Comic-Con: 'Muppets' Steal the Spotlight, Get Standing Ovation

Kermit, Piggy and more make surprise appearances at their Comic-Con debut as ABC looks to have a hit on its hands.
 Associated Press

The Muppets made its Comic-Con debut on Saturday to a packed house of diehard fans of the beloved franchise with a panel that not only spotlighted Kermit, Miss Piggy and more, but also the performers behind them.

Executive producers behind the ABC comedy Bill Prady (The Big Bang Theory), Bob Kushell (3rd Rock From the Sun), Randall Einhorn (Wilfred) and Bill Barretta (Swedish Chef, Pepe the King Prawn, Rowlf the Dog) were joined by Dave Goelz (Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, Gonzo and Waldorf), Steve Whitmire (Beaker, Kermit, Rizzo and Statler) and Eric Jacobson (Animal, Fozzie Bear, Miss Piggy and Sam Eagle) to offer a peek at what to expect from the docu-style comedy that finds Kermit and company reuniting to stage a late-night talk show fronted by Piggy. The series is described as a more adult Muppets, which will explore their personal and professional lives while still including celebrity cameos.

ABC picked up The Muppets to series based solely on a 10-minute pilot presentation — which was screened at Comic-Con — that wowed executives. (Producers the Jim Henson Co. is owned by ABC corporate parent Disney.) The series is the second time Prady, who got his start working for Henson and earned an Emmy nom in 1991 for helping to write the show's tribute to its late creator, attempted to revive The Muppets.

"It's taken 10 years to convince people to do it," Prady told the packed ballroom, noting that the subject matter the show skews would be content that Henson would want to send up.

"The whole show takes place behind the scenes at Up Late With Miss Piggy," Kushell said of the faux show that airs behind Jimmy Kimmel. Kermit is Piggy's executive producer; Gonzo is her head writer, along with Pepe and Rizzo. Scooter is the talent coordinator. Fozzie is Piggy's on-air sidekick; Bobo is the stage manager and Sam Eagle is the head of broadcast standards for the network; while the Swedish Chef is also in charge of craft services and Rowlf owns a tavern across the street from the studio where he plays piano.

"The trick of the show, if it works, is to show the Muppets in our world. There's no barrier between the world they're in and the world we're in," Prady said, noting that Einhorn is carefully shooting the series like a documentary.

Producers also explained that the set is huge and not just a series of small rooms. Now, unlike the past, Kermit will be able to see Piggy's dressing room from his office— so if she's coming to him, he's aware of it. The series will also shoot on location in Los Angeles, helping to connect both worlds.

"There are whole aspects of their personal lives that we don't know and we're trying to construct personal lives for them that matches the stuff that we do know," Prady said, adding that the series would go home with the characters and explore more of what makes them tick. Fozzie will continue to date a human — as seen in the trailer — while Gonzo will explore online dating. (Gonzo, who was among the actual Muppets to make a surprise appearance at the panel, joked that he was still missing a deal to officially join the show.)

The raucous panel was divided between producers explaining the logistics of the how the comedy would work and the actual Muppets — Pepe, Rowlf, Rizzo, Gonzo, Fozzie, Kermit and, yes, Miss Piggy — explaining in-character how their show within the show will work, while capturing the same banter that made the franchise so beloved.

"Nothing is personal in this show — we are going to show you everyyyyythingggg!" Piggy said when making her debut. (For those who haven't seen the trailer, Piggy and Kermit have split and Saturday's appearance was billed as her first public appearance since their break-up.)

Asked what kind of EP Kermit is, Prady said: "On one hand, he's very smart, he's a terrific producer and knows how a TV show is put together. His fatal flaw is that he's hired his friends. His weakness is that he cares."  

Kermit, meanwhile, took a few jabs at Piggy about what kind of late-night talk show host she would be: "She's going to get up to speed on the whole late-night talk show host thing — eventually," while Gonzo added: "Like any new job, you can't screw it up forever."

When a fan asked producers if there would be more female Muppets, Piggy — who technically is the first female late-night talk show host on broadcast — deadpanned: "Aren't I enough for you?!"

Prady also noted that Denise — Kermit's new love interest — is being "redesigned." (The character serves as the head of marketing on faux show.) He also said the series will feature contemporary bands as well as Muppets performing independently and together.

Goelz, meanwhile, explained that some of the show's seven performers had never met late creator Henson — but that his spirit was with the ABC reboot. "What I'm always amazed by is somehow the essence of what Jim did seeps through the screen and guides them. They're so dedicated to preserving Jim's work as faithfully and reverently as they can, it's remarkable," he said.

The panel, which was held in Ballroom 6A (with a1,040 capacity), concluded with a standing ovation — a good sign for ABC, which has scheduled The Muppets to open Tuesdays at 8 p.m., leading into the second season of critical darling Fresh Off the Boat as the network looks to fill the historically problematic slot. 

While Comic-Con's TV side has been relatively lackluster — despite its many new trailers — The Muppets panel took a page from Star Wars and managed to entertain and, perhaps more importantly, sell the crowd without the benefit of new footage or big announcements. It's what Comic-Con is really about: Being there to say you saw Kermit and Piggy and company dazzle a dingy ballroom. 

The Muppets debuts Sept. 22 at 8 p.m. on ABC. To sign up for Live Feed TV alerts for news and scoop on your favorite shows, please go to THR.com/FeedNews

Email: Lesley.Goldberg@THR.com
Twitter: @Snoodit

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