Hollywood Flashback: In 1978, 'The Muppet Show' Hit Emmy Heights

Courtesy of The Jim Henson Company/Burt Glinn/Magnum Photos
From left: Lazer, Goelz, Henson and Oz with their Emmys in ’ 78.

The series, created by Jim Henson, beat out 'The Carol Burnett Show' and 'Saturday Night Live' to take home the top prize for outstanding comedy, variety or music series.

The Statlers and Waldorfs of the world were not kind to ABC's The Muppets: The mockumentary reboot of Jim Henson's beloved franchise was axed May 12 after a single low-rated season.

The story was quite different in 1978 when The Muppet Show, in its second successful season, was bringing something inspirational, celebrational and, yes, Muppetational into America's living rooms each week. Hollywood couldn't help but take notice of the phenomenon and registered its approval by nominating the show, about a group of misfits placed in charge of an old vaudeville theater, for five Primetime Emmys.

Muppet Show already had a taste of gold: For its debut season, guest star Rita Moreno won for supporting actress in variety or music. But privately, Henson had expressed disappointment. "Up for 3," he wrote in his journal. "Only Rita won. Sigh." The second time proved the charm, though, as Muppet Show took the top prize in '78 — outstanding comedy, variety or music series — beating out the likes of The Carol Burnett Show and Saturday Night Live (then starring Bill Murray and Gilda Radner).

Steve Martin, who later would collaborate with Muppeteer Frank Oz on such films as Little Shop of Horrors and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, announced the winner; the orchestra played the familiar "Muppet Show Theme"; and a jubilant Henson and his collaborators took the stage. "Gee, wow," Henson told the crowd, sounding exactly like Kermit the Frog. "This is a very happy night for us, I must say. The whole Muppet group is a joyful little family."

Standing nearby were Oz (aka Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Animal), Muppet performer David Goelz (Gonzo, Bunsen Honeydew) and David Lazer (executive producer and chief Muppet-human liaison for guest stars like Liza Minnelli). "It was surreal," recalls Goelz. "To go from complete outsider to the epicenter of the entertainment business, it was remarkable."

This story first appeared in a special Emmy issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

comments powered by Disqus