November 15, 2010

Stop Being Wrong

Filed under: Commentary,Feature — Tags: , , — Ryan Roe @ 8:30 am

I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, but people get really excited when they talk about Muppets. They have fond memories of watching Muppet shows and movies, and they love the characters… but they sure get a lot of things wrong. I’m not talking about the fans here; we know everything there is to know about the Muppets. But the average person — let’s call them John and Marsha Fumblenoggin — they get a lot of things wrong. Now, it’s great that there’s been so much Muppet-related talk on the internet lately, but it would be even greater if the people doing the talking were informed. How many of the Fumblenoggins who blogged or commented on the Katy Perry controversy said something like “Doesn’t Miss Piggy show more cleavage on Sesame Street all the time?” Way too, that’s how many.

Here are a few things I’d like to tell the Fumblenoggins of the world.

fozzienotfonzie

1. The bear’s name is Fozzie; the dog’s name is Rowlf.

Not that people are confusing the two characters with each other… After all, everyone knows bears wear hats (and dogs play piano). But dang, folks get their names wrong a lot. The reason this one bugs me is that it’s so easy to look up a character’s name. It takes about seven seconds to do a Google search for “Fuzzy Bear Muppet,” and the very first result is a link to the Muppet Wiki page which clearly indicates the correct spelling of that guy’s name. If folks would think before they post, they wouldn’t end up blogging about Fuzzy Bear, or Fonzie Bear, and I wouldn’t have to waste my valuable time writing this cranky article which they’ve forced me to write. I’ve also seen “Fozzy Bear” or “Fozzie THE Bear,” although I’ll be a bit more lenient toward those last two. You’re welcome.

Speaking of which, the confusion on how Rowlf’s name is spelled is a bit more understandable, because it’s tied to the issue of how the name is pronounced (an issue I’ve previously discussed in detail here). But once again, all it takes is a good Googling: Searching for either “Rolf the Dog Muppet” or “Ralph the Dog Muppet” immediately brings up the Muppet Wiki and several other pages with the correct spelling.

stevemartin

2. The Muppet Show had guest stars, not guest hosts.

Saturday Night Live has been the most prominent sketch/variety show on TV for so long, it’s changed the way we think about the genre (not to mention the way we think about unfrozen cavemen lawyers). Every week they feature a celebrity at the center of the show, much like The Muppet Show did. But SNL actually has their guests perform hosting duties, delivering the opening monologue and introducing the musical guest. The Muppet Show, on the other hand, had the same host for every episode, and his name was Kermit the Frog, not Harry Belafonte or Carol Channing or Spike Milligan or Mummenschanz. Although it would have been fascinating to watch Mummenschanz attempt to introduce Marvin Suggs.

So the next time you hear a friend recalling “the time Elton John hosted The Muppet Show,” try saying, “Elton John?! I didn’t know Elton John was a frog named Kermit! HAHA HAHAHAHA HAHAHAHA HA!” Once you both finish laughing, your friend will greatly appreciate your help in maintaining accuracy when discussing puppet shows.

Hey, but here’s an idea… Why not turn this misconception upside-down and shake it around a bit, and get Kermit to host SNL? If fans can convince the show to let Betty White host, surely the Muppet-loving Facebookers out there couldmake it happen for the frog by the time the new movie comes out. And just like Betty White, Kermit’s been on TV since the 1950s, so it makes perfect sense!

By the way, before you send me e-mails: Yes, I realize that there were moments and episodes where Kermit had to step back and let somebody else play host, but come on. You know what I mean.

noyoda

3. Not every puppet is a Muppet.

A lot of Fumblenoggins refer to all puppets they see on TV or in movies as Muppets. While there are a lot of puppet characters out there who look like Muppets, the word is a registered trademark, so only certain puppets can legally be referred to as Muppets. Which means if you misidentify a non-Muppet as a Muppet, you could get arrested. Anyway, you wouldn’t refer to Bugs Bunny as a Disney character, would you? No. And why? Because that would be stupid. Only certain cartoon characters are Disney characters, and only certain puppets are Muppets. Gonzo? Muppet.Ebenezer from Pinwheel? Absolutely, under no circumstancesa Muppet.

Perhaps the most frequently confused character is that wacky backwards-talking guy Yoda. He’s a puppet and he’s performed by Frank Oz, so he must be a Muppet, right? WRONG. Yoda was built by George Lucas’s Industrial Light & Magic, not the Muppet Workshop, so he’s no more a Muppet than Chewbacca, Admiral Ackbar, or Billy Dee Williams.

There’s an incredibly simple way to keep it all straight. Just remember this: Any puppet built by the Muppet Workshop is a Muppet, and any puppet built by Jim Henson’s Creature Shop is technically a creature rather than a Muppet, but you’re allowed to call it a Muppet anyway. Any other puppet is not a Muppet, except for the Muppet characters built by Puppet Heap, which took over building the characters after the Henson Company sold the Muppets to Disney in 2004, at which point the Muppet Workshop stopped being the Muppet Workshop and just became the Jim Henson Company puppet workshop, so the puppets they’ve built after 2004 can no longer be called Muppets, except for the ones that they built for Sesame Street, which are still called Muppets by arrangement between Disney and Sesame Workshop and because they’ve always been called Muppets; and also some of the existing characters who were first built by the Muppet Workshop when it was still the Muppet Workshop but whose rights were not included in the Disney sale can no longer be called Muppets even though they used to be Muppets.

See how simple it is?

4. Jim Henson was not the driving creative force behind Sesame Street.

When the Fumblenoggins in their 20s and 30s complain about how terrible Sesame Street is today and how brilliant it used to be, they often point to the death of Jim Henson as the moment everything started careening downhill into a festering pool of crappiness. But as crazy as this sounds, Jim’s overall contribution to the show is often vastly overestimated. While Sesame Street certainly never would have become such a phenomenon without Jim Henson’s Muppets, he never played the role of show-runner. He was a part of the show’s early development, he played a key role in the creation of the show’s Muppet characters, and of course he played lots of great Muppet characters.

But from the very beginning (and even before the beginning), Sesame Street was a Children’s Television Workshop joint, not a Henson Associates one, so Jim was never one of the top decision-makers. The show wasn’t his idea; it originated with Joan Ganz Cooney and her posse. And by the time The Muppet Show played the music and lit the lights in 1976, Jim’s presence at the Sesame Street studio was largely limited to performing, a trend that continued as he moved on to making movies and creating new shows.

There have been many, many creative people who have never really gotten the recognition they deserve from casual fans — folks like longtime head writer Norman Stiles, or writer/composer Jeff Moss, or director/producer/writer Jon Stone, who worked on the show from 1969 to 1996. Jim did great work on Sesame Street, but he was never the man behind the wheel.

By the way, if you try to explain this to one of the aforementioned complainers, they will either a) refuse to believe you, or b) nod as if in understanding, then immediately continue complaining.

"Sesame Street?  Isn't that the cute little children's show with puppets?"

"Sesame Street? Isn't that the cute little children's show with puppets?"


5. Miss Piggy has never appeared on Sesame Street.

For a lot of Fumblenoggins, the hours of TV they watched as children have been smooshed together in their memories, like a giant ball of previously-chewed bubble gum. In addition to being disgusting, this leads to confusion about which beloved Muppets were on which beloved television program. So when Sesame Street issues a press release about a new season, you can bet at least one Fumblenoggin blogger will say, “Hey, how come they don’t mention Bunsen Honeydew and Beaker? Why aren’t they on the show anymore?” And of course the answer is easy: They’ve been banned from the show for eating all the doughnuts at the craft services table.

Wait, no. It’s because they were never on Sesame Street. Meanwhile, Ernie, Bert, and Grover were never in the cast of The Muppet Show. I think one reason people get confused about this one is the fact that Kermit was on both shows. And if Kermit could cross over, why couldn’t Piggy or Fozzie, or the Count or Herbert Birdsfoot? So people think, Oh yeah, The Muppet Show, that show with Kermit the Frog… and sometimes he did sketches with Cookie Monster. Yep, that’s The Muppet Show all right. Or they think, Sesame Street, eh? That’s the show where Kermit the Frog sang “Bein’ Green”… and then Miss Piggy was always chasing him around. Yessiree, Bob, that’s what happened on Sesame Street!

So this one might be pretty hard for most Fumblenoggins to keep straight. You should probably just loan everyone you know all your Muppet Show and Sesame Street DVDs and test them until they get it right.

Animaleatdrums

6. Animal is not a platypus.

Okay, I’ve never actually seen anyone suggest that he is, but I just thought I’d be proactive on this one.

I’m sure I missed some. Which misconceptions about the Muppets drive you bananas? Click here to let me know on the Tough Pigs forum!

by Ryan Roe – Ryan@ToughPigs.com



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