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Les Muppets on a French roll

Gaul's TF1 orders original episodes of Miss Piggy et al.

PARIS — Thirty years after “The Muppet Show” took global television by storm, Kermit, Miss Piggy, et al., are poised to become TV stars a second time over — in France.

Mais non, Gallic commercial web TF1 isn’t talking reruns.

The channel has commissioned 10 episodes of “Muppets TV,” a new French-language show featuring the original Muppet characters, licensed from Disney, with new storylines and guest stars from the world of French showbiz.

TV presenter-producer Sebastien Cauet is producing via his shingle Be Aware, and he also will be Kermit’s French voice.

“Like a lot of people in France, I grew up with the Muppets,” Cauet says — he was 7 when they first aired in France.

“I know the characters like the back of my hand,” says the TV host and mimic, whose lie detector-based talkshow “La Methode Cauet” is a staple of TF1’s late-evening schedule.

TF1 has yet to announce when it will air “Muppet TV” and in which slot.

Cauet has made a few changes to the original format. The Gallic show’s action has shifted from the original’s old- fashioned theater setting to a modern TV studio. There will be fewer singing and dancing numbers and more parodies of French and American TV.

“We’ve tried to modernize the show,” says Cauet. “But you have to be careful because you are playing with people’s memories. We hope the new show will appeal to fans of the original, and that a new generation will also want to get to know the Muppets.”

As might be expected, all the changes, and the new scripts, have had to be approved by Disney, which also will have a presence on the set.

Dealing with the Mouse House’s exigencies has been a bit of a culture shock, confides Cauet, who is used to having a free rein artistically.

“Sending scripts for validation is a bit tiresome. But I completely understand Disney’s rigor. The Muppets are a treasured brand, and I don’t blame them for wanting to make sure we respect the characters.”

The Walt Disney Co. acquired the property from the Jim Henson Co. in February 2004, along with “The Bear in the Big Blue House.” Since then Disney has turned out the ABC-aired “The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz” TV movie and brought out early Muppets episodes on DVD.

The puppets also have been a bit more in the public eye of late, with appearances on “Saturday Night Live,” at the Emmys and at the London Marathon. Last year Miss Piggy was even the cover girl for the trendy U.K. style mag Pop.

Disney’s international TV sales division, BVITV, has previously licensed Disney-owned formats for local remakes, such as “The Golden Girls,” made by Russia’s Channel 1, and a Russian version of “Home Improvement.”

The French Muppets venture reps a departure that, if successful, could open up new licensing opportunities for the Mouse House.

“Muppets TV” begins shooting next week at studios in La Plaine St. Denis, north of Paris. A new set of puppets –exact replicas made especially for the French show — have been placed “safely under lock and key, like the Crown jewels,” says Cauet.

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