'Muppets' Revived at ABC With 'Big Bang Theory' Co-Creator

Bill Prady is co-writing the script that is being eyed as a straight-to-series variety show.
"The Muppets" with Bill Prady (inset)  Courtesy of Photofest; AP Images/Invision

It may be time to light the lights.

ABC is filming a proof of concept for a revival of The Muppets, The Hollywood Reporter has learned.

The Big Bang Theory co-creator Bill Prady is co-writing the script for a pilot presentation that sources say could be unspooled at May's upfront presentation to Madison Avenue advertisers. Sources tell THR that the project, if all goes well, could go straight to series.

Bob Kushell (Anger Management, 3rd Rock From the Sun) will also co-write and is attached to serve as showrunner, with Wilfred's Randall Einhorn attached to exec produce and direct the presentation. ABC's Muppets revival is being produced by ABC Studios and The Muppet Studios, which Disney owns. The presentation is set to film next weekend on the Disney lot in Burbank with some of the original Muppet performers returning.

Sources 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, and her current relationship with frequent love Kermit is on the rocks, preventing the show from getting off the ground. 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.

For Prady, the revived Muppets — which landed at ABC after initial interest from Netflix — marks a return to his roots. The producer, who currently does not have an overall deal, started his career working for Henson in 1982 and ultimately started writing for The Jim Henson Hour, remaining on the series until a year after Henson's death in 1990.

This marks the second time Prady has attempted to revive The Muppets. The writer-producer shot some test footage before CBS' The Big Bang Theory that Disney ultimately passed on. For his part, Prady earned an Emmy nomination in 1991 for writing tribute The Muppets Celebrate Jim Henson in 1990 and has contributed writing to Disney's Muppet-themed attractions. Should ABC order Muppets to series, Prady would juggle both that project and CBS' The Big Bang Theory, which he exec produces. 

Created in 1955 by Henson, the original Muppet characters appeared on Sam and Friends from 1955-61 before going on to appear on late-night talk shows and commercials and becoming a regular part of Sesame Street in 1969. The Muppet Show launched on its own as a comedy-variety series and ran from 1976-81, with Kermit serving as the de-facto showrunner on the syndicated series that was produced out of the U.K. The franchise has spawned multiple movies (1979's The Muppet Movie, 1981's The Great Muppet Caper, 1984's The Muppets Take Manhattan) as well as NBC's 1989 series The Jim Henson Hour.

Following Henson's death, the franchise continued with Muppets Tonight airing on ABC in 1996 with reruns airing on sibling Disney Channel from 1997-2000. That was the last television series to feature the Muppets characters.

On the feature side, the franchise featured 1992's The Muppet Christmas Carol, 1996's Muppet Treasure Island and 1999's Muppets From Space, the latter two of which were co-produced by Disney, who acquired rights to the Muppets in 2004 and formed The Muppets Studio. The company rebranded the franchise in 2008 with Jason Segel's The Muppets, with an eighth feature in the franchise, Muppets Most Wanted bowing in 2014.

For ABC, the Muppets revival comes as variety shows are in the midst of a resurgence on the broadcast networks. NBC has made the format a priority, unspooling Marlon Wayans-hosted celebrity variety series I Can Do That! in the summer and has Neil Patrick Harris entry Saturday Night Takeaway in the works.

The decision to revive The Muppets also comes as remakes and reboots are having their moment in the sun on the small-screen, as broadcast networks look to fan bases for existing franchises to help cut through the clutter and draw eyeballs in an increasingly crowded scripted space.

On the comedy side, The Muppets arrives as it has become increasingly challenging to launch original scripted half-hours.

Prady is repped by Rothman Brecher and Lichter Grossman; Kushell is with ICM Partners; Einhorn is with WME, Odenkirk Provissiero and Bloom Hergott.

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

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