The minds behind ABC’s highly anticipated The Muppets reboot met the press Tuesday at the Television Critics Association’s summer press tour, delivering a humorous, charming and insightful session.
The panel, which featured banter between Kermit and Miss Piggy, offered a look at how the series would be structured, as well as the production “magic trick” to create the new series. Producers indicated that ABC’s new Muppets would both pay homage to the original Muppet Show and cater to a brand-new audience.
From executive producers Bill Prady (The Big Bang Theory), Bob Kushell (3rd Rock From the Sun), Randall Einhorn (Wilfred) and Bill Barretta (who voices Swedish Chef, Pepe the King Prawn and Rowlf), the comedy was picked up to series based only on a 10-minute presentation. The series — which brings Prady back to his Muppets roots, where he started his career at Henson Associates — features the return of Muppets performers including Barretta, 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). ABC previewed the series at Comic-Con, where it received a rare standing ovation.
ABC’s new Muppets is a docu-style comedy that finds Kermit and company reuniting to stage a late-night talk show — Up Late With Miss Piggy — that, in ABC’s meta world, airs behind Jimmy Kimmel‘s show. The series is described as a more adult Muppets and will explore their personal and professional lives while still including celebrity cameos. 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 in charge of craft services; and Rowlf owns a tavern across the street from the studio, where he plays piano.
“The goal here is to be exactly the same and completely different,” said Prady of how the new series compares with the original, noting that they may visit Piggy’s home to catch her without makeup. “That is what we’re trying to do, to very much honor [the original] … more rigorously than has been done to stay with The Muppet Show but, at the same time, do something that is contemporary and works on TV now.”
Added Kushell: “Your kids, anybody who hasn’t seen The Muppets in the past, will see a whole new world … and anybody who has grown up with it will have that nostalgia feel but also have their minds blown by the new way we’re doing the show.”
Producers also noted that the series would have unprecedented access to what’s been going on in the personal lives of Kermit, Piggy and company, noting that the series has “unfettered access.”
“I tried to fetter it, but it didn’t work out,” interjected Kermit.
Though Prady and Kushell insisted that the series is not a variety show, it will, however, feature musical performances. Imagine Dragons will be featured in the first episode as a guest on Piggy’s talk show, which perfectly lends itself to musical acts.
“[The Muppets will feature] bands and musical acts, but the show is not a variety show,” said Kushell. “It’s not about that. It’s about what happens behind the scenes on Up Late With Miss Piggy. You’ll see parts of the show with those bands on the show, but there won’t be a full act.”
There also will be celebrity guests in every episode — with Reese Witherspoon already confirmed as participating.
One thing that will not be featured on ABC’s new Muppets: politics. Prady noted that he wasn’t a fan of featuring of-the-moment discussion.
“You wind up in the Murphy Brown situation, where there’s no longevity, and the show becomes a thing of the moment,” said Prady. “[We want] to not be a thing of the moment, but try to have some duration.” (Which, should The Muppets be a hit, certainly will help a potential syndication deal down the line.)
The amusing panel also featured Kermit and Piggy discussing their romantic split, with the former couple also issuing a fun statement about the status of their relationship: “After careful thought, thoughtful consideration and considerable squabbling, we have made the difficult decision to terminate our romantic relationship. We will continue to work together on television (The Muppets/Tuesdays 8 p.m. this fall on ABC) and in all media now known or hereafter devised, in perpetuity, throughout the universe. However, our personal lives are now distinct and separate, and we will be seeing other people, pigs, frogs, et al. This is our only comment on this private matter … unless we get the right offer. Thank you for your understanding.”
The Muppets debuts Tuesday, Sept. 22, at 8 p.m. on ABC.