Johnny Carson and the Muppet Machine was a television special conceived of by Jerry Juhl and Jim Henson in 1969. The special would star Johnny Carson, trapped inside a machine filled with Muppets. The 2001 book Jim Henson's Designs and Doodles reproduced illustrations from Henson and Juhl's proposal, with a synopsis of the script:
“Johnny arrives at the studio to appear in a show he knows nothing about. The only thing in the studio is a machine covered with buttons, levers, and gauges. Johnny pushes a button marked "Start". The machine comes to life and begins to give Johnny instructions.
Johnny is told to walk through a door... Reluctantly, he obeys the machine. The door leads into a stone tunnel leading to two more doors. Along the way, the machine warns Johnny to obey its instructions and to beware of the frightful monsters called Fearzogs. Johnny proceeds through one of the two doors... and winds up in the land of the Kazeeziks.
The Kazeeziks are animated, individual parts of a larger machine. Johnny discovers he can play the machine like a calliope and does an electronic rendition of "Lullaby of Birdland". When the machine begins to get ornery, he escapes through an open doorway.
Johnny winds up in a cave with talking stalagmites and stalactites. Continuing along, he comes to an open plain, where he encounters a talking boulder bearing the image of Ed McMahon. Throughout this journey, Johnny and the machine trade a stream of insults. Soon Johnny meets up with a character... named Haviland P. Squill, a shaggy fur-clad Muppet with the demeanor of an "oily carnival pitchman". This character pops in periodically to sell useless items to Johnny... including an Edsel hubcap, a ticket to the 1937 World Series, and four pounds of spiced yak butter. The proposal suggests Johnny will find uses for each item.
Below the items are characters called the Groans. Every time Johnny tells a bad joke, the Groans leap from the cracks in the wall and groan with pain... Johnny runs into a hairy, toothsome Fearzog. Moments later, he is being prepared as the Fearzogs' main course for dinner. The chief Fearzog thumbs through a cookbook called 1000 Ways to Prepare TV Stars.
Fortunately, Haviland Squill is disguised as the assistant chef and has a box that holds the answer to escaping Fearzogs, but it will cost Mr. Carson $14.95. Johnny is short on cash, but being in a bit of a bind, he decides to write a check. He opens the box and pulls out a piece of paper that simply says, "Run!" Johnny runs, pursued by the Fearzogs.
Crashing down a chute, Johnny returns to the studio where the journey began. "Thank you, Mr. Carson, you have just completed the tour," the Muppet Machine says. As the credits roll, the machine blows up and Haviland P. Squill is shown sweeping up the debris as the proposal comes to a close.”
According to Designs and Doodles, "Reflecting on this program recently, Jerry Juhl laughed and commented, 'What were we thinking? Johnny Carson would never have considered playing a straight man!'"
With Carson out of the picture, Henson and Juhl tried to re-tool the idea in the early 1970's. Their second proposal, titled The Muppet Machine, was aimed toward a younger audience. The story was changed to feature an old man Farley, his teenage niece Lisa and their dog, Rufus. The group would go on an adventure to find some "quepper oil" for the machine, aided by the large instruction manual and Rowlf the Dog, who would reside in the machine.
A separate cover sheet for The Muppet Machine was on display with artwork and other material for Johnny Carson and the Muppet Machine at the Jim Henson's Fantastic World exhibit.
The Jim Henson Company licensed a set of "City Critters" PVC figures in 2007, featuring characters based on Henson's original sketches. A Fearzog from Johnny Carson and the Muppet Machine is one of the characters in the set.
- ↑ Inches, Alison. Jim Henson's Designs and Doodles: A Muppet Sketchbook, Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 2001.
- ↑ Jim Henson's Red Book 7/25/2012 entry.