The Jim Henson Hour: An Introduction
Caitlyn Childress – Sunday was a special moment in Muppet History that is sadly greatly overlooked. On April 14th, 1989, a grand total of 24 years ago, NBC aired the first episode of The Jim Henson Hour. For those of you who either aren’t familiar with it, have no idea what it actually is, or are a bit too young to have seen it when it first came out, The Jim Henson Hour was basically an hour-long prime-time anthology series that showcased a variety of work that Jim Henson and his team were doing at the time. The series was even Emmy-nominated a few times, the “Dog City” episode being the one that actually won the Emmy in its category.
However, despite all of that, the show itself suffered from poor time-slots and low ratings. A total of twelve episodes were produced in total, but only nine were aired during its original three and a half month run on NBC. Two of the other episodes later aired as specials on Nickelodeon, while the other episode never even aired in the United States. Plus, judging by the designs of some of the Muppets created for the show, the general populous might not have known what to think about it.
Perhaps it was for these reasons that The Jim Henson Hour has long been a bit of an under-appreciated series in the Muppet continuity. It’s a shame, though: Including the aforementioned Emmy winning and nominations, there were parts of the show that I personally found to be greatly enjoyable. The characters from the show each had their own little quirks, and it might surprise you to find out that some of them have been used in other Muppet productions even after the show’s cancellation. Clifford, for instance, later appeared in a number of specials and hosted Muppets Tonight, while Waldo C. Graphic continues to entertain people at the Disney Parks in Muppet*Vision 3-D.
None of this would have been possible, though, without two main things… Well, okay, besides the obvious (Jim Henson himself, the Muppets in general, all the Muppet performers, The StoryTeller series, etc.), the two key things that were important to the show’s development and production were the “Inner Tube” TV pilot and The Jim Henson Hour pitch tape.
Inner Tube TV was basically the original pilot for The Jim Henson Hour. Made in 1987, it featured two mechanics named Jake and Henry, a futuristic rock band, tons of channels, and cameo appearances by Kermit and Miss Piggy. Words cannot begin to describe this pilot. It must be seen to believe.
An interesting thing to note is that, except for one character (more on him later), basically all the new characters developed for the “Inner Tube” pilot were never seen again. Some of the puppets were reused, sure, but the distinct characters were gone.
However, that wasn’t the last of “Inner Tube” just yet. Clips were re-used in the NBC pitch tape for The Jim Henson Hour. Re-named “Lead-Free TV,” Jim himself described it as “The Muppet Show of the future.” He presented it as part of the second week of the series. Yes, the second week: Jim had originally intended to be an hour showcase, the program airing rotating based on what week of the month it was. The first week was to be an hour-long version of The StoryTeller; the second week “Lead-Free TV”; the third week was for what Jim called “picture book specials”; and the fourth week was sort of an “Anything Can Happen” week. Check it our for yourself:
Obviously, between the time the pitch tape was made and the actual show first aired, several changes were made. The StoryTeller was featured, but usually in the second half-hour. Other specials such as “Dog City” and “Song of the Cloud Forest” also occupied the second half-hour (in the case of “Dog City,” it took up most of the episode!), and some specials even had entire episodes devoted to them!
However, most of the first half of the show was MuppeTelevision, basically a late-eighties version of the old Muppet Show. Kermit presided over a place called Muppet Central, and yes, this is where the famous fan-site got its name. The Muppet Central of The Jim Henson Hour was a control room that had just about any video feed in the universe available for viewing. It was up to Kermit and the rest of the Muppet Central staff to pick and choose the best to show, usually while also dealing with the problems in running the station itself.
To fully cover the extent of everything The Jim Henson Hour has to offer would most likely have to expand over more than one article. Even though this series was short-lived and only had a total of 12 episodes produced, it had a lot going into it that was sadly under-realized due to these factors. Join me next time to delve deeper into this under-appreciated series. Until then, don’t touch that dial!
The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier, firstname.lastname@example.org