Today Movieweb had the pleasure of sitting down with Lisa Henson, daughter of the luminary Muppets creator Jim Henson and the producer of such films as Zero Effect, Good Boy! and The Muppets' Wizard of Oz. During the interview Lisa Henson was both enthusiastic and charming as she discussed the upcoming release of The Muppet Show - Season One, her "muppet" childhood and out of all those lovable characters which one was her favorite.
What can we expect from the upcoming release of The Muppet Show - Season One?
Lisa Henson: Yeah, I think everything's on here. All the shows are on in their complete form which also involves what we call "the English Three Minutes." The show was shot in England. It was premiering on English television at the same time that it was here in syndication. So there was one sketch on every episode that was never shown in America; that was only shown in England.
Lisa Henson: Yeah, and sometimes that one sketch is the most absurd for Muppet fans... the most Muppety... as they rarely utilized the guest star for that extra thing. And sometimes it would be hardly even scripted and it just be thrown out there. Like Rolf's playing the piano with some absurd thing happening. That one sketch, some people have never seen that sketch... even the biggest fans will have never seen those sketches.
Until you mentioned that I had no idea that something like that even existed.
Lisa Henson: Because they were running commercial-free in England on the BBC. And they had the commercial... they just needed a longer show.
How does it feel to finally have these DVDs coming out?
Lisa Henson: It's great. It's great because a lot of times over the past few years... because people were not sure how some of the guest star material was gonna play, because the fear was that it would be sort of dated, but now it feels the opposite. Now, it's like "I really want to see all that stuff that never made it into the compilation tape, that never makes it into the compilation." Everybody that has a body of work has certain stuff that's seen more frequently. You'll go, "Oh yeah, I've seen that bit on a compilation show." But when you go back and you see all the episodes, then there's gonna be a lot of material that's never making it into anthologies or compilations that you can see that with.
It seems like after awhile it became kind of a status thing to do that show. I remember watching Rocky III and in the beginning of the movie, after Rocky won the title he appeared on The Muppet Show!
Lisa Henson:(Laughs) Well, Stallone did do The Muppet Show. He didn't do it in Season One, like in season one you can see that they did use a lot of friends and people they worked with in Variety TV. There were certainly some big stars but by the later seasons there... it was more "statusy". They did have Elton John and Stallone and huge, huge stars.
The Muppets really were a very big part of my childhood. And even today, it must be very gratifying and great for you to see that these characters haven't aged. They don't seem to have lost anything that they've had.
Lisa Henson: That's true because they were sort of carefully removed from the context of the TV show when they did the movies and given this kind of autonomous life. Where they could do films, where they could do guest appearances on late night talk shows, or they could do commercials, or they could be booked as talent. As that started to develop that sort of cemented their autonomy. They're not trapped in Muppet Show Season One . They went on to be stars that could do all kinds of things. People have expectations of those performers today that are very, very close to what they would do in 1980. My son was just watching Miss Piggy on the Disney Channel, who is promoting the release of The Muppets' Wizard of Oz and you know what? That's Miss Piggy. She's kind of immortal. She's kind of the same character.
I would like you to know that the summer going into my 6th grade year, I spent it in a movie theater watching The Muppets' Take Manhattan over and over. Even today I put that movie on and it loses nothing.
Lisa Henson: That's great!
As a child were you exposed to the Muppets a lot? Or did your parents try and keep the worlds separate?
Lisa Henson: (laughing) I like that idea... "Yes! It's a secret!".
We both laugh.
Lisa Henson: Can you imagine? Pretending to be a straight guy? Well, we did live in Greenwich, Connecticut where there were not too many puppeteers.
It would be the like The Truman Show except it would be with The Muppets?
Lisa Henson: Right! We were very, very involved. We definitely did not have any illusions that these puppets were real. We were very involved, we saw it as a giant art project going on all the time. We spent a lot of time on sets and in the workshops, around the puppets being built and rehearsed. I saw these characters being developed from the sidelines. When this show premiered I was just a teenager, so I did spend a lot of time on set during school breaks and such. My father was kind of interested in training all of us to sort of be his apprentices in various things. And so all of us did ultimately do apprenticeships with The Muppets in different areas. It did sort of bear fruit in ultimately the kinds of things we took an interest in. And I was always sort of always being groomed to be the producer. I sat in on production meetings and in editorial. I went to pitch meetings with him for the movies. Whereas he would have another kid focus more on the technology; the puppet building. We were all put to work whenever we could make ourselves available he would find something for us to do.
Do you think your father saw what your strengths were in those areas and sort pushed you in that direction?
Lisa Henson: Yeah, I think he had fun imagining how everybody could sort of carve up the company and sort of do different things.
Lisa Henson: For awhile, none of us working in the company pretty much at all, and after his death we did sort of filter back to the company and wind up doing things quite similar to what he would have imagined. It's all very interesting.
Do you have a favorite Muppets character?
Lisa Henson: Well, my favorite character is Rolf which was his first television character that he developed for "The Jimmy Dean Show". Rolf went on to be the piano player for The Muppet Show. I do think he's the most kind of authentic character. He's just the loveliest when he's playing the piano. Those musical bits with Rolf are some of my absolute favorite on the show.
What is the Henson Co. doing now?
Lisa Henson: Well, we are still affiliated with The Muppets through Disney and we did just produce The Muppets' Wizard of Oz. But we're also doing a lot of things that are not Muppets. We pretty much focus in two areas which is family (film and television) as well as fantasy, because after the Muppets my father went on to do Dark Crystal and Labyrinth, and explore these cool world's of creatures. So we still are doing some very interesting fantasy and sci-fi, and at the same time the family entertainment that people know us for.
Get your hands on The Muppet Show: Season 1 August 9th.