It just might be time to play the music and light the lights at ABC, if a currently-in-production pilot for a revival of The Muppet Show sparks interest from execs later this year.
The pilot is being co-written and pushed by Bill Prady, co-creator of The Big Bang Theory. Years before producing Big Bang, however, Prady was starting his career by working with Jim Henson on Muppet productions. He would write for The Jim Henson Hour as well as Disney theme park attractions featuring the Muppets. He also earned an Emmy nomination for writing The Muppets Celebrate Jim Henson, a heart-wrenching television tribute from the Muppets and the folks behind them to the life of then-recently-deceased Jim Henson. This latest attempt isn't isn't the first time Prady has made an attempt to revive The Muppet Show, but it's the one that's closest to fruition.
According to The Hollywood Reporter's sources, the pilot is set to begin shooting with some original muppeteers this weekend, and could be shown to ABC execs, who would either pass or order it directly to series, as early as May. Bob Kushell (Anger Management, 3rd Rock From the Sun) is attached to co-write and occupy the showrunner's chair, and Randall Einhorn (Wilfred) is on board to direct and executive produce. Like The Muppet Show itself, the plan is to create a Muppet-themed and -hosted variety program.
The Hollywood Reporter even has word on the plot of the pilot itself, which sidles right up to the fourth wall in a manner practically traditional for Muppet productions.
Source say the concept for the presentation includes the regular cast of characters created by Jim Henson — Kermit the Frog, Fozzie Bear, Gonzo and Animal, among others — gathering at ABC Studios for a meeting about the new Muppet Show, however, the show won't move forward unless Miss Piggy signs on — only her current relationship with frequent love Kermit is on the rocks preventing that from happening. Early plans call for two celebrity cameos — including Miss Piggy's current co-star — as well as new roles including Fozzie's girlfriend and her parents.
The Muppets flew under the radar for a long time after the death of their creator, even after they were bought by Disney in 2004. For a while it seemed that the House of Mouse wasn't really certain what to do with a cast of characters who were fictional but were also real Hollywood celebrities within that fiction, a conceit that makes them somewhat unique among Disney's rights holdings.
At their heyday, the Muppets were often a whip-smart vehicle for commentating on show business and popular media, and Disney produced several viral video clips in 2008 that proved the characters had what it took to engage audiences in an internet age with the bones of a variety show production: musical numbers and other short video hijinks. Disney has gotten great successes out of feature films like The Muppets and Muppets Most Wanted, but a return to variety television would be a return to the zany reflections of pop culture that made the Muppets an indelible mark on our show business map.