Why the Media Won’t Stop Treating the Muppets Like Real People

“People are willing to meet the Muppets more than halfway because they’ve got nearly 50 years of good will behind them,” Jim Henson biographer Brian Jay Jones tells TheWrap

The promos ABC has been running for the upcoming “Muppets” series features the network’s other stars alongside the show’s familiar puppet characters.

Being treating like real humans is nothing new for the Muppets. For nearly its entire history, the show has set its cast of characters in the real world, employing self-referential humor to skewer the entertainment business.

Where the upcoming series will have Elizabeth Banks, Topher Grace and Imagine Dragons making guest appearances as themselves, “The Muppet Show,” the original series that premiered in 1976, had Elton John, Mark Hamill and John Cleese.

The 1976 series was a send-up of variety shows, a common television format at the time. The new series, co-created by Bob Kushell and Bill Prady, aims to replicate that for today’s TV landscape.

ABC’s “The Muppets” apes the mockumentary format made popular by shows like “The Office” and “Parks and Recreation.” The series is set up as a faux-reality series, touting the first glimpse at the character’s personal lives off screen.

It’s a natural extension of what the Muppets have always done, Brian Jay Jones, author of “Jim Henson: The Biography” told TheWrap. “This falls in with what Jim would think is worth tittering at, worth making fun of. This would be a format that he would say, ‘This is what’s around and everyone is kind of using, and maybe over-using.’”

The framing of the Muppets as real humans isn’t something isolated to just the franchise itself, but the way it is covered in the press as well.

When Kermit and Miss Piggy “announced” the break-up of their long-time relationship at the Television Critics Association summer panel last month, the press (including TheWrap) reported on it as though it were news beyond just a TV series plot development. More surprisingly, the characters have also participated in interviews with outlets that otherwise would not interview fictional characters.

According to Jones, the media’s willingness to participate in the franchise’s story is a simple matter of nostalgia. Many of those interacting with the Muppets today as adults also grew up with the characters as kids. It’s a testament to Henson’s work developing characters so iconic.

“One of my very favorite Muppets moments is when [Henson] is performing on ‘Sesame Street,’ and he’s doing the ABCs with a little girl named Joey,” Jones said. “He’s kneeling on the floor right in front of her. He is in plain sight, but once you put that puppet on, the performer disappears.”

He continued, “It’s one of those things where people are willing to meet the Muppets more than halfway because they’ve got nearly 50 years of good will behind them.”