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Fraggles overshadow Muppets at Henson Company's 50th anniversary celebration

Fraggles overshadow Muppets at Henson Company's 50th anniversary celebration

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Last time, I talked about the Museum of Television and Radio's celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Jim Henson Company. We had a great day at the museum. There were screenings, Cheryl Henson's book signing, puppet-making workshops and a great puppeteering demonstration by Henson puppeteer Tyler Bunch.

Afterward, as my friend Robert and I were enjoying an over-priced lunch in Times Square we began to discuss the day's events and Robert made an observation. "Where was Kermit?" he asked. I stopped to think...and found myself saying, "Yeah, where was Kermit?"

A quick review of the museum's schedule showed us that Kermit and the rest of Jim's more famous creations were surprisingly absent. No Miss Piggy. No Fozzie Bear. No Gonzo the Great. No Ernie, Bert or Big Bird.

No, the biggest stars in the Henson canon were not to be found at the MTR that day.

Who was present in their absence? One predominant word...Fraggles.

Let's take a look at the day's events.

The day began with a screening of "Muppets Forever: Fraggle Rock," a 75 minute documentary of the making of this classic Henson show.

There was a puppet-making workshop where kids made their own puppets while several large flat screen monitors played...episodes of "Fraggle Rock."

The later screenings of the day were two episodes of "Jim Henson's Storyteller," ("The Soldier and Death" and the Emmy winning "Hans My Hedgehog") and yet another episode of...you guessed it "Fraggle Rock."

The Fraggles were featured on the postcards handed out upon admission. The same image was used on the museum's website to promote the day.

Guess who was strolling around and posing for pictures with fans...Gobo Fraggle.

Photo by Chris Barry

The raffle of the day, which I surprisingly won, consisted of four different Fraggle Rock plush toys.

As a matter of fact, if anyone walked into the museum that day not knowing a thing about the legacy of Jim Henson, they would no doubt think that Fraggle Rock was the company's most significant contribution to TV history.

This is not denying the Fraggles their place and importance in both the Jim Henson Company and television's history. Nor would I deny Storyteller its rightful praise. But, a celebration of 50 years of the Jim Henson Company and no sign of Sesame Street, the show that literally changed the face of children's television programming forever? No sign of the Muppet Show, a television and cultural phenomenon in it's own right? Where was the first 20-25 years of the company's history?

As Robert and I stared at $16 hamburgers on our menus, we glanced at the free issues of the Hollywood Reporter that were handed out at the museum. The cover story of the September 20-26th issue was celebrating 50 years of the Jim Henson Company. Try and find this at a good newsstand or bookstore. It's a great read with great coverage of what's coming up from the company, and some insight from co-CEO's Brian and Lisa Henson. Yet, take a look at the characters on the cover. No sign of the frog, the pig, the bird or any of Jim's most famous characters.

Actually, the one place in the whole issue that predominantly features our favorite green friend is, ironically, a full-page ad taken out by Kermit's new boss...the Walt Disney Company.

So is this the big answer? We all know that The Muppets, as we know them, have been sold to Disney. Should we conclude that their absence from the MTR's celebration of their creator is because Disney wouldn't let Kermit and friends come out to play?

What about the Sesame characters? Are we to believe that their new rightful owners, Sesame Workshop, wouldn't allow their characters to be featured at a Jim Henson celebration? This doesn't seem likely, considering that they owe their very existence to Jim and his creations.

Perhaps, this is the Henson siblings' way of standing out on their own and promoting the characters they still own the rights to. Considering that Fraggle Rock: The Complete First Season DVD is sitting on shelves right now, maybe this is the right time to let Gobo, Red, Wembley and their pals out from underneath Kermit's green shadow. Couple this with the company's plans for the Fraggles' upcoming feature film debut and maybe The Muppets absence makes good business sense.

It's this separation that bothers me the most, the fact that Jim's outstanding body of work is now fragmented. Whatever the reason, it's a shame that the Museum of TV and Radio could have a celebration of 50 years of the Jim Henson Company and not feature all of their characters and programs that helped to shape television history.

As we got our books signed and pictures taken with Cheryl Henson, Robert said to her, "You have such a wonderful legacy to uphold, and you're doing a great job." In hindsight, I hate to ask, but I must wonder, "Are they?"

I also have to wonder, since the sale of Jim's most well known creations, are the Henson children asking themselves that very same question?

What do you all think?

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