The Muppets on Puppets was produced in June 1968 at public television station WITF-TV in Hershey, Pennsylvania, for National Educational Television (the precursor to PBS). It aired on New York's WNET in January 1970 as part of the station's Adventure in the Arts anthology series.
In the one-hour special, Jim Henson -- with the help of Muppet character Rowlf the Dog -- explains the art of puppetry, from building to performance. Henson describes the various kinds of puppets; demonstrates how to operate a hand puppet; and provides a brief history of puppet development and performance throughout the world, beginning with the influence of the character Punch from the Punch and Judy shows of the 1800s.
The Muppets on Puppets won the National Education Television award for Best Educational Television Show of 1968.
The special is included as a bonus feature on the DVD set The Muppet Show: Season Three. This release includes a few audio drop-outs due to the video source.
- Oz performs a puppet sketch called "The Sunday Painter."
- Rowlf talks about the Muppets, and introduces Kermit the Frog.
- Various Muppet characters (including Wontkins, Rock and Roll Monster, Taminella Grinderfall, King Goshposh, Grump, Little Girl Sue, and Scoop) describe all the different types of Muppets.
- Puppet maker Don Sahlin demonstrates the use of special effects and how to build a puppet.
- The performers do a jazzy skit using only their hands to the tune of "Flying Home", seen 2 years earlier on The Mike Douglas Show.
- Oz and Henson jointly operate a Whatnot puppet, in the form of The Southern Colonel, which transforms into various characters.
- Henson shows how Limbo works.
- Henson talks about the sizes of monsters; at the end of his demonstration, Splurge destroys the set and Henson tells him to clean it up.
- Rowlf takes a stretch break with the Snerfs.
Other highlights include a backstage view of the Muppets in a unique version of the Cinderella story, combined with scenes from other classic children's stories, and a demonstration of how to make simple puppets from materials found at home. This skit had been written by Jerry Juhl back in 1964.
The program concludes with a skit about a king, his daughter, a young boy, and a shapeshifting witch, made from the simple puppets shown before.
In early 1969, Henson taped three additional shows at WITF in Hershey with Sahlin, Oz and Daniel Seagren. These were in color and aired on various public stations as the Adventure in the Arts series. The programs were broadcast by public TV stations, often as part of another show (Iowa Public Television aired the later shows as part of their Volume See series). WITF still retains copies of "The Muppets Make Puppets" and "Muppet Puppet Plays" in their archives, but the third episode is lost.
In 1970, after a positive response to the wider airings of The Muppets on Puppets, Henson began to promote the idea of a similar show for commercial television. He developed a budget and wrote a treatment for a special called The World of the Muppets which he pitched to potential sponsor General Foods. However, complications arose and the special was never produced.
- Rowlf the Dog, Kermit (not yet a frog), Southern Colonel, Little Girl Sue, Snerfs, Rock and Roll Monster, Scoop, Taminella Grinderfall, King Goshposh, Grump, Wontkins, Billy, Splurge, Beautiful Day Monster, Gleep, Snerf, Limbo, Simple and Complicated Muppets, Other background Monsters
- Producer/Director: Tim Steele
- Writer: Jerry Juhl
- Puppeteers: Jim Henson, Jerry Juhl, Frank Oz
- Puppet Builder: Don Sahlin
- Piano Music: Dennis Stoner
- Historical Puppets Courtesy of Bil Baird and Milton Halpert
This program can be viewed in its entirety at The Paley Center for Media.