Jarrod Fairclough – On October 11th 1975, television started a revolution of comedy when NBC broadcast the very first episode of Saturday Night Live, a new live sketch show that launched the careers of Chevy Chase, Dan Aykroyd and many others. That first episode was hosted by comedian George Carlin, featured a short film by Albert Brooks, and Andy Kaufman performed his infamous ‘Mighty Mouse’ routine. The world was taken by storm, and the series became a bonafide hit, basically overnight. However, there was one segment on the show that just didn’t seem to fit.
Jim Henson’s The Land of Gorch.
The Land of Gorch focused on the inhabitants of a mysterious world, led by their King Ploobis, played with gusto by Jim. Along for the ride were Queen Peuta, played by Alice Tweedie, the king’s mistress Vazh, played by Fran Brill, prince Wisss, played by Richard Hunt, as well as the more well known god The Mighty Favog, played by Frank Oz, and the weaseling Scred, played by Jerry Nelson.
The sketches were a large departure for Jim, because while he’d been trying to (and would soon accomplish) establish an adult Muppet series, The Muppets were much better known on the children’s series Sesame Street, at that point a world wide success. Many people were concerned about what Jim and these Muppets would add to such an experimental show, and some worried that his tone wouldn’t fit. So, rather than stick to safe material, Jim created a series of sketches about sex, infidelity, booze and money.
The sketches were often cited to be a low light in an otherwise stellar first season, and it was later revealed that ratings would heavily drop when The Land of Gorch would rear its unwelcome head. A significant reason seemed to be that those working on the show just didn’t like the sketches, including the all important writers. While the actors didn’t like that puppets were stealing their precious screen time (it’s well documented that the series can be cut throat when it comes to content), the writers just didn’t know how to write for the characters. In the SNL biography ‘Live From New York’, writer Alan Zweibel stated that “Whoever drew the short straw that week had to write the Muppet sketch”. One of their biggest obstacles was Jim Henson himself, as he would often want rewrites because “Scred would never say that” etc. Of course, it was this attention to detail that eventually gave Jim such success with The Muppet Show, but at the time some writers saw it as arrogance, rather than commitment to character. It was the constant frustration that caused the others on the show, most notably comedian John Belushi, to refer to the characters as the ‘mucking fuppets’.
Then, in early 1976, Jim and the gang got the green light to film Season One of The Muppet Show, meaning that they were no longer fussed on what happened at 11:30pm on a Saturday night. The sketches suddenly became much more meta, as the characters were ‘fired’, and instead of wandering around Gorch, would roam the backstage of Studio 8H, doing anything they could to get their jobs back. They would beg guest stars, and make big promises. In the early days of SNL, creator Lorne Michaels would offer The Beatles $3000 to appear on the show, and in one sketch Scred told Chevy Chase he could make it happen. John Lennon and Paul McCartney saw this sketch while in a New York hotel room and very nearly came to claim their prize.
In the years since the sketches ended, the segment has been referred to on multiple occasions. It became a running gag in the second season, Scred singing ‘I Got You Babe’ with Lily Tomlin is often sighted as a highlight in compilation episodes, and when Kermit and the others appeared on the Jason Segal hosted episode in 2011, they claimed that they were original cast members, with an image of Scred with the late Gilda Radner.
Jim reflected on the sketches in 1983, saying what he had envisioned and what the writers were creating were not synonymous with each other, although he remained a big fan of Lorne and the show. Frank Oz discussed it in 1999, stating that the cartoonish Muppets didn’t gel with the laid back tone of SNL. The relationship between the Muppets and Saturday Night Live always remained friendly, with The Muppets and Sesame Street characters appearing on the show with some consistency over the years.
However, a few years after their separation, Jim Henson sent the writers of Saturday Night Live a postcard, saying that they were having a great time making a big hit in London. And he signed it with his tongue in his cheek, wishing them love from ‘the Mucking Fuppets’.