a big trunk along with Peuta, Vazh and Wisss. Now that they're all inside, Favog thinks he has a chance at stardom...|
According to the Henson Archives, this is the only sketch not written by the regular SNL writing staff; it was written by Jim Henson.
|May 8, 1976||Madeline Kahn||Scred and the Mighty Favog try to cut a deal. They ask Chevy Chase to tell Lorne Michaels that if the Muppets get rehired to appear on the show, the Mighty Favog will get the Beatles to appear on the show for free.|
|September 18, 1976||Lily Tomlin||Having been asleep in a filing cabinet for quite some time, the Gorch Muppets wake up and assume they must be in the afterlife. Lily Tomlin visits them, and tries to sing "I Whistle a Happy Tune". Unfortunately, the Muppets can't whistle. The characters appear later on towards the end of the episode to join everyone in "The Antler Dance."|
- Jim Henson as King Ploobis
- Jerry Nelson as Scred
- Frank Oz as the Mighty Favog
- Alice Tweedie as Queen Peuta
- Fran Brill as Vazh
- Rhonda Hansome as Vazh (October 11, 1975)
- Richard Hunt as Wisss
- ↑ "10/11/1975 “SAT NIGHT LIVE! First show.”", Jim Henson's Red Book. Posted on Henson.com October 11, 2010.
- ↑ Nelson, Jerry Tough Pigs Interview
- ↑ Shales, Tom and James Andrew Miller. Live From New York. Little Brown & Co. 2002 p. 69-70
- ↑ Jim Henson Interview by Judy Harris
- ↑ Star Wars Insider #42, p. 69, 70
- ↑ https://vimeo.com/98510775
- ↑ Jim Henson: The Biography