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August 26, 2011

My Week with Muppetzine, Part Four

Filed under: Feature — Tags: , , , — Joe Hennes @ 9:46 am

Part 1 – Issues #1-4Part 2 – Issues #5-8Part 3 – Issues #9-12
Part 4 – Issues #13-16  – Part 5 – Issues#17-20

After three full years of MuppetZining, Danny Horn is still going strong!  Read on to see what he had in store for year #4.

Issue #13 – Summer, 1995: The Pig of the 90’s

This issue features “Muppet Might-Have-Beens”, spotlighting a multi-year plan for Miss Piggy and the Muppets that was halted by Jim Henson’s death, as well as a bunch of productions that never made it off the ground (though if you’ve been reading this My Week, you’re already familiar with a lot of them).

The first thing to note about this issue is that it features a brand new not-just-text logo drawn by Smig.  The logo does a great job at invoking the old Muppet Show feel, spotlighting both familiar and obscure characters, and adding just enough humor.  The logo, which also inspired Smig’s design for the current ToughPigs logo (look up!), will stick around until the final issue, but we’ll get to that eventually.

And how about the news?  Muppet Treasure Island is still filming.  Rumors have begun circulating on the old alt.tv.muppets newsgroup about a new prime time Muppet series.  Ted Danson’s Gulliver’s Travels begins production.  Dog City done got canceled.  And yes, finally, rubber Muppet stamps will be available from a company called “Inkadinkado”, which is really fun to say out loud.  Go on, try it.

“The Pig of the Nineties: The Miss Piggy Story that Never Was” picks up a story from MuppetZine issue #5 where Miss Piggy publicly broke up with Kermit, only to have the news swept under the rug a week later when Jim Henson passed away.  I knew there had to be more to that story, and thankfully MuppetZine gives us all that and more.  In a nutshell, Miss Piggy was going to be in the middle of a campaign called “The Pig of the 90’s”, which would thrust her back into the public eye.  Rather than feature her in a new TV show or special, she would appear on talk shows, gossip columns, celebrity magazines, and even Ann Landers.  Basically, the Muppets were going to take advantage of Piggy’s superstar image and exploit it to the Nth degree.  And at the same time, she’d show everyone at home that she is a star without having to stand in the Frog’s (very tiny) shadow.

The Ann Landers column did get printed, as Miss Piggy Heartsick Mademoiselle asks Ann for her advice on her commitment-phobe frog.  Ann’s advice: “Dump the chump.”  Next, she appeared with Kermit on The Today Show and drops hints that she’s unhappy with Kermit (though this sounds like nothing new for the jealous Pig).  People Magazine is at the Muppet studio and reports that Piggy and Kermit have broken up.

After all that, Piggy was to show up on talk shows and other aforementioned news sources to dish on the breakup and her newly found singlehood.  Rumors would swirl about a tell-all biography.  Photos would appear of Miss Piggy and rich and famous bachelors.  And eventually, this all would’ve led to the fourth Muppet movie, to have been released in the summer of 1991.  In a brilliant move by the Jim Henson Company, all of this publicity wouldn’t have cost them a dime.

In continuing with the “might-have-been” theme, the next article spotlights some of the unmade Muppet/Henson productions.  The list starts with 1969’s “Snow White”, which was to be the first Tales from Muppetland special.  Robin Williams was set to appear on The Muppet Show.  “Muppet Voyager” would’ve been another “world peace” series (ala Fraggle Rock) that would film in a different country every week.  Miss Piggy might’ve had her own series of Nancy Drew-esque mystery books.  And so on and so forth.  If it makes you feel any better, all of these productions have actually happened in an alternate universe.  Just let me know if you find the doorway to get there!

Next up, Smig gets another chance to shine as he debuts his first multi-page comic.  You can read the four-page Scooter-centric story in the Smig Art section below!

Smig Art:

Issue #14 – Fall, 1995: Is It 1996 Yet?

MuppetZine has declared 1996 to be “The Year of the Muppet”.  Looking back, it was probably accurate considering that’s when Muppet Treasure Island and Muppets Tonight both premiered.  But it’s still an odd sentiment 15 years later.

So of course, this issue’s news begins with a chunk about those two productions, as I’m sure everyone reading MuppetZine was practically foaming at the mouth in anticipation for both.  I know I was, especially since I didn’t have any other news source aside from MuppetZine.  Also, there’s only so much foam I could muster every 3 months.

Two Muppet fans got to see some raw footage from Muppet Treasure Island and report that everything looks A-OK.  They also drop hints about upcoming Muppet productions Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree and Muppets On Wheels, both of which I’m sure are your all-time favorite things ever.

Remember when the Hormel meat company sued the Muppets?  It seems like that lawsuit went on forever.  Well, the whole thing started here, as Hormel wasn’t so happy that there was a character named “Spa’am” in Muppet Treasure Island.  And all at once, a booming voice came from the collective mouths of Muppet fans everywhere saying, “Get over it.”

Next up is a long newsbit about a deal between Henson and Sony, ensuring ten to fifteen Henson films over the next five years.  Of course, those movies ended up being Elmo in Grouchland, Buddy, and Muppets From Space before the deal petered out.  So much for that!

Do you think cyberspace is just for nerds?  Nope, this “Internet” thing can be useful for Muppet fans too!  (Frog help me, this article makes me feel old.)  All you need is a computer and a phone line and a really noisy modem and you can visit newsgroups like alt.tv.muppets.  You can visit Bill Sherman’s Muppet Info Home Page (Bill, you still out there??).  An Icelandic fan created a web page for Dinosaurs and Veterinarian’s Hospital.  Even Rose Sage, the writer of this article, has a website for her Muppet toys!  And if this online thing is too confusing for you, you can always visit your local library.

Next up is another two-page comic by Smig (see below!) about what it’d be like if you were Animal.  Needless to say, there’d be lots of eating and running around and speaking in sentence fragments.

The issue ends with more merch (including a picture of this horrible thing), more Fraggle Rock episode guides, and more relationship denial from Kermit in a Muppet Treasure Island interview with Extra.

Smig Art:

Issue #15 – Winter, 1996: A Merry Muppet Christmas

It’s our fourth Winter issue and MuppetZine is finally getting around to doing a Christmas theme.  C’mon Danny, haven’t the Muppets taught you anything??  If there’s one thing to celebrate until your eyeballs go numb, it’s Christmas.

The news in this issue is once again (surprise surprise) mostly about Muppet Treasure Island and Muppets Tonight.  Actually, it’s about Muppet Treasure Island and “Muppets Live!”, which was the working title for Muppets Tonight.  I guess they canned that one after realizing that it’d be false advertising if they pre-taped the show.  Other news included a lengthy update on the Spam/Spa’am debacle, an announcement of the Muppets’ 5-year development deal with ABC (what came out of this, just Muppets Tonight and Aliens in the Family?), and the announcement of the almost-Muppety shows The Wubbulous World of Dr. Seuss and Big Bag.  The big news in here for little 14-year-old Joe was the first I’d heard of Muppets Inside, the CD-ROM game in which the Muppets are stuck inside your computer and they need you to play Name That Tune and Doom and stuff to get them out or something.  The only thing cooler than that game was the anticipation.

The first Christmassy bit of the issue is a spotlight on some of the more memorable Muppet Christmas specials: Christmas Eve on Sesame Street, Emmet Otter, Muppet Family Christmas, etc.  Each one asks what the overall uplifting message is, whether or not Jesus is mentioned, how greed is dealt with, and most importantly, who slips on the ice.  Unsurprisingly, ice-slipping in Muppet specials is more common than we think.

Next up is a review of Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree.  If you haven’t seen this special, you’re missing out on one of the more (unintentionally) bizarre things in the Muppet library.  And while there are a few honest reviews covering this special, the review here is way too nice and optimistic.  Sure, there are gripes, but it doesn’t accurately reflect the horribleness of Mr. Willowby, nor the hilarity of watching it while inebriated.  The review even refers to it as a potential “yearly Christmas tradition”!  What an incorrect opinion!

As if the death rattle for Dinosaurs wasn’t loud enough, MuppetZine reader Rodney Elin writes about why he didn’t care for the show while it was on, but found a new appreciation for it after cancellation.  In an age before DVDs, I can only imagine that revisiting an entire series was a lot of trouble, so kudos to Elin for finding a way to give it another go.

The issue ends with two pages of “The Back Page” (which makes no sense at all) wherein Miss Piggy is interviewed by Martha Stewart.  And thanks to the brilliance of Frank Oz and the lack of patience from Martha Stewart, it’s an interview worthy of far more than two “Back Pages”.

Smig Art:

Issue #16 – Spring, 1996: Sailing for Adventure!

It’s finally here!  After issues and issues of talking about that Muppet movie that might be coming out or might be delayed or is definitely for sure happening, Muppet Treasure Island premiered and has been seen by every Muppet fan ever.  There’s bound to be some great commentary in this very special issue of MuppetZine!

Screw the news, this issue starts off with a bang!  It’s an exclusive interview with Muppet writer and legend Jerry Juhl!  Jerry talks mostly about Muppet Treasure Island, explaining the casting process (“In the book, [Ben Gunn is] a deranged, babbling, filthy old man… Piggy is a smooth-talking, witty, urbane, limo-riding sex goddess, but we hoped that no one would notice the difference.”), the writing process (“I did verbs, Kirk [Thatcher] did nouns, and Jim [Lewis] is a great adjective man.”), how well Kermit works slightly to the left of the leading man, the origin of Polly Lobster (first as a female parrot named Amazonia, then a parrot named Robert Louis Stevenson), and his hatred for “Making Of” specials.  What a brilliant man, and what an honor it must’ve been to get to interview him for MuppetZine.

Okay, but for real, there’s some news in here somewhere.  There are lots of reviews of Muppet Treasure Island from real news sources (sorry, Danny), both positive and jerky.  Brian Henson mentions a Muppet film in development that’s “like Pigs in Space”, which may have been the original Muppets In Space.  There’s also a great news story about a thief who attempted to steal some Muppets from an exhibit in Erfurt, Germany.  They broke through a wall(!) and successfully stole Bert and Ernie, while attempting (and failing) to steal Miss Piggy (could a well-placed karate chop have saved her?).  Kermit later said in an interview, “Those were just puppets.  The real Ernie and Bert are still on Sesame Street. I spoke to them the other day, and they’re doing fine!”  You can’t make this stuff up.

“The Balcony” is replaced this issue with “The Figurehead” (see Smig’s Statler and Waldorf image below), in which a bunch of MuppetZine contributors give their two cents on Muppet Treasure Island.  But this article is notable for another reason: It features a segment written by me!  Yep, this marked the first time anything I’d ever written was printed, and it’s the second-dumbest thing ever (see issue #18 for the winner of that contest).  I went on some sort of inane rant about why Kermit, Gonzo, and Rizzo used to be so cool and now they’re so watered down.  Not that I wasn’t wrong, I just had no idea how to say it without sounding like a tool.  At least now when I sound like a tool, I do it with gusto!

Next up, Smig wrote and illustrated four full pages of a Cracked-style parody of Muppet Treasure Island, crammed with puns and jabs and spoofs of the film.  It’s pretty clever and well-made, and you can read the whole dang thing in the Smig Art section below!  How about that for nothin’!

After some more Muppet Treasure Island quotes and merchandise roundup, this issue comes to a close, and we can finally look forward to some other Muppet thing being put into production.  Um, we hope.

Smig Art:

Head on back here soon for our coverage of the fifth and final year, including interviews with Bill Barretta and Jim Lewis, a lesson in Muppet history, and the end of an era.

Click here to start spreading the news on the ToughPigs forum!

by Joe Hennes – Joe@ToughPigs.com



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