The Muppet Show Season 1 DVD
Thankfully, it is now a new day. The Muppet Show is finally preserved and restored as a season set. And while some may see the Muppets as unhip or nostalgic, it cannot be ignored that the Muppet Show Season 1 has climbed to #1 on Amazon’s Top 100 DVDs, an impressive feat for any release, much less a family show that premiered 29 years ago. The folks at Disney are elated with the pre-orders and plan on releasing Season 2 in the next eight-to-twelve months with the other seasons to follow.
The menus are bright and colorful. At first I didn’t like the “moving block” design, but it has grown on me. The blocks rotate and reveal other characters behind them. New commentary with the actual puppets is provided by Statler (Steve Whitmire) and Waldorf (Dave Goelz) on each of the main menus. On the main menu The Muppet Show theme is playing in the background. The submenus, however, just play instrumental tracks. It would have been better to feature classic Muppet audio tracks here as well.
All twenty-four episodes are included with original openings and UK Skits not commonly seen in the United State. The original openings are a particular delight to fans as they have not been seen on television since the 1980's. (Second season openings were used on first season shows in recent American reruns.) A “Muppet Studios” logo backed by an eight-second theme interlude is shown before each episode begins. There are no chapters within each episode. Having a chapter every 2-4 minutes would have been a nice addition. As expected the original Zoot ending (shown on the left) is not included on this set. Instead, these episodes feature a shot of Zoot from the 1980's used on the HIT, Henson International Television, broadcasts.
It should be noted that the first two episodes were originally shot dramatically differently than they aired and are presented here. The first two episodes, Juliet Prowse and Connie Stevens, were reworked a few months after they were shot. Many scenes were cut and others were added to these episodes. While it would have been nice to have had the originals here for comparison sake, it's understandable that the final broadcast versions are included in this set. Learn more about the original, unaired Juliet Prowse pilot in our episode guide.
Unfortunately, due to music licensing issues the following songs are not included on this release:
For undisclosed reasons, the two Newsman bits from the Joel Grey episodes have also been cut. It is speculated that this is due to a difference in master tapes since the Newsman pieces were reworked (adding glasses and a different voice) for the first few episodes.
VIDEO AND AUDIO
Considering the age of the source material, the video quality is nothing short of amazing. Colors are bright and vibrant. You’ll see details on each character that you may have never noticed before. On some Muppet Show releases in the past the colors have been over saturated. Thankfully, this isn’t the case here. The Muppet Show has never looked so good. Even though the soundtracks are in mono (as they were originally recorded), the frequency range is very broad with crisp highs and clean bass.
MUPPET SHOW PITCH REEL: One of the great things about this release for die-hard fans is the inclusion of the original pitch reel produced for TV executives at CBS. The pitch features Leo (from Muppet Meeting Film fame) selling the show to CBS executives telling them how the show will make them rich and famous. When Leo begins he is calm and relaxed, but as he continues he becomes excited and gets more and more crazy.
Unfortunately, the closing line with Kermit has been cut from this release. In the unedited version at the end of the three-minute pitch, Kermit appears from off-screen behind a CBS logo and describes the chaos by declaring, “What the hell was that?” The pitch is still quite enjoyable, but it looses a lot of its punch with the climatic line removed. This cut was not related to the parody of the CBS logo behind Kermit, rather Disney's aim for a "family-friendly" release.
GAG REEL: It’s not really a gag reel: these bits are a few of The Muppet Show promos that stations would show throughout the week to advertise the upcoming program. These are short 5-10 seconds clips mentioning to tune in and the particular guest. For fans that have seen it all, there will be some new surprises in this brief montage. It would have been great if promos for all 24 episodes were included though.
THE MUPPET SHOW - SEX AND VIOLENCE: The second Muppet Show pilot appears here uncut. It may be a surprise to some to find out that the host is Nigel the conductor, not Kermit. I would have preferred that the first pilot be on Season 1 and the second pilot on Season 2. The quality on the transfer is not as crisp as the Season 1 episodes, but it’s still quite enjoyable. Find out more about The Muppet Show: Sex and Violence in our episode guide.
MUPPET MORSELS: This feature is available for all 24 episodes and includes extensive trivia and additional information. Think of it as captioning on steroids. The information is so extensive in fact, that the trivia bits are almost continuous, one after another. While not all of the information is about the Muppets, it's obvious that a lot of care went into this particular area. You may notice a few mistakes and grammatical errors here and there, but the information is presented in an informative and straightforward manner. The running count of Miss Piggy's karate chops was especially a hit in our house.
The Jim Henson Retrospective that was originally planned for the DVD was not included due to DVD space limits. Hopefully this will be featured with Season 2. At last year's "Muppets, Music and Magic: Jim Henson's Legacy" event, interviews about Jim Henson and The Muppet Show were conducted with Craig Shemin, Jerry Juhl, Jerry Nelson, Dave Goelz, Carroll Spinney, Michael Frith and other Henson employees and fans.
The packaging of the box set is nice, but not spectacular. It should be noted that there are two versions of this box set out there, one has a “fuzzy” green cover and the other is smooth like the rest of the box. While Disney gets props for taking a unique perspective on the cover, the inner pictures (from the 1990’s) were selected without much forethought. Even if they weren’t first season pictures, there are hundreds of Muppet Show era photos that could have been used for a much more consistent look. I’m not a fan of the disc arrangement inside of the box. The discs overlap each other meaning that you have to sometimes remove two discs in order to get to the one you want.
While it's most unfortunate that five episodes and the pitch reel were edited that is the extent of my quibbles about this set. The Brian Henson show intros produced in 1999 would have been nice additions, but they were not mandatory. Even with the few cuts, The Muppet Show Season 1 is an amazing DVD collection with over ten hours of material. It should be your number one Muppet purchase for the foreseeable future. At least, until Season 2 arrives next year.
If you are not familiar with the episode-by-episode details of Season 1, check out Muppet Central’s Season 1 Episode Guide.
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