The Jim Henson Co. sits in the old Charlie Chaplin lot on La Brea Avenue in Hollywood, with a giant Kermit the Frog perched at its entrance, even though the Muppets were sold to Disney in 2004. The corporation, run by the late Henson’s grown children, Lisa and Brian, with a staff of about 80 employees, focuses on an array of programming targeted to adults and children. “It’s a lot of different businesses,” says company CEO Lisa Henson, who served as president of Columbia Pictures during the 1990s.
“We’re coming up on the 10th anniversary of Disney having the Muppets,” Lisa adds. “It’s a good time to be taking stock. We’ve been really busy.”
Recent projects include a live-action movie of the popular 1972 children’s story “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day”; pre-school TV programming (including “Dinosaur Train” and “Sid the Science Kid” on PBS and “Pajanimals” on Sprout); a “Fraggle Rock” movie in development at New Regency with Ivan Reitman producing; and an adult-themed puppets stage show, “Puppet Up! Uncensored,” meant for grown ups.
“It’s R-rated in terms of content and language,” company chair Brian Henson says of “Puppet Up!” “It’s a celebration of my childhood, watching my dad work and watching other ‘Muppets’ workers. They used to develop the characters by messing with each other before the director yelled, ‘Action!’ ” Henson is shopping another adult-targeted puppet comedy, “Happy Time Murders,” a movie with noir elements, Brian says.
Later this month, the Hensons will debut Syfy’s “Jim Henson’s Creature Shop Challenge,” a puppet-building reality competition show a la “Project Runway.” Ten designers compete for a prize worth up to $100,000, which includes a job as a creature builder at the Henson Co. Brian, who directed two “Muppets” movies in the ’90s, appears in every episode as the head judge.
“This has been a great idea we’ve been knocking around for years,” he says. Is he a mean judge? “Well, I’m very nice about it,” he says. “I’m honest and critical.”