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Great Henson Article in New York Times (11/12/06)

Discussion in 'Henson Alternative' started by GelflingWaldo, Nov 12, 2006.

  1. GelflingWaldo New Member

    The New York Times ran a great story today titled "Jokes That Kermit Wouldn’t Dare Tell" by Andrew Wallenstein. The article is all about the future direction the the Jim Henson Company is taking to break back into adult entertainment. The article includes quotes from Brain Henson, Patrick Bristow, and Bill Barretta. It talks about many of the new "grown-up" brands the company is working on:

    Read the story here: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/12/arts/television/12andy.html?ref=television


    Here are some highlights from the article:
    • hourlong special “Puppet Up! Uncensored” special will air on TBS on November 20, 2006 at 11pm (more information)
    • TBS has ordered 30 episodes of "Puppet Up" for its coming online broadband channel (more information)
    • "Late Night Buffet" pilot still under consideration at TBS (more information)
    • The Henson Company is shopping around an adult puppet sitcom titled “Tinseltown” about a gay couple living in Hollywood
    • The Henson Company is still working on kid-orriented productions, including feature-film adaptation of “Fraggle Rock” is coming (more information)
    • The Henson Company is also working to come up with a production that appeals to all ages, like “The Muppet Show” did
    And here are some quotes from Brian Henson:
    • "We lost our position as funny, popular entertainment in the prime-time arena, so I’m trying to get back there. To do that and be innovative, we have to really establish a new voice.”
    • “Because of ‘Sesame Street’ people thought of [Jim Henson] as a children’s performer, it was sort of odd for him because he was until then an adult performer.”
    • "We didn’t set out to do risqué adult-exclusive content, what we did set out to do is to forget all the rules of the 8 p.m. sensibility, what puppets do that aren’t in preschool, and instead let’s just do what we as puppeteers think is the funniest thing we can do in the moment.”
    • "It’s liberated me from needing to service [the Muppets] because having the Muppets becomes a big, big deal. It’s consumer products, it’s publishing, all that stuff.”
    In my opinion, this is all great news! I know some fans don't like hearing "Henson" and "for Adults" in the same sentence - they perfer "Henson" and "for the whole family" -- but personally I can't wait to see these new "adult" projects. All these projects sound great and the future of the Henson Company looks bright. Between "Puppet Up!", "Power of the Dark Crystal", "Late Night Buffet", the "Fraggle Rock" movie and everything else in the pipe-line, there will be something for everyone in the coming years! Not to mention all the stuff "The Muppets" and "Sesame Street" are up too.
  2. Traveling Matt New Member

    Hi Gelfling,

    Could you please post the text of the article here? Not everyone will be able to access NYTimes.com, as you need a login ID and password.

    Thanks!
  3. Phamos818 New Member

    Just so everyone knows, signing up for the New York Times website is free -- you don't need a subscription.
  4. Kimp the Shrimp Active Member

    AS a practitioner of puppetry, the Jim Henson Company doesn’t often ply its trade at comedy clubs. But the puppet show the company staged for a few weekends this summer at the Improv in Los Angeles wasn’t a typical production.

    For one thing, the puppeteers weren’t hidden. They performed in full view, with their puppets held over their heads for a camera to capture and project to television monitors next to the stage. And instead of following a script, the Henson troupe improvised skits, with audience members encouraged to chime in their own story ideas.

    This being a comedy club, those ideas weren’t exactly what the Henson Company might have used on “The Muppet Show” or “Sesame Street.” Asked to suggest a career for a skit about a job interview, one audience member proposed proctology; the performance featured a large gorilla puppet re-enacting the kind of painful probes common in that medical specialty.

    Who would have thought that the company that introduced the phrase “It’s not easy being green” would be working blue? It’s just one of the ways a production company known for beloved child-friendly franchises is trying to find a new creative spark.

    Brian Henson — co-chief executive, with his sister, Lisa Henson, and a puppeteer at the company his father founded — wants to restore the company’s past glory. “We lost our position as funny, popular entertainment in the prime-time arena, so I’m trying to get back there,” he said. “To do that and be innovative, we have to really establish a new voice.”

    He is making progress. TBS is taping a Henson improv performance scheduled for Wednesday at the Comedy Festival in Las Vegas, and will show it as an hourlong special titled “Puppet Up! Uncensored” on Nov. 20. In addition TBS has ordered 30 episodes of "Uncensored" for its coming broadband channel. The network is also considering a semi-improvisational late-night talk show in which everyone is a puppet except for the human celebrity guests.

    Another project the Henson Company is shopping around is “Tinseltown,” concerning a gay puppet couple balancing work in Hollywood with life as parents of an adopted human son. In the five-minute presentation tape for “Tinseltown,” Bobby is a margarita-swilling pig with a raspy lisp, and his partner is a bull named Samson. When their sullen 12-year-old son plucks a beer from the refrigerator, Bobby dismisses Samson’s concern, telling him, “Oh, it was a light beer.”

    With its new adult direction, the company is latching onto a cable trend. MTV2’s “Wonder Showzen” has made ample use of the genre, and the channel is also bringing back the puppet pranksters of “Crank Yankers,” which originally ran on Comedy Central. IFC has revived “Greg the Bunny” to parody popular films, and next year Starz is importing a different racy rabbit, “The Bronx Bunny,” from British television.

    Back at Henson the multiple projects make for a busy time at its headquarters, a five-acre lot in Hollywood that doesn’t quite fit in with the seedier elements of the neighborhood, just south of Sunset Boulevard. Inside a converted farmhouse on the grounds, an employee creates a new female character, Gina Cappellini, meant for one of the resident puppeteers, Julianne Buescher, who slides the puppet-in-progress over her hand. Gina’s eyes have yet to be glued on; they’re still trying to perfect her sloe-eyed expression with the help of an Angelina Jolie photo pinned to the wall.

    The Henson Company has been at this address since 2000, the latest tenant in the bungalows Charlie Chaplin built for his own studio in 1917. The current occupants pay tribute to him at the central gate with a statue of Kermit the Frog dressed in Chaplin’s signature bowler and cane. But Kermit is no longer a priority for Mr. Henson since he sold the rights to the Muppets franchise to the Walt Disney Company in 2004. While Disney is likely to call on the Henson Company to produce future incarnations of the Muppets, their corporate adoption has freed Mr. Henson to focus on creating new characters that could become franchises in their own right.

    “It’s liberated me from needing to service that because having the Muppets becomes a big, big deal,” Mr. Henson said. “It’s consumer products, it’s publishing, all that stuff.”

    His company remains active in other children’s properties — like development of a feature-film adaptation of its 1980s show “Fraggle Rock” — and is also interested in coming up with the kind of production that appeals to all ages, as its syndicated variety series “The Muppet Show” did on CBS stations from 1976 to 1981. There were several attempts in the 1980s and 1990s to recapture that magic, with mixed results. That’s when the notion that improvised comedy could be a source of creative resurgence arose. “One thing that occurred to me in the last few years was that that spark wasn’t there anymore and that we were really sticking to the script,” Mr. Henson said.

    Improv was also something of a necessity: the company was having difficulty attracting writers to dream up puppet-based material. Mr. Henson also wanted to see his puppeteers ad-libbing more, the way the earlier generation that gave voice to “The Muppet Show” often did.

    The current corps was in agreement that sometimes the funniest scenes occurred off camera. Bill Barretta, a puppeteer who has worked closely with Mr. Henson for 15 years, recalled cracking up people on the set between takes. “We’d cut from a scene, and I’d make it so my character had way too much to drink, and he’d start cursing at the crew,” Mr. Barretta said. “It would break up the tension and remind us that we’re there to have fun.”

    It was that kind of impromptu performance that Mr. Henson said was essential to recovering the company’s voice. He turned to Patrick Bristow, an actor and instructor at the Los Angeles improv company the Groundlings, for help a few years ago. Though initially dubious that puppetry and improv could be married, Mr. Bristow began teaching the puppeteers how to string together stories on the fly from audience suggestions. Paying attention to the motions of a puppet while clearing the mind for free-associative creativity is not for the faint at heart, Mr. Bristow discovered. As he described the practice, “it’s like parts of the brain that never spoke to each other are screaming, ‘Hey! Over here!’ ”

    The first few weeks of training were difficult, Mr. Bristow remembered, and one discouraged puppeteer even dropped out. Puppetry doesn’t exactly lend itself to improvisation, which traditionally emphasizes eye contact between the performers. The Henson puppeteers have to stare at monitors on the floor in order to see their puppets move; their brand of improvisation forces them to listen intently. “At first it was pretty challenging, to say the least,” Ms. Buescher recalled.

    In time Mr. Bristow felt they were ready for a performance. When Mr. Henson recommended his lot’s soundstage, Mr. Bristow had little idea that it would not be an intimate gathering. “They rented bleachers and served wine, cheese and crackers,” Mr. Bristow remembered. “No pressure or anything.” The crowd included a representative from the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival, who invited the puppeteers to perform in March in Aspen, Colo.

    Improvisation has also helped the staff mold the identity of puppets from scratch. Ms. Buescher began taking a liking to a diapered pug she named Piddles. The puppet displays an impish charm and, on occasion, uncontrollable gas. “Eventually you fall in love with one of them, and you make them your own,” she said. “I love Piddles. She’s so innocent but so filthy and dark.”

    Those aren’t exactly the adjectives that come to mind in describing the legacy of Jim Henson, who died in 1990. But his son said that the company’s success in family-friendly entertainment had obscured Jim Henson’s more irreverent work earlier in his career. In the 1960s Jim Henson’s puppet humor included the occasional sexual innuendo and drug references; his creations were even featured on the first season of “Saturday Night Live.”

    “Because of ‘Sesame Street’ people thought of him as a children’s performer,” Brian Henson said. “It was sort of odd for him because he was until then an adult performer.”

    But while the father’s earlier work may have foreshadowed the son’s new direction, Mr. Henson emphasized that being offensive was not the point. “We didn’t set out to do risqué adult-exclusive content,” he said. “What we did set out to do is to forget all the rules of the 8 p.m. sensibility, what puppets do that aren’t in preschool, and instead let’s just do what we as puppeteers think is the funniest thing we can do in the moment.”
  5. travellingpat Active Member

    Hmm sounds like they have a lot of stuff for the future!!!
  6. a_Mickey_Muppet Well-Known Member

    sounds good and all but i DON'T like the idea of a gay puppet show! :concern: esps from Henson! :o
  7. Speed Tracer Well-Known Member

    Tinseltown really doesn't sound great, but everything else I'm excited for.
  8. TheJimHensonHour New Member

    Thank You for posting all of that news Waldo it all sounds very exciting!
    from some one who lives in west holywood and being a gay person myself I know how they think..this show will be a hit before it's even made.
    seriously some ones always gotta start.
    Just because it's gay doesn't mean sexual or raunchy.
    Wil and Grace was a very funny show and it hardly ever had any sexual jokes.
    Gay people live lives just like anyone else I've had quite enough of peoples bad mouthing everyone because tv shows us all off as a bunch of flamey queens.:grouchy:
    btw sorry if I'm over reacting a bit and perhaps I shouldn't say all of that but it's come to my attention a number of times and it's quite hurtfull.
    But as muppet fans I think one would have learned from the teachings of Jim Henson to be a bit more open minded towards the world and the people in it not hatefull and rude. *shesh*
  9. ReneeLouvier Active Member

    I have to agree with you, JimHensonHour. I'm friends with a lot of gay men, some people even call me....well, I can't say it here, it is a family forum! *smirk* But I too agree with you. It sounds like it'll be a neat show! Probably along the lines of "Will & Grace" in terms of how far they went too. Possibly even less then that. (It's still on cable guys, check it out, it's a neat show!) And I just simply can't wait to see what Brian'll put out for us as fans. I think his father would have liked what's he putting out now. He's finally giving us something at least. ;)
  10. Kimp the Shrimp Active Member

    who said that gay means sexual on this thread. Read b4 you critize all he said was that he does not want a gay puppet show. it's like people don't like The Febbles or Ave Q where puppets took on adult themes


    so please some people can accept Alt Lifestyles but we don't need it push on us
  11. TheJimHensonHour New Member

    and now I agree with you Jim would be proud of Brian doing his own thing and not caring what anyone thinks I mean heck I'm proud of him.
    He's finally moving his fathers foot steps right along down that beautiful foam road!
    No one is pushing anything on anyone...but I wont stand by when someone comes in and goes oh lord not a puppet show with gay puppets thats just rude..and odd I thought mickymuppet was a girl lol my bad.
    I mean It would be like some one saying oh no not a henson show with Christian puppets or Jewish or something lol I'd say well atleast watch it before passing judgement that's all it just really bothers me when people stand and judge when they havent even seen it yet...To be quite honest I'm betting Brian is saying it's a gay puppet show just to get a rise out of people. To me Henson doing anything differnt for a change is very welcome whatever it may be. Jim Henson was about the world and being creative and it's really really nice to see Brian finally reaching this point in his life! I'm very excited and I wish nothing but the best for him.
    Like I said this has happened a bunch on here be it over Ernie and Bert which annoys me I don't care what any puppets sexual preference is that's just silly.
    But most people seem to...I also don't care if a henson show is for kids family or adult..I'm a henson fan through and through..either I like it or I don't but at least I go out and watch it in support of a company who has brought me many happy years.
    And Most people do associate gay people with being sexual or pedophiles or something horrible like that which isn't anything like that I just wanted to stop all that nonsense before it started...but I will agree some times I do go a bit far *eep*
    It all does make me laugh when people go gasp! Oh no the Hensons are doing adult things...Jim always did adult things by being adult doesn't mean you have to be raunchy and sick though...and honestly so what if they are Jim wasn't innocent he had his fair share of dirty jokes on the muppets and on snl as well as many other things...it's called being human.
    Listen I'm not trying to start any fights I'm here because I love everything muppety and Henson but I'd really like the negativity on the board to go down just a bit we should be happy Brian's finally pulling his head out of his butt and doing something new instead of rehashing his fathers works.
    But Back On Subject Yay!!! Hensons Doing New Shows That actually may do something for them!
  12. Marky Member

    Gay Muppets?

    :rolleyes:
  13. Barry Lee Active Member

    Ok, I for one am quit shocked how everyone is reacting to this adult stuff. It seems people don't remember SNL and the Muppets, and what culture we live in. Seriously ya'll, be glad they are planning something rather than doing nothing. They are trying to go away to the child's projects, which I think is absolutely wonderful, people think of Jim as making child's entertainment, but before "Sesame Street," he made adult entertainment, some of his short films are a little adult as well. I think this is a great step for the Henson company, and it gives them attention and makes people curious.
  14. MGov New Member

    What's wrong with a gay puppet show?
  15. Speed Tracer Well-Known Member

    I have absolutely no oppositions to a gay puppet show. However, from what I read in the description... it doesn't come off as that funny. It's the "Oh, it was a light beer" gag that just makes me think it could be a disaster. I do think the idea has potential, especially the adopted human child.
  16. beaker Well-Known Member

    1. I think I am like a LOT of people, who have a VERY sour taste still from the JHC giving up what MADE THEM the JHC: The Muppets...and THEN having Disney decide to put em on hiatus as a franchise. Grrr.

    But, if it makes the JHC company feel more freed up and happy, well then I guess there is a silver lining.

    2. Nothing too exciting to me here. I love the idea of PuppetUp, hopefully it can catch on. Late Night Buffet doesnt appeal to me.
    Now, the only gay pig I can thing of is Howard from A Very Muppet Xmas,
    and JHC does have a penchant for recycling puppets to use for new characters.
    I am very interested/curious to see how it develops, could be pretty unique.

    I would love to see a live action romantic comedy, that just so happens to co star Pepe or some other character. I love the idea of puppets mixing with real life.

    3. Ugh...Wonder Showzen has to be one of the...well lets just say, its one of the msot shocking things ever produced for tv. Im surprised it even gets aired, and I am hard to shock. I didnt like Greg the Bunny or Crank Yankers tho.

    4. Im curious if JHC will attempt ANOTHER try at kids programming. They havent since 2002's Animal Jam. I am very curious to see how committed they are to bringing back Fraggle Rock.
    Im VERY excited as well about the Dark Crystal resurgence.

    5. For people that think JHC has always been squeaky clean, ya gotta
    see Land of Gorch. Seriously, I cant even type or elude to what some of those sketches were about. And yes, they were Muppets performed by Oz, Henson and others.
    I think its positive JHC, now Muppetless, is attempting more grown up faire.

    Also, people who equate gay with sex humor:
    Seinfeld had a million times more sexual humor than Will and Grace, Ellen,
    and Normal Ohio combined.

    Oh it's nothing new...look at which puppet is admiring Sylvester Stallone in an old episode of the Muppet show

    Hey, no seriously, it's good to hear ya speak up. In America, it's still "ok" to make fun of and bash gays and Arabs/Muslims. Somehow, as a nation we have decided its not cool to be up in arms against people of non white heritage, but gays and Arabs/Muslims...oh, we can make fun of them!

    How can anyone who loves the Muppets NOT have an open heart to homosexuals? Geez, one of the BIGGEST things the Muppets are known for
    are musicals, and being about love and tolerance.

    I cannot wait til we see a generation someday, where gays are not looked at as second class, or "subversive". Unfortunately, like with "ghetto black youth", a small minority of a group is exaggerated by the media which clouds America's view of any number of groups of peoples.

    Um, even tho one of the greatest Muppeteers of all time was homosexual, and several Muppets are most definately gay. (no, not Bert and Ernie)
  17. a_Mickey_Muppet Well-Known Member


    :concern: who!!??? i didnt know this?! :confused: :eek:
  18. Barry Lee Active Member

    Richard Hunt ((R.I.P))
  19. a_Mickey_Muppet Well-Known Member

    awww really!!!!??? :concern: :( :cry: oh my gosh, i had NO idea that he was!
  20. Barry Lee Active Member

    Yep, and thats probablly (i am guessing I don't know) why he died of HIV Aids.

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