"Muppet Might-Have-Beens"

By Danny Horn for MuppetZine, Issue #13 (Summer 1995)
Illustration by Chris Smigliano


There are many reasons why production ideas are discussed but never get produced. Sometimes scripts die in development, sometimes the producers' focus moves to a different project, sometimes there are problems with financing or production. The Muppet/Henson projects listed here were discussed at one time in news articles and interviews, but weren't produced... or, at least, they haven't been produced so far.

Snow White (1969)

Planned as the first of the Tales from Muppetland specials, Snow White was written by Jon Stone and Tom Whedon as a one-hour Muppet fairy tale. Stone and Whedon shopped the special to CBS, but when the network rejected it, they brought it to ABC. ABC bought the special, but because CBS had already rejected Snow White, they asked for it to be changed to a different story. Stone and Whedon wrote a new script, which was shown in 1970 as Hey Cinderella. Stone later became the producer of Sesame Street.

The Muppet Show, with special guest star Robin Williams! (1979)

In 1979, the Muppet Show Fan Club Newsletter printed a proposed list of guest stars for the upcoming season of The Muppet Show. The list of Season 4's guests included Robin Williams and Cher! Ultimately, Robin and Cher (and Señor Wences, who was on the 4th season list but appeared in Season 5) were replaced by Doug Henning, Alan Arkin, and Diana Ross.

Puppetman (1987)

Henson's first attempt to create a network situation comedy was Puppetman, vaguely based on Jim Henson's own early career. Fred Newman starred as Gary, the host of a television puppet show called Dragontime. Muppeteer Richard Hunt (Scooter, Janice) co-starred as Gary's fellow puppeteer, and Julie Payne played Dragontime's human star. The show wasn't picked up by a network, but it got a good reaction when it appeared on CBS Summer Playhouse (a showcase of failed pilots) in 1987. Following the airing on Summer Playhouse, CBS ordered a new script and considered scheduling the series, but it was eventually dropped.

The Primitives (1988)

The New York Muppet Workshop created a set of "pre-characters" called The Primitives, interesting looking puppets based on African and Native American folk art. More than 300 sculptured heads were created, including animals, people, and gods. While the Primitives were connected early on with plans for The Jim Henson Hour, they were never cast as characters and are yet to appear on screen.

Picture-Book Specials (1988)

Henson Associates planned a series of a dozen "picture-book" specials, one-hour puppet stories that would be designed with a children's book illustrator, with the look of the production based on the illustrator's own style. Each story would be produced both as a TV special and a companion storybook. The first two specials in the series, The Tale of the Bunny Picnic and The Christmas Toy, were produced in 1986. Henson had plans for ten more picture- book specials, including The Lizards and a canine Valentine's Day show, Puppy Love. The picture-book series never continued past the first two specials, possibly because they were aimed at ages too young to draw a prime-time audience.

Muppet Voyager (1988)

This series, planned in 1988, continued Henson's interest in connecting all the people of the world. The show would have filmed in a different country every week. While it could have been a magical series, the travel costs and technical problems involved probably doomed this idea from the start.

The Italian Film (1989)

In 1989, Henson became interested in diversifying his company's productions beyond their puppeteering pigeonhole. Duncan Ken-worthy, producer of Fraggle Rock and director of international production for Henson International Television, worked to develop a non-puppet feature film with the working title of The Italian Film. Television/Radio Age magazine described the film as "a love story about an Italian girl who witnesses a miracle," and according to Kenworthy, it would "not have any puppets, animatronics, or anything else which would identify it with Jim Henson... If The Italian Film is as big a success as I think it will be, our potential to diversify may become unlimited."

The Island of Lost Muppets (late 80's)

Island of Lost Muppets was the very promising title of a proposed Muppet miniseries in the late 80's, which would have introduced new characters called the Orangs. Other late-80's projects that never happened were MuppetMania, another mini-series, and a series called Muppet High.

Miss Piggy Mystery Books (1990)

During the negotiations over the planned Henson/Disney merger, the Muppet Press publishing arm of Henson Productions readied for expansion. Among the plans for new books was a new line of mystery novels featuring Miss Piggy as a detective (probably along the lines of a funnier, feistier Nancy Drew). The chaos following Henson's death and the collapse of the Disney deal spelled the end for these plans.

Environmental Show (1990)

One of Henson's last plans for a show was a series he developed for the Disney Channel, created to educate children about animals and the environment. The show was set in a TV station run by animals, headed by Ponce D. Lion, an irreverent anchorlion, and Netty, his "streetwise" lizard co-host. Henson told People that "preteens love animals... You can turn that interest into an awareness of problems in the world today." While this version of the show was shelved after Henson's death, the idea was revived in a slightly different form in 1994 as Jim Henson's Animal Show with Stinky and Jake.

Muppet Halloween Special (1991)

A year after Jim Henson's death, Brian Henson announced that the Muppets would slowly return to television. Henson told TV Guide that the company was "coordinating an over-all strategy" to put the Muppets "back on air and to do more with them. We'll start in a small way, primarily with holiday specials." The planned Halloween special eventually got pushed back to a Christmas special, a Muppet TV version of Dickens' A Christmas Carol. The special grew too big for TV, and was finally seen as the 1992 film The Muppet Christmas Carol.

Pests (1992)

Henson Productions planned a new animated series in 1992 about a crew of cockroaches living in a New York apartment for a prime-time network slot. Scripts were written, but the show (which may have been too similar to the earlier, failed Capitol Critters) never went on the air.

Borgel (1992)

Borgel was another possible series based on a Daniel Pinkwater book about a 110-year-old Jewish time traveler and his talking dog on a quest to find the Great Popsicle. Plans were announced for the series around the time that Christmas Carol was produced, but nothing's been heard of it since.

The Dinosaurs Movie (1993)

Following the successful introduction of Dinosaurs and the early popularity of Baby Sinclair, Michael Jacobs Productions and Jim Henson Productions planned to create a feature film based on the ABC series. However, falling ratings and the show's cancellation meant that the Sinclair family went extinct in the last episode, and never survived to make a movie.

Screaming Edith (1993)

Brian Henson planned to break into MTV with Screaming Edith, a Muppet hard-rock band who would release an album on the new Jim Henson Records label. We haven't seen them yet, but there's no reason why we couldn't see a Screaming Edith video on 120 Minutes sometime in the future.

Future Might-Have-Beens...

There are some projects that have existed as Muppet rumors for quite a while, including a version of Stephen Sondheim's musical Into the Woods (since 1992) and a science-fiction comedy series called Space Chase (since '94). While these projects seem less likely as time goes by, it should be remembered that The Muppet's Treasure Island was originally planned for re-lease in the spring of 1994, and the Gulliver's Travels miniseries currently in production has been in development since 1989! There's always a chance that these Muppet Might-Have-Beens will show up in the future as new Muppet Classics!

See also

Archived MuppetZine articles: