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Jim Henson ‘Would Have Been Thrilled to See The Muppets Getting So Much Attention’

Just in time for the Muppets 60th anniversary year and the anniversary of Jim Henson’s birthday, which falls this week, “The Muppets” are headed back into primetime — and as it goes in their world, Kermit and friends are getting a lot of attention, specifically for the breakup between the famous frog and Miss Piggy.

Turns out, for longtime Muppet fans, the split of the summer comes as no surprise. Kermit and Miss Piggy actually broke up back in the ’90s, though the story didn’t get nearly as much attention as it did today, due to Henson’s sudden death.

“In May of 1990, there was a big publicity stunt done by the Muppets and the stunt was that Kermit and Piggy broke up when Piggy announced she was breaking up with Kermit,” Henson’s daughter Lisa Henson, who runs The Jim Henson Company with her siblings, tells Variety.

That publicity campaign was called “The Pig of the Nineties.” It was pushed out with a press release on May 10, less than one week before Henson passed away on May 16, 1990, causing the company to drop the campaign.

“I feel like Bill Prady is picking up literally where my father left off,” Henson says of ABC’s “The Muppets” creator, who began his writing career at Jim Henson’s Muppets. “For insiders, it’s particularly interesting.”

The original press release — titled “Pig to Press: ‘I’m My Own Pig!'” — obtained by Variety, states: 

Miss Piggy, legendary star of stage, screen, television, video and other assorted media, announced that from this day forth she is “her own pig,” and will no longer be romantically linked with longtime parter, Kermit (a frog).

The announcement was made this morning in an exclusive interview with her dear friend Deborah Norville of the ultra-important Today Show.

Looking dazzlingly attractive despite her obvious distress, Miss Piggy assured us that she and “That Frog” will continue to work together on various Muppet projects, “bringing joy and laughter to my many, many devoted fans around the world.”

“They had national press for that, just as they had this year,” Henson explains. “Kermit responded publicly by saying they had really never been together and they were just friends and never married and (their relationship) was just a big misunderstanding that had blown out of proportion.”

Fast-forward 25 years and Kermit is up to the same old tricks. This summer when rumors swirled of his new girlfriend — Denise, a pig whom he works with on Miss Piggy’s late-night show on ABC’s “Muppets” — the frog took to Twitter to say, “Sheesh. I can’t believe I already have to do this again…we are simply close friends.”

“I’ve been following along with all the marketing, and it’s very appropriate that ABC got the audience’s attention with these messages of Kermit and Piggy breaking up,” Henson explains, pointing out the beloved character’s longtime placement as real celebrities in the pop culture stratosphere.

“One of the thing that’s great about puppets is they can have an independent life in the press and on talk shows, as happened when Disney was marketing the last movie and the Muppets made some remarks at a press conference,” Henson says, referring to the 2014 Disney flick “Muppets Most Wanted.” She adds, “They’re not animated characters. They can actually be booked on talk shows.”

In fact, just this week, ABC’s masterful publicity strategy put Kermit and Miss Piggy on Jimmy Kimmel‘s couch to break their silence in a joint discussion post-breakup. The interview quickly trended on social media.

“Playing with the idea that the puppets are real celebrities, in a sense, Bill Prady’s whole show is taking that idea — they are real, they live in our world, they are celebrities, they have their own lives — and taking that to its natural extensions,” Henson notes, giving her stamp of approval.

Here, Henson talks to Variety more about her father’s legacy, The Jim Henson Company’s support of the new show and the Muppets 60th anniversary:

What would your father have thought of ABC’s “The Muppets?”

I don’t try to guess what my father would have thought about anything. Because I run the Jim Henson Company, I have to do it by myself and not guess what he would have thought, but he was very fond of Bill Prady and thought he was a real up-and-comer in those days when he was a writer so I’m sure he would have been thrilled to have one of his protégés taking the Muppets into primetime.

With the Muppets, it’s always been important to have a big feature film or a big primetime show. My father would have been thrilled to see the Muppets getting so much attention, and for them to be one of the most prominent premieres of the fall, that would have been rewarding.

What do you and The Jim Henson Company think about the new show?

We always thought it would be a very good idea to do a modern show-within-a-show. The original “Muppets Show” was a show-within-a-show as well. It’s also a great format for bringing on celebrities in a very natural way. A Muppets show in primetime has to have a good model for celebrities. I think this is a more modern format where a lot of celebrities can participate in being on the Muppets, but they don’t have to be as silly as they had to be on the original “Muppet Show.”

I am such a supporter of what Disney is doing with the Muppets. The fact that the TV show is different in tone is consistent in what we’ve always done … We’ve always played the Muppets different tonally from one production to the next. As long as the characters remain recognizable and as lovable as they always are, the kind of tone of the different pieces fits perfectly.

What do you think about the mockumentary-style format and the more-adult, modernized storylines?

I love the mockumentary style. I feel like that’s natural for the Muppets. I think just taking them into a modern times is really funny.

For a lot of new Muppets fans, this is the first they’re hearing of “The Pig of the Nineties.” Why do you think the breakup got so much attention this time around?

(In the ’90s), there was a lot of thought went into that, as a way to get the public’s attention and also to reinforce the idea that the characters are real. They’re real celebrities. They have their own following. It’s interesting that in 1990, they wanted to do that campaign without the aid of Twitter and Facebook. One of the things that (staff writers) Jim Lewis and Bill Prady were there to do as their job was to respond to interviews in the written voice of the characters, which isn’t so different from how the characters tweet today. Bill Prady would have been responding to reporters’ question in writing in the voice of Miss Piggy and Kermit.

Do you think fans appear to have a stronger opinion this time around because they can actually give immediate feedback with social media?

That’s interesting. In the old days, we didn’t have the comment section and hear what people think about your ideas in such an immediate way. To me, people being obsessed with Kermit and Piggy breaking up is very sweet and represents the nostalgic love that people have for the Muppets — but not necessarily the most informed view of the Muppets because true Muppets fans know that Kermit was very fond of Miss Piggy, but it was more of a one-sided relationship. Let’s put it this way: it was always a very complicated relationship.

The Jim Henson Company is a busy production company. How are you celebrating the Muppets’ 60th anniversary this year?

This is of course our 60th anniversary year because 1955 was the first show my father did. We have the “Turkey Hollow” movie coming out and will be doing things for the fans.

“Jim Henson’s Turkey Hollow,” starring Mary Steenburgen, will premiere Nov. 21 on Lifetime. Featuring re-envisioned versions of the puppets Jim Henson originally created, he had “Turkey Hollow” in development, but when “Sesame Street” became a hit, he become too busy to pursue the project and Lisa Henson later developed it, first as a graphic novel and now, as a telepic.

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