In 2010, Jane Henson donated 10 characters from "Sam and Friends" to the Smithsonian.
LOS ANGELES -- Jane Nebel Henson, the former wife of Muppets creator Jim Henson who was influential in the creation of the popular U.S. TV puppet program, died on Tuesday following a long bout with cancer, The Jim Henson Company said. She was 78 years old.
Henson, who died at her home in Connecticut, was an "integral creative and business partner" in the Muppets, the company, owned by the Hensons' five children, said in a statement.
Jane Henson, born in Queens, New York, in 1934, was an early puppeteer, as well as puppet designer for the Muppets, best known for characters Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy, who starred in numerous television programs and films.
She first met Jim Henson in puppetry class at the University of Maryland in the mid-1950s and the two went on to create together the five-minute television program "Sam and Friends," a precursor to the Muppets.
The show served as a lead-in to "The Huntley-Brinkley Report" news show and "The Tonight Show Starring Steve Allen" on a Washington, D.C., NBC affiliate.
Although Henson stopped working as a puppeteer to raise her children in the early 1960s, she was still responsible for recruiting top talent and performing on occasion on the children's show "Sesame Street."
Henson legally separated from her husband in 1986 prior to his death. She later founded The Jim Henson Legacy to promote his work. She is survived by her five children.
Jim Henson died in 1990 of organ failure following a bacterial infection at age 53.
It seems likely that the latest visitor to TV Guide Magazine's "Cubicle Confessions" would need his office chair lowered quite a bit -- and he might also require some mopping up afterward. After all, he was a frog. And not just any old frog: Kermit the Frog.
Kermit sat down with the magazine for a cheerfully hilarious chat (timing out with the release of "The Muppet Christmas Carol" on Blu-ray), sitting behind a desk in New York City with a Miss Piggy bobblehead at his side (and a black-and-white glamour shot of her hanging behind him) and fielded a few salient questions.
He noted that back when he lived in a swamp, "Probably the worst job I ever had was having to clean up the pond scum.... It's one of those things you do when you're just coming out of tadpole-hood, just as your tail falls off."
Turns out there are many things we didn't know about Kermit: He can handle a chainsaw, and considers himself a handyman; he prefers non-fancy hotels because they're full of bugs and flies, which negates room service, and his favorite shows include "Homeland" and "Duck Dynasty." "It's only because I know so many ducks," he admitted.
Miss Piggy loves the Kardashians, but has a bit of trouble with the food shows, which surprised Kermit. That said, "You know, Piggy and I are both appetizer items on some menus, so you have to be careful."
Cee Lo Green. Muppets. What more do you need? Well, according to "The Voice" coach and musician, "All I Need Is Love," the title track to the awesome music video in which he stars alongside everyone's favorite cloth creatures.
The video, which popped up Monday on YouTube via PitchforkTV, features Cee Lo pulling up in front of the Muppet house (dressed in an odd, if festive, red pleather coat) after getting lost on his way to an Atlanta Christmas party. Naturally, the Muppets invite him in and chaos (including flying fish and the appearance of Santa, played by "The Office's" Craig Robinson) ensues. Other things to look for include:
a smartphone Kermit case held by Walter (of last year's "The Muppets")
It's a ripping good nearly seven minutes (be sure to stick around for the credits, with more Muppet mania), and just the way to kick off the holiday season. (And for those who want the song all by itself, it's from Green's "Cee Lo's Magic Moment" Christmas album.)
What "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" did for animated characters, Todd Berger hopes "The Happytime Murders" will do for puppets -- namely, take them off of the exclusive radar of children, and into adult storytelling.
The in-progress film is a dark comedy that takes place in a world where puppets and humans live side-by-side, and it's expected to garner an R-rating when it is released in 2013. But while the puppets may look a little familiar -- Jim Henson's son Brian Henson is directing Berger's script -- don't call them Muppets.
"(I)t's not associated with The Muppets, which are owned by Disney. It's a movie in which puppets and humans co-exist and a lot of the supporting characters are all puppets," said Berger. "There's a whole cast of characters in the script that they're going to create from scratch.
Plot summaries at GeekTyrant.com and IMDbPro.com describe the film as a murder mystery in which the cast of a 1980s kid's show's start to get offed one by one. "A disgraced LAPD detective-turned-private-eye puppet -- with a drinking problem, no less -- takes the case with his former human partner," noted GeekTyrant.
And in case the R-rating won't make it clear enough, Berger says there will be plenty of activity not usually associated with puppets: "There is swearing, there's sex, violence, murder," he said. "Maybe with some work it could be PG-13, but as of now we've embraced the R rating."
Kermit has run afoul of Germany's media authorities. ZAK, the federal commission charged with regulating the German airwaves, found Kermit guilty of illegal product placement in an appearance last year on commercial network Pro7.
The channel used the famous frog to present its so-called Disney Day of programming, which featured several family-friendly films. But Kermit also mentioned the theatrical release of Disney's "The Muppets." Because the promo was not marked on screen as an ad, Pro7 violated German media law, which bans product placement unless clearly identified as such. Pro7 has admitted the error.
In its most recent session, the ZAK also ruled against pay TV group Sky Deutschland for showing ads of sports betting site bwin during its broadcasts of German league soccer matches. Sky violated the German ban on gambling ads on television, ZAK ruled. Sky has argued the gambling ban does not apply to on air references to bwin, which are not traditional ad spots.
The media commission can not directly fine broadcasters for breaking advertising laws, so it is unclear whether the violations will have any legal consequences.
Chris Cooper plays oilman Tex Richman, the villain of "The Muppets" movie.
By Gael Fashingbauer Cooper, NBC News
The villain in "The Muppets" is Tex Richman, an oilman who wants to tear down the Muppets theater in order to drill for oil underneath.
Just a character and a storyline, or a secret liberal Hollywood plot to brainwash children?
The topic was debated on FOX's "Follow the Money," with a network host and two commentators saying big oil isn't being treated fairly.
"Liberal Hollywood depicting a successful businessman as evil? That's not new," said host Eric Bolling, before tossing the subject to guest Dan Gainor of the conservative Media Research Center.
"This is a Muppet movie," said Gainor. "The only thing green that should be up there on that screen is Kermit the Frog."
Gainor said liberal Hollywood filmmakers have been "brainwashing" moviegoers "for decades," citing "Cars 2." "Syriana," and "There Will Be Blood" as other biased media. "None of them (remind) people what oil means for most people which is fuel to light a hospital or heat your home," he said.
He suggested that there "should be" Occupy Wall Street Muppets, saying that Occupy protesters "have been indoctrinated literally for years" by TV shows such as 1980s cartoon "Captain Planet" or Nickelodeon's "Big Green Help," which focuses on recycling.
Bolling said he grew up poor and his parents would point out wealthy individuals as aspirational ideals, "not pointing the finger at Tex Richman and saying he's a bad guy."
Bolling then went on to ask fellow Fox host Andrea Tantaros about the issue, and she also criticized "Sesame Street," where The Muppets got their start. A primetime "Sesame Street" special that aired Oct. 9 featured a Muppet whose family didn't have enough food.
"We've got Medicaid, there's a record number of people out there on food stamps ... there's all these kinds of programs out there to take care of hungry kids," Tantaros said. "Why would that Muppet be starving?"
Bolling went on to suggest that perhaps the evil Muppet "should be the Obama administration." Giving the opposing view, Occidental College politics professor Caroline Heldman said that remark was "pretty Orwellian."
In "The Muppets," Gonzo the Great has become a plumbing mogul.
By Gael Fashingbauer Cooper, NBC News
Sure, I love Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy, and they're featured prominently in the new "Muppets" movie. But some of my favorite Muppets are the underrated ones, the supporting cast. Here's a look at a few of the often-overlooked stars of the show.
Statler and Waldorf The top pair has to be Statler and Waldorf, the crotchety old critics who sit in an opera box and heckle "The Muppet Show" as it happens. They vaguely resemble an elderly Siskel and Ebert, and Milton Berle once dubbed them "Starsky and Crutch." Snapped Berle, "I'd like to see you come down here and be funny." "You first!" was the response. They're even featured in the theme song, singing "Why do we always come here? I guess we'll never know. It's like a kind of torture, to have to watch this show."
Beaker Poor Beaker. Kermit is chased around by Miss Piggy, Gonzo is shot out of cannons, but no one suffers more than Dr. Bunsen Honeydew's carrot-topped lab assistant. He's had bananas shot at him, been multiplied in a giant copier machine, had his hair shot off with hair-growing tonic, been shrunken to a tiny size, made to eat edible paperclips and otherwise tormented by his clueless boss. If his many tortured "Meeps!" sound familiar, it may be because his voice was provided by Richard Hunt, who also often did Miss Piggy's voice.
The Swedish Chef Even before Food Network, the Swedish Chef was cooking up trouble. His recipes always include throwing exploding pots and ladles, using threatening utensils (chainsaws, battleaxes) and singing in a cheerful slurry of Scandinavian and Muppet. Since so many Muppets are animals and vegetables, the Chef was always trying to drag one or more of them into his recipe, to much googly-eyed resistance. The poor guy. Jamie Oliver never had to prepare food that fought back. Bork, bork, bork!
Rowlf the Dog In the new "Muppets" movie, Kermit and pals drive around the country to collect all the other Muppets, showing only some of the meet-up scenes. "How come you didn't put me in the montage?"complains Rowlf, whining that he thought his scene was pretty exciting. The movie then flashes to Kermit discovering Rowlf sacked out in a hammock. That's piano-playing Rowlf's personality right there -- he was one of the mellowest Muppets around, and even if chainsaws were flying and chickens squawking, he never got flustered. We could all use a little Rowlf.
Gonzo the Great If you want to start a Muppet debate, just ask a fan what in the heck Gonzo was supposed to be. Even the show didn't know. In "The Great Muppet Caper," when the Muppets go to Europe in boxes labeled with their species, Gonzo's box reads "Whatever." "He's a little like a turkey," Kermit once said, though one movie revealed him as a space alien. He has blue fur, feathers, a bendy nose, and a love for chickens and Evel Knievel-like stunts. Once he jumped his motorcycle into Statler and Waldorf's box. Another time he hypnotized himself and ended up being crushed under a 5,000-pound weight. And of course, in every episode, he showed up at the end of the "Muppet Show" theme song with his trumpet to hit the song's final note. His trumpet would alternately catch on fire, squirt water, blow up a balloon, explode, emit colorful smoke or even fly away on its own. This is what we call the Muppet Shooooooow!
"The Muppets" get some human friends in their new movie.
By Gael Fashingbauer Cooper, NBC News
There's a saying in sports journalism: No cheering in the press box, meaning that journalists are supposed to be objective and can't root for one team over the other.
That saying normally applies to movie reviewers as well, but when the new movie "The Muppets" is involved, forget it. It's hard to find a reviewer who didn't grow up thinking fondly of Jim Henson's felt friends, whether it's the "Sesame Street" contingent, the actual "Muppet Show" episodes, or earlier Muppet movies.
But even if you were just dropped here from an alien spacecraft -- perhaps piloted by Pigs in Space -- it would be tough not to root for a Muppets comeback. The characters are just as charming, funny and self-aware as they've always been. And they manage to stay family-friendly without boring the adults -- the preschoolers in the audience don't need to know the real name of the Cee Lo song that Camilla and the chickens sing as "Cluck You."
The plot is pretty simple. Humans Gary and Mary (Jason Segel and Amy Adams) take Gary's brother Walter (a Muppet, though how Muppets and humans can be related is never explained) to Hollywood to see his heroes, The Muppets. They find The Muppet Theater is a wreck and the old gang has split up. When they learn a greedy oil baron (Chris Cooper) is going to tear down the theater and drill for oil, they find Kermit and get the band back together to put on a show and raise the money to save it. (There's even a cameo by the original let's-put-on-a-show guy, 90-year-old Mickey Rooney himself.)
The movie is the first Muppets film in 12 years, and the film won't let you forget it. Kermit tries to call President Carter. He offers Gary and Mary New Coke and Tab. He has a robot who's programmed to say "gag me with a spoon!" and "grody to the max." Teen queen Selena Gomez shows up and confusedly admits "I don't really know who you guys are."
But by movie's end, even kids who were born in the 2000s will leave the theater newly baptized Muppet fans. Miss Piggy and Kermie's love-hate relationship still works, Fozzie has added fart shoes to his bad-joke repertoire, Gonzo still likes to blow things up, and no one can ever understand the Swedish Chef, even with subtitles. Dozens of big stars cameo, with Jack Black and Neil Patrick Harris among the best, and Rashida Jones shines as the Hollywood exec who has to be convinced that the Muppets can find fans in 2011.
They can. They should. They deserve to. Sometimes it's OK to cheer in the press box.
Who's your favorite Muppet? Are you cheering on their comeback? Tell us in the comments.