One of the largest information technology companies in the world, International Business Machines Corporation (IBM) was founded in 1888 and continues producing computer technology.
In 1965, IBM commissioned a series of industrial films from Jim Henson, who worked alongside IBM's film and television head, David Lazer. The films were a mixture of motivators and sales reels (spotlighting IBM's typewriters, early word processors, and other products) and comedic break shorts, intended as icebreakers during long meetings. A notable example of the latter is "Coffee Break Machine," in which a prototyped Cookie Monster consumes an exaggerated talking computer. These shorts in effect were the first Muppet Meeting Films, which would be made available to any corporate client; some of these later entries were direct remakes of the IBM shorts.
Rowlf the Dog films
Several of the 1966-1967 IBM industrial films, for internal use, featured Rowlf the Dog. One had Rowlf singing "My Way," as an early example of Rowlf playing the piano. Another featured Rowlf introducing IBM's new Hippie Products Division (HPD), including a complicated IBM electric guitar.
A more elaborate film, divided into three parts with a conclusion, has Rowlf joining IBM as a salescanine, to the surprise of the Office Products Division sales head ("What do you mean we hired a dog?") Rowlf recounts his business adventures in a letter to his mother, as typed on a succession of IBM typewriters. Rowlf struggles to make a sale (his ethics causing him to actively flee a customer who admitted to looking at another typewriter in a store window) but he remains optimistic and dogged. A series of commercial spoofs to sell IBM follow, directed by Rowlf himself, spoofing the campaigns of Doublemint, Timex, and Avon. Finally, Rowlf succeeds in meeting 407 percent quota (thanks to his mom opening a secretarial school in his territory and purchasing 316 typewriters) and enjoys a trip to the 100 Percent Club gathering.
In another film, Rowlf writes to the head of his department, having devised a way to pep up their annual summer review of the company rules (which he had fallen asleep during). He envisions himself starring in an IBM revue, where he plays the joke-telling emcee, a soft-shoe duo (The Brothers Rowlf) and a singer who performs the big closing number (backed up by four of the Ideal Rowlf puppets). At the end, it is shown Rowlf is writing the letter as a way of passing the time while locked in the meeting room.
1967 film called The Paperwork Explosion directed by Jim Henson and featured no Muppets.
Kermit's Stepping Stones to Success
The Snow Job
Leo gives a motivation speech about helping his fellow employees, claiming he's not "snowing" anybody. The conference thinks otherwise and soon, he finds himself deep in a blizzard.
According to The Jim Henson Company Archives, Henson started production on four additional films for IBM in the late 1960s. These films were entitled Excluded Mean, The File Clerk, The Crowd and Unpredictable; it is unknown if any of these films were ever completed.
According to a curated entry of the Jim Henson's Red Book blog:
“IBM was hosting in-house seminars at their Information Management Facilities (IMF) designed to broaden the minds of their executives and engineers (rather than be instructive on a particular topic). Producer Ted Mills, who had hired Jim [Henson] to provide comic relief for some of AT&T training seminars back in 1963, was now working for IBM's IMF. He approached Jim in late 1968 to make two animated films (called Excluded Mean and The File Clerk) and two live-action films (called The Crowd and Unpredictable) for IMF. The abstract themes, differing from those meant to sell or provide a laugh, matched well with Jim’s mid-1960s film efforts to depict emotions, thought processes, and feelings through moving images and sounds. Footage of crowds in Baden Baden, Hamburg and Rome was ordered, and Jim created animation cels of abstract geometric shapes. Joe Raposo wrote a musical track, but it is unclear if any of these films were ever finished. After a first version of Unpredictable was previewed, Ted Mills said it was, "Feeling wrong," and that he wanted it to show the, "...profundity of man, [and be] a visual poem." Not the usual intent of a business training film — but the ambitions behind it must have appealed to Jim.”
In 2016, IBM and Sesame Workshop announced a partnership to develop personalized educational platforms for preschoolers employing IBM's Watson computer. In September, IBM released a commercial featuring Watson on Sesame Street conversing with Elmo, Cookie Monster, Abby Cadabby, Grover, Big Bird and several kids.
In January 2018, Big Bird and Oscar (voiced by Caroll Spinney), and the numbers 9 and 5 (puppeteered by Ryan Dillon), appeared in an IBM commercial set to the Dolly Parton song "9 to 5." Their cameo was filmed on July 1, 2017.
- Shown as part of "Henson in High Definition: The Early Years" at Museum of the Moving Image on May 22, 2015
- Jim Henson's Red Book: 1/27-29/1968 – ‘Filming in San Francisco with Fritz – for “Unpredictable” for IBM-IMF.’
- "Sesame Workshop and IBM Watson Team Up to Advance Early Childhood Education," IBM News Room, April 27, 2016
- Ryan Dillon on Instagram