Muppet Meeting Films are a series of short films produced for public screening during business meetings and training sessions. The films are two to three minutes long, and provide some comic relief in a long, dull meeting. The early films in the series, produced in 1975, featured puppets that would soon become stars on The Muppet Show -- Kermit, Sam the Eagle, Janice, Gonzo and Waldorf. In 1979, Jim Henson and Frank Oz created a new comedy team for the films -- Leo, a master speechmaker and wordsmith, and Grump, a cynical crank.
Beginning in 1956, Henson's company produced a successful range of television commercials, most famously the "Wilkins and Wontkins" ads for a Washington, D.C. coffee company, Wilkins Coffee. In the mid-60s, Henson also produced special presentation films for the sales meetings of some of his clients, including Pak-Nit, La Choy and Wilson's Meats.
In 1965, information technology company IBM commissioned a set of films for their sales meetings. Henson worked on these films with David Lazer, the head of IBM's film and television division; Lazer went on to leave the company and work for Henson, producing many of the Muppet productions over the next twenty years, including The Muppet Show and The Muppet Movie.
One of the IBM films, "Coffee Break Machine", features an early version of Cookie Monster, who devours a complex machine as the machine describes its purpose and construction. At the end of the sketch, the talking machine explains that it's wired with a security system set to explode if tampered with. The monster promptly combusts. This film was so successful that Henson performed the sketch in 1967 for The Ed Sullivan Show, and it was remade as a Muppet Show sketch.
Muppet Meeting Films
The films were produced as collections of three or four skits, usually running about two or three minutes each. The first collection, "Muppet Picker Upper", used puppets that would soon become major characters on The Muppet Show. After this collection, the Classic Muppets didn't appear in the Meeting Films, except for a brief Kermit cameo in 1993, and one film featuring Miss Piggy and Fozzie Bear in the late 90s (which was a clip from The Muppet Show episode 124).
The films produced from 1979 to 1987 feature Leo and Grump, a comedy duo performed by Henson and Frank Oz. Leo is the optimistic salesman, always trying his best; Grump is an old grouch who complains about everything.
In 1987, the cast and characters were featured in a short, behind-the-scenes segment for Entertainment Tonight. It was around this time that some new puppets were introduced, but none of them have constant identities, personalities, or voices. The most prominent is the David Lazer Muppet, an orange supervisor character (and a caricature of producer David Lazer). The character was identified on Henson.com as "The Company Man" but unnamed in the films until 1992's "Executive Island", where he was referred to as Finneman. The only other character that maintains a constant voice and identity is Big Head, a grumpy boss character played by David Rudman, also introduced in 1992.
In the Meeting Films made after Henson's death, Frank Oz no longer performed in the films, and Leo and Grump were retired. Subsequent films employed a larger cast of Muppet performers, including Dave Goelz, Steve Whitmire, Jerry Nelson, Joey Mazzarino, David Rudman, Peter Linz, Camille Bonora, Noel MacNeal and Julianne Buescher.
Other characters to appear included Beautiful Day Monster, Luncheon Counter Monster, and a monster who was later used on Muppets Tonight as Big Mean Carl. Several of the generic supporting characters were later adapted as characters for Statler & Waldorf: From the Balcony, notably Ted Thomas and The Weather Guy. Known directors of the various films include Brian Henson (who helmed a few of the 1992 entries) and David Gumpel.
The films continue to be distributed as rentals for business use by Enterprise Media. According to the company's website, popular titles include "Sell, Sell, Sell" (the top-ranked release), "Let's Have the Dam Break", "The Meeting That Would Not Die", "The Sky's The Limit" and "Win! Win! Win!".
Muppet Picker Upper (1975)
|The Muppet Introduction|| Janice introduces "the person who will introduce the person who will introduce the next speaker," P. Fenton Cosgrove, who brings on Sam the Eagle, who (reluctantly) presents Kermit. "It is demeaning for the American Eagle to introduce a frog," Sam complains.|
Note: Kermit and Sam are played by Henson and Oz. Cosgrove, who would soon become Waldorf, is played by Jerry Nelson. Janice is performed by Fran Brill.
|Just a Few Announcements||Before the Muppets begin their meeting, Janice reads a series of announcements. Gonzo rushes in and out with updates on the status of a white Eldorado with Delaware plates, with the final straw being the car catching on fire and being towed away. Kermit announces a meeting for all the company frogs at 9:30 in the Boom Boom Room. When told he's the only frog in the company, he asks Sam to join him, and even offers to "get you some flippers and spray you green." Cosgrove falls asleep. Finally, the meeting starts, and Cosgrove is asked to show his papers, which he left in his white Elderado with Delaware plates.|
|Sell, Sell, Sell|| Against a series of projected backdrops, Leo gives a motivational speech which starts out calmly and gets progressively louder and wilder. The puppeteer manipulating Leo's hands steals the scene, grasping his clothes and the podium. "For the sake of free enterprise," Leo gasps, "For the sake of the company -- for the sake of the family -- for the sake of the children -- for motherhood -- for apple pie -- for puppy dogs and kitty cats -- for everything that is near and dear to us -- I ask you to remember just one word... and that word is SELL! I want you to get out there and sell, sell, SELL! I want you to sell your socks off!"|
Note: During the montage of images projected behind Leo, two shots of Henson and his wife and kids are seen when Leo invokes "family" and "children". Whistler's Mother also makes an appearance.
Muppet Breaker Upper (1979)
|Introduction with a Slight Snare||Grump is startled to hear his speech being underscored by Leo on the drums, who suggests Grump add some pep to his speech.|
|The Five Basic Rules of Selling|| As an announcer reads the rules, salesman Leo knocks on a door to find an unruly Quongo the Wild Mountain Gorilla answering.|
Jon Stone voices the announcer.
|Wheels of Progress||Leo brings Grump a skateboard -- an efficiency expert's dream. Grump ends up knocking over everything in the room and falling out the window.|
|The Secret of Success||Like "Sell, Sell, Sell", this is another motivational speech, this time given by Grump, who gets carried away -- literally.|
Muppet Gimme a Break (1979)
|Meal Break||Leo is happy to have a meal break, but Grump verbally assaults the food: "The meat looks condemned, the mashed potatoes are like sponges, I've never seen a gray salad before, the spaghetti's all gummy and this roll is like a hockey puck!" In retaliation, the food physically assaults Grump.|
|Grump Critic|| Leo asks Grump to give him a signal if his speech gets boring -- so Grump uses a loud obnoxious horn. Leo's speech is on specifics of inventory, and he gets totally drowned out.|
The voice of Jon Stone introduces Leo before his speech.
|Let's Have the Dam Break||As Leo gives a speech on the state of accounting, Grump desperately needs to relieve himself. Unfortunately, everything Leo says reminds Grump of bodily functions.|
Muppet Side Splitter (1981)
|Ideal Sales Rep||Leo uses Grump as a visual aid on the ideal sales rep. Using a magic wand, Leo equips him with several supplies. Claiming he needs extra strength to carry it all, Grump is transformed into a gorilla and the Superman-esque "Super Salesman".|
|Computer!||Grump, looking for the number of the pizza place, interrupts Leo's talk on the necessity of computers. Leo suggests Grump use the computerized directory. After finding that a process meant to simplify things actually makes things too complicated, Grump goes for a different pizza interface -- in Leo's face, that is.|
|Take This Form and File It||Leo tries to give a speech on humanity, but Grump, the new Executive in Charge of Red Tape, interrupts with a form to fill out for everything Leo mentions.|
Muppet Breakthrough (1983)
|What's This Meeting All About?||Grump asks Leo what the meeting they're about to attend is all about. Leo, obviously unsure himself, tries to sound like he knows all about it. The pair's uncertainty develops into job anxiety, typifying the insecurity of the corporate workplace.|
|The Big Plan||Leo presents his B.I.G. (Business Improvement Guarantee) Plan for future planning, chock-full of acronyms. Grump is run down trying to keep up with the slides.|
|Who Needs a Break?|| Leo and Grump are stuck in a long meeting on increasing productivity. Unfortunately, one of the supervisor's ways to accomplish this is to eliminate breaks. "Eating, drinking, going to the bathroom -- they're just basic human needs!" he complains. "Grow up!"|
Note: This film introduces the Dave Lazer Muppet as Leo and Grump's supervisor, who appears frequently but isn't named until 1992, and doesn't have a consistent puppeteer.
|The Sky's the Limit||This is a variation on the motivational speech format. Instead of being in front of a projected screen, Leo gives a speech to "some of the best heads in the business" -- the Balloon Audience, Muppets with balloon heads. Most end up soaring into the sky, but some "burst with enthusiasm."|
Muppet Perk-Up (1985)
|The Half-Minute Manager||In an effort to increase efficiency, Finneman brings in Kent to streamline the division in thirty seconds.Note: This is one of the few times that Frank Oz plays a character other than Grump -- the overbearing, fast-paced Kent.|
| ||Benefits|| Personnel and Benefits gurus Leo and Grump demonstrate the company's new six volume benefits plan from Double Cross and No Shield, which is "second to some and third to none."|
Note: Kevin Clash debuts, doubling as the ugly Muppet and as an elderly character, still awaiting a benefit payment. The latter character, later named Franklin, would appear frequently, alternating between background appearances and featured roles, and like the other repertory players, with different performers. A green female Muppet later to be named Shirley also makes her debut.
|Nobody's Perfect|| Leo and Grump give a presentation on the perfect employee. Starting with the "raw materials" -- a faceless Whatnot -- the two add features to their model, none of which please their supervisor until the Whatnot is made to look just like him.|
Kevin Clash plays the constantly-changing Whatnot. Clips from this segment appear in Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey.
Muppet Lift Off (1985)
|Super Salesperson||Once again, Leo and Grump are captive attendees at a long meeting, this one by Smilin' Ed on the 67 Commandments of selling. To demonstrate the power of persuasion, he attempts to sell Leo an item of little value -- a cup of coffee. Needless to say, Smilin' Ed doesn't have to try too hard.|
|The Safety Zone||In a Twilight Zone takeoff, Grump learns how dangerous the office can be -- with perils like paper cuts, spilt coffee and letter openers.|
|The Rap-Up|| When no one listens to Leo's presentation, he gets out his BMV -- Business Music Video, a hip-hop video loaded with slick computer graphics and kick drum cliches.|
The raucous crowd sounds used at the end of this film originally came from the Riverbottom Nightmare Band in Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas.
Muppet Coffee Break (1987)
|Explosion||In a remake of a 1960s IBM meeting film, Grump complains about the meeting: "The presentations are stupid, the speakers are boring, the chairs are uncomfortable and I hate the little films they show." Leo blows him up.|
|Leo and the Monster||Leo gives a boring speech, interrupted by the Luncheon Counter Monster, who threatens to destroy his podium and eat Leo.|
|The Coffee Break Machine||In a remake of a 1967 IBM meeting film, Luncheon Counter Monster returns to attack a talking coffee machine.|
Muppet Breakaway (1987)
|Sales Savvy|| "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." It's the tale of two salesmen, Mr. Right (Leo) and Mr. Wrong (Grump), as they demonstrate how to make a sale -- and how not to.|
Kevin Clash plays the Narrator
|The Art of Negotiation||Leo and Grump negotiate about whether they want to demonstrate negotiation.|
|Break'n the Rules|| After legal expert Bob demonstrates how to safely communicate, Leo tries to announce a coffee break with Bob's extreme counsel.|
Kevin Clash plays legal expert Bob.
Muppet Breaking Point (1992)
|The Big Picture|| When assistant Smerdley is overwhelmed with responsibility and can't get his boss a cup of coffee, J.P. Braithwaite lectures him with a "Sell, Sell, Sell" type speech, complete with the projected background.|
Notes: Dave Goelz plays Smerdley, and Steve Whitmire performs Braithwaite.
|Executives' Island|| Three executives, stranded on an island, attempt to hold a board meeting with strict procedures, as Jones tries to direct their attention to an approaching ship.|
Note: Dave Goelz plays Mr. Mulligan, David Rudman plays Jones.
|The Meeting That Would Not Die||A send-up of B-movie thrillers in which employees try to silence unstoppable speaker Franklin. Captive audience members include Jones, Wesley, and Shirley.|
Muppet Mayhem (1992)
|Great Moments in Business History||As two cavemen fight over a bone, an announcer narrates the beginnings of such business procedures as supply and demand, competitiveness and the first lawyers -- cavemen beating each other with clubs.|
|Blinded By Research|| 99.3% of consumers polled said that they would prefer to be poked in the eye with a sharp stick over being thrown into a vat of boiling acid, so the company develops the Sharp Stick 3000.
|Think Bigger|| Three huge monsters won't listen to a small monster named Flunky who has an idea. Instead, the monsters carry motions and then eat them.|
The Chief Officer of the meeting is the puppet that would become Big Mean Carl in Muppets Tonight. The small monster is recycled from Boo Monster from Little Muppet Monsters. The female monster is Aretha from Fraggle Rock.
|Teaser||In 1993, a teaser was created in order to help sell the films to interested parties. It featured Gimley's Boss making the sales pitch with Luncheon Counter Monster (voiced by David Rudman) muscling him to finish on time.|
Muppet Breakout (1993)
|How to Sell|| As a sales seminar final exam, Gimley demonstrates the different techniques he's learned... including one his boss forgot -- Know Your Customer.|
Note: In his only appearance since 1975, Kermit makes a cameo as a Cute Corporate Mascot.
|Great Salespeople in History||Shirley learns the great tradition of salespeople throughout history, including Julius Caesar, Shakespeare, Moses and Betsy Ross.|
|How to End a Meeting|| Big Head demands his employees find a way to get an unstoppable speaker off the stage.|
The Big Head puppet would be recycled as a fat lady opera star in Season 35 of Sesame Street.
Muppet Know How (1993)
|Now Hear This!||Big Head wants the O'Toole/Fleener report on communication. As each employee calls another department on the telephone, the original message mutates.|
|Top Ten Reasons to Take a Break||A female David Letterman character presents a Top Ten list, with Muppet visual demonstrations.|
|Win! Win! Win!|| Another "Sell, Sell, Sell" speech in front of a projected screen.|
Joey Mazzarino plays the speaker, a puppet which would later be used as the Weather Guy on From the Balcony.
Teamwork in Action
|Teamwork in Action||In this final Muppet Meeting Film, recycling The Muppet Show footage, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear and a group of frustrated library patrons work together to turn a cacophony of sound into a symphony.Note: The film was originally seen in The Muppet Show episode 124.|