Many families who eagerly anticipated The Muppets return to broadcast television last fall were sorely disappointed to find that instead of the light-hearted, family-friendly entertainment they remembered, they were subjected to crass sexual innuendo proceeding from the mouths of once kid-friendly characters and nearly non-stop drug and alcohol references.
PTC research found that children were exposed to adult-themed content every 3 minutes and 38 seconds during the first four episodes of the new Muppet show on ABC. Is it any wonder then, that the new Muppets show, after enjoying respectable ratings for its premiere, saw the ratings plummet with each successive airing? The Muppets failure to connect with audiences should have taught ABC that when you have a show that inherently attracts kids, but frequently exposes them to adult content – sexual innuendoes, sexual references, drugs and alcohol – it’s bound to fail.
Shortly after the PTC released its study findings, ABC pulled the Muppets from the schedule, fired the showrunner who had boasted, “Yes, there will be jokes that are pitched that are a little too risqué, and then we have to find a way to make it more clever, I guess you would say, so that it works on two levels. That’s the fun challenge of what we do…. already, the writers are thinking in a way where you don’t go to the more racy joke first, you go to the clever way to say the racy joke. It’s becoming second nature very quickly,” and promised a relaunch in February that would take the show in a different direction.
It is too soon to tell whether the reworked Muppets will deliver what family audiences were looking for, but there is reason to be optimistic.
In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, new showrunner Kristin Newman shared her hopes for what the Muppets reboot would look like. She’s not looking to be risqué, she’s wants the Muppets to be joyful:
There are moments from different things, but mostly it’s the spirit I’m looking to for inspiration: joy and friendship; Muppets take care of each other; Muppets root for each other, even if Muppets drive each other crazy and get in each other’s way. Muppets, at the end of the day, love each other. So that’s what I try to make every single decision based on. I walked into the writers’ room on my first day and wrote the word “joy” on the wall. That’s what I’m trying to make every decision based on. What’s the most joyful moment we can have here? What’s the most fun we can have here? Let’s let them do what humans can’t do because they’re puppets and they’re silly. Just because they live in a human world doesn’t mean they have to act like humans. Let’s enjoy and play with what they can do.
Meanwhile, Fashion & Style, while crediting the PTC with exposing the high levels of adult content on the Muppets also reports that at the TCA winter press tour, ABC President Paul Lee said he has “high, high hopes” for The Muppets return: “The show itself didn’t quite feel it had the joy and the laughter and the heart that it should have,” he said, and “I’m encouraged by five scripts that I’ve seen from new showrunner Kristin Newman.”
So… will you give The Muppets a second chance when it returns in February?