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Muppets pull strings at ABC

Reality skein has viewers pick next big kiddie character

The Muppets are plotting a return to primetime while looking for their next great character.

ABC has ordered a script and five script outlines for “America’s Next Muppet,” a reality TV parody in which viewers may actually get a chance to pick Kermit and Miss Piggy’s latest colleague.

ABC and Disney remain tight-lipped on the project, although word of the project first leaked last month to several Muppets fan Web sites. But it appears that the new Muppet project would borrow from shows like “American Idol” and “America’s Next Top Model” as judges (Kermit? Statler and Waldorf? Animal?) comb through several new characters to select a major Muppet.

Since acquiring rights to the Muppet characters in 2004, Disney has been pursuing various ways to relaunch the popular brand as part of an overall corporate goal. Alphabet web last May aired telepic “The Muppets Wizard of Oz,” which performed solidly (7.8 million viewers), particularly with adults 18-34, teens and kids.

“America’s Next Muppet” would rep the first Muppets TV program since “Muppets Tonight,” which briefly aired on ABC in 1996 (moving with additional episodes to the Disney Channel for one more year). That show also parodied the TV biz, as the Muppets ran a variety show on “KMUP-TV.”

The original “Muppet Show” ran in syndication for 120 episodes between 1976 and 1981.

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