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ABC’s The Muppets changing showrunners, mid-season reboot likely

in Disney, Television

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Since it’s premiere in September, ABC’s freshman show “The Muppets” has been in an extremely unique position. To this point, the show has performed well in the ratings, contributing to a 69% increase in viewership from ABC programs in the same time slot last year. It’s also the highest new show for audiences 18-49 scoring an impressive 2.6. However, because the Muppets is such a renowned franchise and iconic group of characters, the show has been seen as a disappointment by many. Critically, it’s been a disaster with a Rotten Tomatoes score of 64% (compared Fresh Off the Boats 90%).

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The Muppets is a beloved franchise that has been passed down from generation to generation. However, the show that currently exists is a far departure from the show that many grew up on. While the show has always contained adult humor, the new iteration of the show takes a far more adult approach to the characters. With the Muppets engaging in drinking, swearing, and even sexual activity/innuendo, many have been floored by the approach taken by Disney with the new Muppets.

Apparently Disney has been listening to these concerns, because current showrunner Bob Kushell is already on his way out. The show had already been ordered for a 16 episode season, with 10 episodes already completed. However, Deadline is reporting that when the show returns in the Spring, it’ll likely be as a soft reboot. New showrunner Kristen Newman (That’s 70s Show) will be brought in to try to right the ship, with Chuck Prady likely pitching in some more to help the show with some leadership continuity.

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Kushell’s departure is very unusual for a new show, let alone one that has been as successful as The Muppets. However, Deadline also reports that there were issues behind the scenes, which ultimately hurt the quality of the show. With such stress occurring behind the scenes, it is not overly surprising that the show has struggled up to this point. While the word reboot has been seen in a negative light in recent pop culture, in this case, the Muppet reboot may actually be a return to form. Perhaps the most interesting thing that can come from this reboot is whether the new showrunners look to maintain the more adult tone of the show, or if they will tone it down for a more family friendly audience.

The Muppets airs on ABC every Tuesday night at 8 P.M. (EST).

25 Comments

  1. Chad

    I do love the new show. In some respects I feel that the more adult nature was deemed necessary for a prime time slot, however I do feel that the show doesn’t feel like the muppets.

    I am very interested in seeing them tone down the adult humor a bit to bring back the feel of the muppets that I grew up with and love.

  2. James

    This isnt a new muppets, its the original muppets. their first special was called Sex & Violence, Henson joined the cast of SNL because he lived in constant fear of being pigeon holed as a kids director. The humor was long rooted in satire and absurdism . It didnt start to swing into its more family friendly form until probably the release of Muppet Babies.

  3. Shawn Degenhart

    Thankful to hear this. I’ve watched all the episodes so far and while there have been some funny moments, it mostly falls flat. I’ve also been disappointed in the more adult-oriented themes and humor, and am hopeful that the reboot will help return it to the Muppets we know and love. A show that I’d enjoy watching with my children.

  4. frostysnowman

    I think it’s hilarious. I get why people have concerns and may not like it, having grown up watching the original Muppet Show. But I laugh out loud many times during each episode, which doesn’t happen very often when I watch other comedies. I hope the new show runner doesn’t change things too much. I never really liked That 70’s Show.

  5. EricJ

    Yes, looks like the “Cynically adult-deconstructed kitsch Muppets” that were supposed to be the big “retro” appeal after the first Disney movie didn’t…..really…catch on with the core fans as much as they thought it would, and all we wanted was the original characters all along.
    Bummer. Well, live and learn, ABC. :)

  6. Eddie

    What I miss is the silliness. The first episode had a joke about “Dancing with the Tsars” that was more the direction of the classic Muppets. Penguins at the South Pole singing “Lullaby of Broadway” anyone?

    1. EricJ

      Much of the classic Show silliness left when head writer Jerry Juhl left after the Beatles-breakup over “Muppets From Space”, and his later death in ’05. Juhl’s style helped create the silly non-sequitirs and the “Muppet universe” where you took it for granted that anything would talk.
      The current Muppet performers were, at one point, openly PO’ed at the Disney Muppets movie treating the characters like 70’s relics and the butt of adult jokes, and it would have been a lot worse if some Muppet-sentimental Pixar writers hadn’t doctored the script heavily. They didn’t do anything here, however.

    2. I agree. That was one of my favorite jokes. goofy premises like that needs to be a running gag.

  7. Arlene

    The show is fine the way it is… It is and always been geared for an adult audience! Leave it as it is! The kids have many many many other shows to be entertained with! This is our show not theirs I was a fan of the original show… And I am very much enjoying this one!

  8. Greg

    Arlene, I also grew up with the Muppets, and watched it as a kid. If it had the content then that it does now, there is now way my parents would have allowed me to watch it. If Disney ONLY and ALWAYS promoted their Muppet franchise toward an older audience, I would have not problem with the content, mostly. However, I am tired of seeing the bait and switch where something is marketed towards children (Both in the parks and with the recent movies), and then adult content is added in to entertain the adults. You can’t have it both ways!!

    Companies need to make up their minds on who their audience is and then stick with it! I heard many comments from horrified parents who also grew up with the Muppets, watched the movies with their kids, and were shocked at the content in the new show, while watching with their kids.

    If Disney wants millions of parents angry with them for a stupid decision like that, then well done Disney!

    1. Vincent

      Greg, when you say millions will be mad at this show being adult-oriented, you don’t know what your talking about – millions will be mad if they strip this show of its best qualities: THIS Muppet program is for an older demographic – for heaven’s sake, it is an industry satire that takes place behind the scenes of a LATE NIGHT TALK SHOW – since when are Late Night Talk Show’s part of the milieu of young children?? To suggest that anything that contains a Muppet is and must be for children is ludicrous – there has always been a full range of content created by the Henson/Muppet enterprise aimed at every age demo, from toddler to adolescent to adult, from “Fraggle Rock” and “Muppet Babies” to the (completely adult) live show “Puppet Up” and (most importantly) their very inception for adults on SNL. Not giving THIS show to children doesn’t mean they’re taking away the Muppets from them – (from youngest strata upward) there will always be Sesame Street, through the plethora of their other children’s programming, to the old “Muppet Show” (DVD/streaming). To compromise THIS show, taking away its original concept and thesis, will be taking away the ONLY existing Muppet program for US, the adults who have, yes, GROWN-UP with the Muppets, and adore the full breadth of their creative product (“Puppet Up” is a RARE live theater performance, and the original manifestations of the Muppets are now just the stuff of myth and legend). Restructuring it towards children is inflicting and burdening it with things that don’t apply, unraveling it into a mess, crippling the INTEGRITY of the core concept (which should always be the engine driving the train), leaving it haphazard and jumbled, hopelessly trying to please everyone. (This is the tragic affliction of the industry as a whole – the loss of the truth that the greater the purity, clarity, and integrity of the raison d’etre of any work IS the very efficiency and potency of the engine, rendering it powerful enough to carry all the box cars in the forms of episodes, branding, merchandising, and most importantly, audience. And the more genuine and singularly efficient this engine be, the more and more box cars that can be added). If they DO change the show, removing its core adult aspects, it will be yet another demonstration of the cancerous fear spreading through the current crop of programming execs, whereby shows are changed or canceled at the first sign of anything less than monumental numbers, or for ANY sensationalized complaint of a show not being what a given individual had expected. If this epidemic of fear permeated the industry to this extent in the near past, we would not have “All in the Family”, “Seinfeld”, or “Family Guy”. And sadly, this fear renders them blind to the obvious: if you laden a specific meal with every manner of ingredient and flavor that each individual could desire, it doesn’t become enticing to everyone, it is palatable to NO ONE. Either there is a cook creating a specific dish with the fortitude, honesty, and integrity of his intended culinary creation served to his many guests at the table, or it’s all the guests at the table scraping food from their dishes of countless disparate meals they are ALREADY having (from candy, to soup, to sushi) into a plate in the middle, resulting in a heaping pile of, literally, garbage. Either your painting an actual vision that you have in your head, or your painting just what your second guessing every other person might want to see in a painting. DON’T CHANGE THIS SHOW! (Discussing changes now seems tragically ironic, as it REALLY seamed to be hitting its stride stylistically and character-wise in the last 2 episodes – #5 and #6.) It’s a solid show AND it’s ALREADY even getting solid numbers. End the cancer of fear and instead nurture this show’s individuality making it thrive and realize the full potential of its actual intention, and, quite possibly, grow into a truly magnificent, and intelligent satire of the industry itself. Thank you for inciting me to write this response – as it has clarified my thoughts on the matter, I will copy it into the comments as a message thread all its own, any try to work it into some sort of open letter to ABC/Disney.

  9. Phlorada

    WE WILL MISS THE NEW MUPPETS!!! I agree with much as has been said…it is one of the ONLY shows we actually laugh out loud at and I was reluctant to watch as I adored the Muppets as a child!
    I don’t see this as a bait and switch…here or at the parks. I think Disney is a business and is meeting the desires of its audience! I am glad they are putting some ” adult” /intelligent humor in their product. This is the true Disney if you are familiar with their beginnings.
    If you don’t like it then don’t watch it or don’t go to the parks but ruin it for the “millions of parents” who aren’t angry and love it.
    PS … Greg, you should watch new shows prior to viewing them with your children if you are worried about content.

    1. Greg

      I respectfully disagree. It certainly is a bait and switch. If I am used to a product being presented in a certain manner (for decades by the way), I should not have to be worried that all of a sudden, it is adult in nature at times.

      I think the show is funny and entertaining, but not appropriate for kids under a certain age. That has NEVER been the case before, and Disney didn’t exactly announce that this is a new, less kid-friendly of the same characters you have known for years as being completely kid-friendly.

      1. Kevin

        The Muppets have always been adult in nature at times. Maybe you should go back and re-watch some stuff.

        1. Phlorada

          Obsolutley!

          1. Phlorada

            Sorry! Absolutely!!

      2. Phlorada

        Again, Greg, I would politely suggested you review material before presenting it to your children and not rely on Disney to educate you. Obviously people have different opinions as to what is entertaining….and suitable for their children’s viewing.
        Educating yourself prior to your consumption of any product will prevent “the Bait and Switch” you seem to be prone too..
        Hey but that’s just my opinion…

        1. Greg

          I understand that the Muppets have always had an element of adult humor to them, but in the “jokes that only adults would get and would sail right over kid’s heads” kind of way. That is entirely different from drinking, swearing, sexual joking adult humor. And that is the point – there has been a shift. Everyone knows it. And while you may love it and slap the writers on the back for a job well done, you also have to understand that quite a few people are very upset at the shift, and for good reason. The whole point of the article we are commenting on is that changes are being made DESPITE good ratings because of the backlash Disney has heard.
          @ Vincent – go to millionmomdotcom and see for yourself. They have called out the show for the adult nature – so in fact it is you Vincent who do not know what you are talking about. Plus it was all over the facebook feeds when the show started with many people upset about the content. Right or wrong – they were upset, and Disney heard them.

          I am not calling for major changes to the show. Just leave out the swearing and sex jokes, and no one will miss it. Unless you people are telling me that the show is either a)funny, or b)original ONLY when it includes those two elements. If so, I would say grow up. That is the kind of stuff that entertains teenagers, not adults. Adults appreciate good, well written humor, which the show does provide. And can continue to do so, minus the couple of elements that have angered large elements of the public.

          Back to Phlorada – may I politely suggest that you do not make ridiculous assumptions like I rely on Disney to educate me. That would be like me making an assumption that you were named after a state.

          If something has been presented in one primary way for mass consumption (stop crying about the origins of the Muppets or tie-ins to SNL – most people have no clue about that, and it doesn’t even matter, because those were clearly adult audiences only), and then with no warning from the creators, makes another mass media appearance, with no hint of the new additions in any of the marketing I ever saw, that THAT is a BAIT AND SWITCH, whether you think it is or not.

          I applaud Disney for wising up and realizing they were alienating consumers, which will ultimately come back and bite them in the pocketbook. I do not applaud them for ever greenlighting this new take on the Muppets, WITH the adult content (see earlier exactly what I mean by that) however, because after 80 or 90 years in the Family Entertainment industry, you would think they would know by now what is OK to do and what is NOT OK to do. They screwed up, plain and simple, and now they are going to try and correct.

          That is all I am going to say about this topic. Good day.

          1. Vincent

            Are you actually quoting OneMillionMoms? Isn’t that the psychotically anti family group that is calling for a boycott of American Girl magazine because of their wonderful article about an amazing truly loving family?
            And secondly, the entire ad campaign for the new show “The Muppets” was was OVERLOADED with, and even centered around the fact that the new show was a very adult show – it was absolutely integral to the branding of the new series. Every publicity release, every blurb, every ad, centered around this to the point of being absolutely excessive, but then I realized they must have been doing this for people like you that need it drummed into them to prepare them (as you would only be half absorbing the information since you would be dismissing even imagery of it as just something for kids) so your ignorance of the content of the new show was you fault, Not bait and switch.
            But, maybe since your quoting such a bigoted group as OneMillionMoms, there may be other sinister reasons for your ire.

      3. Michael Timms

        My wife and I pre-viewed this show, BECAUSE of the ads leaading up to its premiere. I knew it was going to be a much more adult program and took appropriate precautions beforehand. My wife and I decided it was not appropriate for our pre-teens, therefore they do not watch it. I don’t have a problem with the show, I enjoy it, but I do wish it was on later in the evening.

  10. Sarah

    This show brings me back to Fox’s “Greg the Bunny”. I loved Greg and I love the new Muppets. Granted you expect raunchy humor from Fox but typically not ABC. The Muppets were a very important part of my childhood and I will watch them in whatever form they are presented…but this one does make me laugh!

  11. Vincent

    DON’T CHANGE the adult nature of the new series “The Muppets.” THIS Muppet program is for an older demographic – for heaven’s sake, it is an industry satire that takes place behind the scenes of a LATE NIGHT TALK SHOW – since when are Late Night Talk Show’s part of the milieu of young children?? To believe anything that contains a Muppet is and must be for children is ludicrous and insulting – there has always been a full range of content created by the Henson/Muppet enterprise aimed at every age demo, from toddler to adolescent to adult, from “Fraggle Rock” and “Muppet Babies” to the (completely adult) live show “Puppet Up” and (most importantly) their very inception for adults on SNL. Not giving THIS show to children doesn’t mean they’re taking away the Muppets from them – (from youngest strata upward) there will always be Sesame Street, through the plethora of their other children’s programming, to the old “Muppet Show” (DVD/streaming). To compromise THIS show, taking away its original concept and thesis, will be taking away the ONLY existing Muppet program for US, the adults who have, yes, GROWN-UP with the Muppets, and adore the full breadth of their creative product (“Puppet Up” is a RARE live theater performance, and the original manifestations of the Muppets are now just the stuff of myth and legend). Restructuring it towards children is inflicting and burdening it with things that don’t apply, unraveling it into a mess, crippling the INTEGRITY of the core concept (which should always be the engine driving the train), leaving it haphazard and jumbled, hopelessly trying to please everyone. (This is the tragic affliction of the industry as a whole – the loss of the truth that the greater the purity, clarity, and integrity of the raison d’etre of any work IS the very efficiency and potency of the engine, rendering it powerful enough to carry all the box cars in the forms of episodes, branding, merchandising, and most importantly, audience. And the more genuine and singularly efficient this engine be, the more and more box cars that can be added). If they DO change the show, removing its core adult aspects, it will be yet another demonstration of the cancerous fear spreading through the current crop of programming execs, whereby shows are changed or canceled at the first sign of anything less than monumental numbers, or for ANY sensationalized complaint of a show not being what a given individual had expected. If this epidemic of fear permeated the industry to this extent in the near past, we would not have “All in the Family”, “Seinfeld”, or “Family Guy”. And sadly, this fear renders them blind to the obvious: if you laden a specific meal with every manner of ingredient and flavor that each individual could desire, it doesn’t become enticing to everyone, it is palatable to NO ONE. Either there is a cook creating a specific dish with the fortitude, honesty, and integrity of his intended culinary creation served to his many guests at the table, or it’s all the guests at the table scraping food from their dishes of countless disparate meals they are ALREADY having (from candy, to soup, to sushi) into a plate in the middle, resulting in a heaping pile of, literally, garbage. Either your painting an actual vision that you have in your head, or your painting just what your second guessing every other person might want to see in a painting. DON’T CHANGE THIS SHOW! (Discussing changes now seems tragically ironic, as it REALLY seamed to be hitting its stride stylistically and character-wise in the last 2 episodes – #5 and #6.) It’s a solid show AND it’s ALREADY even getting solid numbers. End the cancer of fear and instead nurture this show’s individuality making it thrive and realize the full potential of its actual intention, and, quite possibly, grow into a truly magnificent, and intelligent satire of the industry itself.

    1. Michael Timms

      Perhaps the fact that the show airs at 8pm, a time when most children have not gone to bed yet. And given the fact that anything Muppet is going to draw kids like ants to sugar, is what has people a bit concerned with the tone. I also would hate to see the idea abandoned, maybe a later time slot, something more in keeping with the subject matter.

  12. Michael Timms

    I must admit that I was a bit shocked at the show when I first watched it, it is nothing like The Muppet Show that I remembered from my childhood. That being said, I have enjoyed watching it develop, and I hope that the new creative vision does not completely change the story arc.

  13. Paul

    This is the first time I truly enjoy watching the muppets. It is hilarious and written so well. We love this show and always look forward to watching it. It makes us laugh and love the witty humor. Don’t change a thing!

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