The History of Late Night and the Muppets

Share Button

Over the next few weeks, something is happening on NBC that only happens every few years and I am not talking about the Olympics.

NBC is getting ready to change up the Late Night hosts. Replacing Jay Leno (finally) will be SNL Alum, Jimmy Fallon. Jay Leno was first asked to leave the show five years ago, but due to low ratings on his primetime experiment, NBC Affiliates demanded he be placed back into his previous time slot and what resulted is perhaps one of the biggest nightmares in television history which led to the removal of NBC’s CEO, Jeff Zucker (who now is the top dog at CNN).

I love to study the history of television. I’m currently reading two biographical books on the subject. The first is “From Scratch Inside the Food Network” which gives a very complex background into all the executive decisions that went into making something as mundane and every day as food becoming a multi-billion dollar branded network.

The second book I am reading is the biography of Jim Henson, the creator of the Muppets. He’s probably one of my favorite people in media history. I love the quote from his long time writer friend and first Muppets, Inc. employee Jerry Juhl.

“This guy was like a sailor who had studied the compass and found that there was a fifth direction in which one could sail.”

Jim Henson did puppetry so well, that no one really else does it besides ventriloquists. Puppetry was never a mainstream art, until Jim Henson made it so. In essence, he took dominion over something in such a way, no one has ever dared to compete.

The Muppets started by making short, 10 second commercials for several companies. That’s where many of the Muppets were created.

But that commercial characters is all the Muppets would ever be without Late Night television. Jim Henson’s foam friends would be not be where he is today without guest appearances on popular talk shows in the sixties. In fact, after Jim Henson refused to sell Rowlf to Purina Dog Food, Rowlf was locked away in a box until The Jimmy Dean Show called.

But then last night, for the final episode of Late Night, the Muppets got a call from Jimmy Fallon.

In Jimmy’s final moments at the late night desk he points out that in one of the offices at Late Night there was a closet with painted pipes by Frank Oz and Jim Henson in which they later in cased in glass to preserve. You can watch a video of Walter the Muppet showing off the pipes in a previous Late Night video here:

Jimmy Fallon understands the importance of late night television’s history to The Muppets. That’s why they were the last musical guest on his show, and why the Muppets fittingly saw him off to the Tonight Show studio as the credits rolled.

I thought it would be interesting to really point out these connections as a way to really bring into light some of the tie ins to television history that was happening last night in case some people missed it.

Consider it a lesson for home schoolers on american history.

Share Button

Comments are closed.