Should Disney+ Just Reboot The Muppet Show?

Earlier today, Disney+ made the big Muppets announcement that fans have been waiting for: Beginning next month, The Muppet Show will begin streaming -- all five seasons, including the two which have never before been released on home entertainment or digital -- on the platform. And given the modest success of Muppets Now and the difficulty Disney has had in making the franchise a consistent success in the years since they acquired The Muppets from the Jim Henson Company, it has to be asked: would Disney's best option for creating new and successful Muppets programming be simply rebooting The Muppet Show?

Back in 2015, ABC explored the idea of rebooting The Muppet Show with Bill Prady from The Big Bang Theory -- a concept that hit a wall when the network instead launched The Muppets, a The Office-inspired "mockumentary-style" series set behind the scenes of a late-night variety show starring Miss Piggy. The Disney era of The Muppets has been a rocky road, and if there's one consistent theme, it seems to be that they aren't able to effectively capitalize on any of the successes they have had with The Muppets.

That is arguably due to the lack of a single, unifying philosophy at the top of their Muppet productions. The Muppets Studio, founded in 2004 when Disney got their hands on the characters they had been pursuing essentially for 15 years, is technically under the umbrella of Disney's parks, rather than Walt Disney Studios, likely due to the fact that the first Muppets content created for Disney was theme park exclusives that they worked on with Jim Henson before his death in 1990.

It's arguable that the success of Marvel Studios and, to a lesser extent, Star Wars in their post-Disney incarnations is that the studio left competent, passionate people in place and allowed them to do what they do. Control of Disney's Muppets, meanwhile, has changed hands a number of times in the 15 or so years since the acquisition, and never seems to have settled into a groove. Certainly there's no Kevin Feige or Kathleen Kennedy -- no groundbreaking, passionate voice -- behind the studio.

Muppets Now -- and to a lesser extent, The Muppets -- owes a lot of its DNA to The Muppet Show. All three are, to some extent, a behind-the-scenes look at The Muppets creating a (variety/talk/web) show. With The Muppet Show, though, Disney inherited one of the most successful TV shows of all time. We don't talk about it that way, but that's the reality: at its height, the series was playing all over the world, and seen by an estimated 200 million-plus people per week, at a time when there was no delayed viewing; audiences had to make it their business to sit down and watch at the anointed time.

The Muppet Show was followed by The Muppet Movie, which was also a colossal commercial success. The sequels created during Henson's life varied in quality and return on investment, but all of them were seen as some kind of success, and The Muppets remained one of the biggest success stories in popular culture for years.

In the time since the Disney acquisition, The Muppets Studio has released The Muppets' Wizard of Oz, 2011's The Muppets, and about a dozen projects that ranged from flops to minor/moderate successes in TV, film, and home video. There not only isn't a Jim Henson at the helm, but there appears to be nobody there providing meaningful quality control outside of the Muppet performers themselves -- and often, the best they can do is turning in a great performance for some questionable material.

Meanwhile, Disney+ aborted plans last year to have Josh Gad co-write a six-part The Muppets Live Again miniseries for Disney+. The project, which was an '80s-set sequel to The Muppets Take Manhattan, was cancelled by Disney after creative differences drove Gad and his co-writers away. That pitch, which had longtime Muppets fans excited, seems to touch on something fundamental that Disney has failed to grasp in many of their previous efforts: unlike Star Wars and Marvel, Disney's Muppets history is littered with examples of fixing things that aren't broken, ultimately weakening the brand. Arguably the biggest money-maker Disney has had from The MuppetsStudio since 2011 has been Muppet Babies, Disney Jr.'s animated series, which is essentially a faithful clone of the original animated series of the same name, just with the jokes, the situations, and the animation style updated for the time of production.

So let's look at today's announcement of The Muppet Show on Disney+.

"It's going to be great to welcome back longtime fans, and to give a new generation of fans a chance to see how we got our start, how Miss Piggy became a star and so much more," Kermit the Frog said in a statement. "Today, I’m proud to say: 'It's time to play the music, light the lights and meet the Muppets on Disney Plus tonight!' And as for Statler and Waldorf, the two old guys in the balcony, I can only add: 'Sorry, guys, but here we go again.'"

Fans are likely to latch onto the "here we go again" as a potential hint that Disney+ could be interested in more The Muppet Show and...well, frankly, who knows? It's entirely possible they do, although it's unlikely this trailer was meant to be any kind of hint that's the case. At this point we still don't know what of The Muppet Show will be on Disney+, since there have been rights issues that made home releases difficult, most notably the cost of rights for the music, since each episode featured a musical guest, and many of them were among the biggest stars of the era.

What are the odds of a reboot? It's hard to know. But should that be what they do?

It's arguable that's their best bet for a guaranteed hit -- but in order to do it right, they would need to firm up The Muppets Studio's identity and find a strong showrunner or executive who could help the show succeed. The worst-case scenario for an attempted Muppet Show reboot would be to damage The Muppet Show itself, and it seems that's entirely plausible, given Disney's apparent lack of understanding of the brand.

The Muppets, created by legendary filmmaker Jim Henson in 1955, were massively successful during his lifetime, with The Muppet Show and Fraggle Rock being watched by huge numbers of people in their first runs as well as in syndication. Henson approached Disney to purchase his assets in 1989, and they came to an agreement in principle, but Henson passed away in 1990 before the deal could be completed. Without Henson there to anchor it, the deal fell apart, and Disney didn't get the Muppets until 2003, when they bought a much smaller batch of rights (this time excluding a number of projects, which Henson's company now retains the rights to) but did get they key Muppet characters.

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