The Jim Henson Company (also known at various times as Muppets, Inc., Henson Associates, and Jim Henson Productions) is an American entertainment company, a leading producer of children's and family entertainment, and best known as the creator of the renowned Muppets characters.
Founded in 1958 by Jim Henson, the company has produced such successful television series as The Muppet Show, Fraggle Rock, Bear in the Big Blue House, and Farscape, as well as creating the Muppet characters for the Sesame Workshop children's series, Sesame Street. Henson has also produced motion pictures including The Muppet Movie, The Great Muppet Caper, The Dark Crystal, and Labyrinth. The company also operates Jim Henson's Creature Shop, a puppet, animatronics, and visual effects workshop.
The Henson Company entered a merger agreement with The Walt Disney Company in 1989, but the deal fell through after founder Jim Henson's death in 1990, and the company was subsequently taken over by the Henson family. In 2000, Henson was sold to German media company EM.TV & Merchandising AG, but after EM.TV's stock collapsed, the company was sold back to the Henson family in 2003. In 2004, Henson sold the rights to the Muppets and Bear in the Big Blue House to The Walt Disney Company, but retains the rest of its characters, program library, and assets.
Jim Henson and his performing partner and future wife Jane Nebel officially founded Muppets Inc. in 1958, three years after the debut of Sam and Friends. Aside from Sam and Friends, the majority of work that the company had until 1969 was creating characters for various commercials, variety show appearances, and a few meeting films for various companies (the company would produce its own Muppet Meeting Films from 1975 through 1999). In 1969, the company started creating characters for the popular children's show Sesame Street.
One of the company's first characters to be seen regularly on national television was Rowlf the Dog, who was initially created for Purina Dog Chow commercials and soon became famous when he became a regular character on The Jimmy Dean Show from 1963-1966. During this time, the show's host, Jimmy Dean, was given an opportunity to own forty percent of the company. However, Dean turned the offer down because he didn't feel that he had earned it.
For many years, Jim Henson had tried to sell several different shows to the major networks, all of which turned them down. Some ideas (such as Tales of the Tinkerdee) were made as unaired pilots, and some (such as The Zoocus) were never produced. Then, in 1976, Jim Henson was able to produce The Muppet Show for syndication. The success of The Muppet Show led to many movies, specials, videos, and more. The Muppet Show was originally owned by the British company ITC, but Jim Henson later purchased the rights to the show.
In the early 1980s, Jim Henson also formed Jim Henson's Creature Shop, which would go on to create characters for shows such as The StoryTeller, Farscape, and Dinosaurs; and movies such as The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth. It was also during the 1980s that Jim Henson produced new television series such as Fraggle Rock and The Jim Henson Hour.
In August 1989, Jim Henson entered negotiations to sell the company to The Walt Disney Company for a reported $150 million. The deal was to include the entire Henson operation, except for the rights to the Sesame Street characters. However, on May 16, 1990, Henson passed away unexpectedly, before the deal was completed. The two companies resumed negotiations, but after Disney and the Henson family failed to reach an accord, the merger was called off in December 1990, and Henson remained an independent company.
In 1999, the Jim Henson Company, along with Hallmark Entertainment, held partial interests in two cable channels, The Kermit Channel (which was broadcast in Asia) and The Odyssey Channel (which was broadcast in the United States). In 2001, after Crown Media (the cable operator controlled by Hallmark Cards) gained full control of the network, Odyssey was relaunched as The Hallmark Channel.
In 2000, Jim Henson’s children sold the entire company (including the Sesame Street characters) to German media company EM.TV & Merchandising AG for $680 million. In June of that year, EM.TV sold its stakes in the Odyssey and Kermit networks to Crown Media in exchange for an 8.2% stake in Crown Media. In late 2000, after EM.TV subsequently experienced major financial problems, it sold the rights to the Sesame Street Muppets and Henson's interest in the Noggin cable network to Sesame Workshop, and by the spring of 2001, just one year after buying the company, EM.TV had officially put the remainder of The Jim Henson Company up for sale. The Walt Disney Company, HIT Entertainment, TV mogul Haim Saban, Classic Media, Entertainment Rights, Viacom, and a management-led buyout headed by then-Henson CEO Charles Rivkin, were among the parties who showed interest in buying the Henson company.
In December of 2002, a deal was announced in which EM.TV would sell a 49.9% stake in Henson to an investment group led by Dean Valentine, a former executive at Disney and at UPN. However in March 2003, the deal fell through, and the search for a new buyer resumed.
On May 7, 2003, the Henson family, led by Brian Henson, re-acquired the Jim Henson Company from EM.TV for $84 million, and the company was once again independent.
In 2004, almost one year after ownership of the Henson company was returned to the family's hands, The Jim Henson Company sold the rights to the Muppets and Bear in the Big Blue House characters to The Walt Disney Company, who now control the Muppets through the wholly-owned subsidiary The Muppets Studio (formerly Muppets Holding Company LLC).
Since regaining its independence in 2003, Henson has produced several children's television series for PBS Kids - including Sid the Science Kid, Dinosaur Train, Wilson & Ditch: Digging America. The company has also produced The Possibility Shop for DisneyFamily.com and Pajanimals for Sprout. A web series pilot, Teeny Tiny Dogs, was created for Amazon.com. The company also produces the reality competition series, Jim Henson's Creature Shop Challenge, for the SyFy network.
Through its partnership with Archaia Entertainment, the Jim Henson Company has developed comic books and graphic novels based on several established properties, including Fraggle Rock, The Dark Crystal, Labyrinth, The Storyteller, The Skrumps, and an unproduced Henson screenplay, Tale of Sand.
Since 2005, the company has developed more mature comedy content under the Henson Alternative banner. The brand launched the national tour of "Stuffed and Unstrung," a live puppet improvisational show. The company is also releasing original web series, including The Simian Undercover Detective Squad and Alt/Reality, on YouTube and other networks. Additionally, Henson developed a feature film, Happytime Murders, released under the Henson Alternative banner. In 2013, Henson Alternative debuted its satirical program, No, You Shut Up!, on the Fusion channel.
In addition to the Creature Shop and its extensive character catalogue and library, Henson also runs Henson Recording Studios. HRS is one of the leading music recording facilities in the industry and is located at the Jim Henson Company lot in Hollywood, CA, formerly the A&M Records headquarters, and originally the Charlie Chaplin Studio lot.
Henson Independent Properties (HiP), a third party licensing banner, was established by the company in 2009 to acquire and service consumer products for external brands and properties. Current HiP properties include Skatelab, and The String Doll Gang.
In 2013, the company operated BBC1's Saturday evening television show That Puppet Game Show. Some of the episodes were directed by Brian Henson, who was one of the executive producers and also puppeteered various characters in the show.
The Jim Henson Company is independently owned and operated by the four adult children of Jim Henson--Brian, Lisa, Cheryl, and Heather--who all also sit on the company's board of directors. Sibling and fellow co-owner John Henson sat on the board until his death in February 2014. Harvey Gettleson, John Hyde and Robin Russell also sit on the board.
Brian Henson serves as Chairman of The Jim Henson Company, while sister Lisa serves as Chief Executive Officer and President.
As of August 2018, the company's executive roster was as follows:
- Lisa Henson, CEO & President
- Laurie Don, Executive Vice President & CFO
- Chris Lytton, COO & Executive Vice President of Strategy and Business Affairs
- Halle Stanford, President of Television
- Joe Henderson, Executive Vice President of Worldwide Administration
- Nicole Goldman, Executive Vice President of Marketing/PR and Education Initiatives
- Helen Jorda, Senior Vice President Business and Legal Affairs
- Ian Lambur, Senior Vice President, Global Distribution
- Peter Brooke, Creative Supervisor for Jim Henson's Creature Shop
- Faryal Ganjehei, Vice President of Studio Operations, Henson Recording Studio
- Blanca Lista, Vice President of Feature Film Production
- Sarah Maizes, Vice President of Children's Entertainment
- Anna Moorefield, Vice President of Global Distribution
- Jeremy Nocon, Vice President of Business Development for Jim Henson's Creature Shop
- Debra Shapiro, Vice President of Business & Legal Affairs
- Howard Sharp, Vice President of Administration
- Karen Falk, Archives Director
Former Company Titles
According to documents retrieved from the District of Columbia Archives, Articles of Incorporation for Muppets, Inc. were filed September 10, 1958 in Washington, D.C. by agents acting for Jim Henson and Jane Nebel. The Certificate of Incorporation was granted November 20 of that year. Not until the corporation filed its first annual report in 1959 did the names of Jim Henson and Jane Nebel appear in the city's archives.
Following the Hensons' move to New York, a confusing array names were used for the company, including "Uppity Muppets Corp.," "Muppets Inc. (New York)," "Henson Associates, Inc.," "Jim Henson Productions," and "The Jim Henson Company." At times, two or more names seem to have been used concurrently, as evidenced by information retrieved from the New York State Division of Corporations. An approximate timeline for names of the company is as follows:
- Muppets Inc. (1958-1974)
- Henson Associates (1968–1990)
- Henson International (Early 1980s–1990)
- Jim Henson Productions (1987-1997)
- The Jim Henson Company (1997-present)
- Owned by EM.TV & Merchandising AG from March 2000 to July 2003
Lionsgate held the video rights to the Jim Henson Company library from 2009-2012, and currently Gaiam Vivendi Entertainment holds the video rights. However, video releases from these companies have not had special labels for the releases.
Jim Henson Television
The Jim Henson Company started using the "Jim Henson Television" logo in its programming in 1997. This logo also replaced the ending "Henson Associates" and "Jim Henson Productions" logo cards in other productions. On The Muppet Show, it replaced the ending shot of Zoot, which originally had an in-credit notice over it saying "From ITC Entertainment," and was altered in the mid-'80s to feature the 1980s Henson Associates logo fly out from his sax in a bubble. (In the Time-Life video and DVD releases, Zoot's scenes were included in the first two episodes shown, but were replaced by this logo in the last episode in each release.)
- MuppetMusic (198?)
- Jim Henson Records (1992-1994) (distributed by BMG Kidz)
Logos and Logo Sequences
During the 1980s, Fraggle Rock, Muppet Babies, and other productions used a number of animated logo sequences for Henson Associates, and later Jim Henson Productions. A logo for Henson Associates featured the company's HA! initials, usually written in green on a white background. It had different animations depending on the show, usually either the "HA!" logo zooming out, or in another variation, the exclamation mark shining. One of the final logos made during the time when the company had its former title had "Jim Henson Productions" written in black letters and on a white background with a green "j" and "h," with an illustrated Kermit head appearing in place of the "i" in the word "Jim". However, there was a Henson Associates copyright notice underneath.
One of the earliest Jim Henson Productions logo sequences had an animated arm of Kermit putting up a sign that read "Jim Henson Productions", and after hanging the sign, the sign slid, causing all of the letters to fall off. In some cases, the sign would break off the string and crash to the ground. An alternate version had an arrow sticking the sign to the wall and Kermit pulling his arm out of the frame in shock, another version had the Jim Henson text on a window shade, and then the animated Kermit arm pulls up the window shade, and yet another had the Jim Henson text on a TV screen, with the animated Kermit arm shutting off the TV.
Eventually, the logo had "Jim Henson" written in green, with a red underline, with "PRODUCTIONS" written in red underneath it, and in front of a black background. Some productions, such as The Jim Henson Hour, ended with a green line forming the Jim Henson signature and "PRODUCTIONS", with the dot above the "I" appearing and the background fading to black. In early 1990s productions such as The Muppet Christmas Carol and Muppet Treasure Island (and all Muppet Babies and other Jim Henson Video releases), an animated logo sequence was created in which a laser-like effect drew a Kermit face, which was then colored, and a spark from his eye turned the whole face into a tiny, flying spark, buzzing like a bumblebee, which produced the words "Jim Henson Productions", and the spark then became the dot on the "i". This logo has also been used without the logo sequence, sometimes with the spark becoming the dot of the "i" included. The same basic look of this logo card was also used for the Jim Henson Television logo card.
On Dinosaurs, the logo was accompanied by a pterodactyl who either flew past or sat on the logo.
Since the acquisition of the classic Muppets by the Walt Disney Company in 2004, the colors of the logo were changed to a red signature, with a gray underline and 'The Jim Henson Company' in gray underneath. This logo has been used as a static caption at the end of Disney-owned, Henson-produced Muppet productions since the Disney acquisition. An animated version exists in which the logo shines while it zooms out in a black background.
The Jim Henson Honors
The Jim Henson Company established The Jim Henson Honors in 2005 as an annual program that acknowledges organizations, individuals or products that reflect the core values and philosophy of Jim Henson and the company he founded in 1955.
Honorees are chosen by the artists and staff at The Jim Henson Company, who are asked to nominate recipients who inspire them in their everyday work, maintain similar core values as the company, and of course, reflect Jim Henson's commitment to excellence in creativity and innovation. The annual list of recepiants are announced in December.
“The diversity and accomplishment of the recipients exemplifies what we believe; that there can be inspiration and fun in everything around us. In our books and music, but also in our cars, communities and our environment. My father saw the joy that comes from embracing all kinds of creativity and we are thrilled to continue that legacy.”
—Lisa Henson, 2005
The 2005 Jim Henson Honorees
- The Jim Henson Celebration Honor - J. K. Rowling, author
- The Jim Henson Creativity Honor - Gorillaz, virtual band
- The Jim Henson Community Honor - Bill Haber, community service
- The Jim Henson Technology Honor - The Prius, gas-electric hybrid automobile
The 2006 Jim Henson Honorees
- The Jim Henson Celebration Honor – Al Gore, former Vice President
- The Jim Henson Creativity Honor – Hayao Miyazaki, writer and director of animation
- The Jim Henson Community Honor – Wynton Marsalis, jazz musician
- The Jim Henson Technology Honor – Google Earth, Internet satellite and map
The 2007 Jim Henson Honorees
- The Jim Henson Celebration Honor – Richard Branson, British entrepreneur
- The Jim Henson Creativity Honor – Etsy, online place for all things handmade
- The Jim Henson Community Honor – Neil Gaiman, writer
- The Jim Henson Technology Honor – REAL D 3D, 3D experience provider
The 2008 Jim Henson Honorees
- The Jim Henson Celebration Honor – Shigeru Miyamoto, general manager, Nintendo Entertainment
- The Jim Henson Creativity Honor – The Center for Puppetry Arts Distance Learning Center, A non-profit arts organization
- The Jim Henson Community Honor – Shepard Fairey, artist
- The Jim Henson Technology Honor – Spore, video game
The 2009 Jim Henson Honorees
- The Jim Henson Celebration Honor – Steve Jobs, Apple CEO
- The Jim Henson Community Honor – 826 National, a tutoring, writing, and publishing organization
- The Jim Henson Creativity Honor – Neill Blomkamp, director
- The Jim Henson Technology Honor – YouTube Symphony Orchestra, the world's first collaborative orchestra
- ↑ Craig McDonald Interview with Jimmy Dean
- ↑ Yahoo News "Billionaire Saban wants to buy the Muppets" 10/8/02
- ↑ Reuters "Sesame Workshop and Sony join forces with Classic Media to acquire Henson" 5/6/03
- ↑ Jim Henson's Red Book - 9/7/1984 - HE HO HIT meeting and boat party on Thames
- ↑ 2005 Henson Press Release