WASHINGTON, DC: Muppets loom large in the iconography of Kermit and Friends on Spreecast. For most people, Muppets populate a dimly-remembered fragment of early childhood, perhaps revisited when one has children of one’s own. Readers who are a bit long in the tooth may remember the prime time Muppet Show of the 1970’s, while others are probably familiar with at least one or two of the myriad Muppet movies to appear since the launch of Sesame Street in November, 1969.
However, the Muppets were not a late-1960’s creation of the Children’s Television Workshop (the creators of Sesame Street), as many people may naturally assume. In fact, Jim Henson’s Muppets date all the way back to 1955 and the launch of the program Sam and Friends on WRC-TV, a local Washington, DC affiliate of NBC-TV. Henson, who created the Muppets, claims he first started using the word “Muppet” (a portmanteau of marionette and puppet) even earlier than that.
The very earliest of all Muppet shows, the five-minute long Sam and Friends featured Muppets who sang along to recorded songs and did comedy sketches. The show was not strictly for kids; subtle beatnik themes were introduced via Harry the Hipster, a Muppet that bore some resemblance to Cookie Monster. Kermit was also present, the only Muppet who was still around by the time Sesame Street launched a decade later. However he wasn’t a frog until later episodes; he started off as a quasi-dinosaur. Here is a particularly spacey segment with Kermit and Harry from 1959, one which may or may not have been drug inspired:
The “Sam” in the title is a human Muppet; Sam was bald and had wide eyes, large ears, and a big nose. The supporting cast included Yorick, Harry the Hipster, Professor Madcliffe, Chicken Liver, and Kermit. The earliest episodes leaned more heavily on musical performances, while the later ones tended to be more topical and spoofed many existing shows of its day, especially The Huntley/Brinkley Report, a news digest that occupied the timeslot just prior to Sam and Friends. Another popular recurring gag was “Inchworm”, in which Kermit would nibble on what appeared to be a worm, only to find it was really the nose or tip of the tongue of Big V the monster, who would then gobble Kermit up.
The show ran for 86 episodes, most of which have unfortunately been lost, although a few survive. The earliest shows were shot in monochrome, but the last few were in color (despite few people owning color televisions to watch it on). The show was discontinued in 1961, but had been a cult success. Jim Henson spent much of the 1960’s working in advertising and making experimental films. With the launch of Sesame Street in 1969, the Muppets became the superstars we know today.