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Wednesday, November 18, 2015

A New TV Special from Jim Henson

Written by Jon Williams

Jim Henson was a pioneering figure in the world of puppetry, bringing it to the forefront of entertainment, particularly for children. His sudden passing in 1990 at the young age of 53 left an enormous void. Although his companies and his beloved creations have carried on, Henson’s voice (both literal and figurative) has been sadly missing these last 25 years.

Thanks to a chance discovery, that’s about to change, at least for one more TV special. In 2009, a new partnership sent Lisa Henson into her father’s archives, where she found a treatment for an unproduced feature themed for Thanksgiving. Jim Henson had gone so far as to put some puppets together, and then the project was apparently abandoned for some reason. Looking it over, she knew it was something that should see the light of day—and now it will. This Saturday, November 21, Jim Henson’s Turkey Hollow will air on Lifetime, and it will be available on DVD the following Tuesday. This will follow the graphic novel version (available on hoopla) that was made last year.

The original treatment for the show dates back to the late 1960s, and Lisa suspects it got shelved when her father got involved with Sesame Street. As his previous experience had been with a local show in the Washington, D.C. area, the wildly popular children’s educational show was the rest of the world’s introduction to Henson and his style of puppetry. Most of the iconic puppets that did so much to draw children’s interest to the show were designed by Henson—including Kermit the Frog, arguably his most famous creation.

Not wanting to known as a purveyor only of entertainment for children, Henson then began developing The Muppet Show, which, after struggling to find a TV home in the United States, made its debut in Great Britain in 1976. While the show’s humor may have been aimed at a more grown-up audience than Sesame Street, obviously, its colorful and lovable Muppet characters (such as Kermit) ensured that the show would appeal to children as well (as I can attest from personal experience). And he never stepped fully away from the world of children’s entertainment, bringing Fraggle Rock to life in 1983, among others.

The success of The Muppet Show allowed Henson to take his talents to the big screen. He began, naturally enough, with movies about those same Muppets. The Muppet Movie came out in 1979, and was followed by The Great Muppet Caper in 1981 and The Muppets Take Manhattan in 1984. It was during this time that Henson was consulted by George Lucas for assistance with creating the character of Yoda for The Empire Strikes Back. Henson also took his own dive into fantasy, with features like The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth.

Needless to say, Jim Henson created a vast wealth of imaginary worlds that have captured the imagination of generations. And the thirst for his characters and his brand of entertainment didn’t stop with his passing. Five more Muppet movies have been made since 1990, including the recent iterations (The Muppets in 2011 and Muppets Most Wanted in 2014) that led to the new Muppets TV show that’s currently airing. There’s also a new Fraggle Rock movie in development, to star Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Obviously, interest in Mr. Henson’s work remains high, even more than 25 years later. SmartBrowse his name on our website for plenty more material both from and about this wonderful entertainer.

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