In honor of the 25th anniversary of the beloved television series The Muppet Show, MuppetFest! the first-ever fan festival and celebration of all things Muppet was held December 8th and 9th in Los Angeles, California. As part of the festivities, The Jim Henson Company also produced the first live Muppet Show performance featuring all of the characters from the hit television series, which also served as a gala fundraiser to benefit Save the Children. This event uniquely embodies the spirit of a Gold Sabre because it was an original and significant platform to give the 25th anniversary all of the exposure it deserved while giving the Muppets’ loyal fan-following a special event they could look forward to and call their own. In addition, it had a meaningful charity tie-in, and most importantly, it brought the Muppets and their 25th anniversary into the public spotlight serving as a catalyst for a number of future large-scale broadcast, licensing and promotional partnerships.
In the fall of 2000, The Jim Henson Company’s public relations department was charged with revitalizing one of the nation’s most beloved properties, The Muppets. The Company wanted to explore new opportunities for the Muppet characters, including the possibility of a new television series and new licensing deals. These channels would provide for added visibility and revenue for the Muppet franchise and The Jim Henson Company as a whole. Without a current Muppet television show on air, the PR team, along with its public relations agency Porter Novelli, looked to creatively place the Muppets in the public spotlight. Since the last Muppet television show, Muppets Tonight, was taken off the air in 1998, and their last feature film, Muppets from Space, was released in 1999, the property had not enjoyed a sustained public visibility in quite some time.
- Reinvigorate the Muppet brand by increasing their visibility to become more timely, relevant and lucrative.
- Maximize visibility of the brand, and The Jim Henson Company, among entertainment and licensing influencers.
- Initiate new partnerships, cross-promotions and deals for The Muppet brand.
- Leverage the 25th anniversary of The Muppet Show as a reason to celebrate.
- Generate renewed interest in the Muppet brand through outreach to “Muppet nostalgics,” those with fond childhood memories of The Muppet Show.
- Create a forum to showcase all things Muppet.
Originally, the event was scheduled for late September with bi-coastal activities—a fan festival in Los Angeles, and a gala Muppet movie screening in New York which would culminate with turning the Empire State Building green on September 26th, a date that would have marked Jim Henson’s birthday. After the events of 9/11 the New York event was cancelled, and the Los Angeles event was rescheduled for December 8th and 9th in Santa Monica, California. The much loved Muppet Show theater from the TV series would be recreated at the Palace Theater in Hollywood, and all of the Muppet performers would gather to perform before a live audience for the first time in history, in order to raise money for a very worthy cause—Save the Children.
Pre-Event Buzz: Summer/Fall 2001
Once the basic logistics of MuppetFest! were decided, the PR team began seeding the buzz for MuppetFest! with an announcement about the event by Kermit the Frog and Gonzo the Great on the Today Show. Throughout the summer and fall, the team increased the buzz by placing Muppet characters in the public eye by coordinating high profile appearances such as: an all-Muppet Family Feud (vs. the Dixie Chicks) which aired during November Sweeps, Kermit on the Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon, Kermit and Gonzo on Hollywood Squares, Kermit’s by-line and two photo spreads in USA Weekend Magazine, a celebrity Q&A in Parade magazine, and character participation at a few glitzy Hollywood galas.
To drive local attendance at the event, The Muppets participated in interviews on a wide range of popular LA television and radio talk shows such as the top-rated KTLA Morning News, KABC-TV’s Morning newscast, KIIS-FM’s Valentine Show and Star 98.7’s Ryan Seacrest for the Ride, among others. Features were also placed in the Los Angeles Times, a cover story in the Los Angeles Daily News (which also received syndicated pick-up).
Additionally, the team decided to field a national survey to determine America’s favorite Muppet. This provided an added news hook to spread the word about the 25th anniversary throughout the U.S. The survey was fielded in early November so results could be ready by the event. This tactic proved successful with placements in US Magazine, the New York Post, The Denver Post, syndicated radio programs, WGN-TV in Chicago, and many others. All of the above media placements were secured in an effort to promote the upcoming Muppetfest! event.
The Event: December 8-9, 2001
By the time MuppetFest! finally took place in December, more than 2,500 Muppet fans from across the globe were more than ready for this momentous occasion. The event featured guest appearances; lectures and question and answer sessions by the original multi-talented performers and writers who helped create the Muppets (i.e. Steve Whitmire, the puppeteer who performs Kermit, Dave Goelz the puppeteer who performs Gonzo, etc.); live musical performances and sing-a-longs of original Muppet music; screenings of rare Muppet Show footage; panel discussions with Jane Henson, Brian Henson and the other creative forces behind the Muppets; interactive exhibitions, meet and greets with Muppet characters; booths with historic Muppet memorabilia for sale, and much more.
The weekend’s events concluded with the live Muppet Show performance which was entitled “An Evening with the Muppets.” More than 600 stars, fans and entertainment influentials attended the gala, which featured special celebrity performances by Jon Voight (as a chicken), Brooke Shields (filling in for Miss Piggy) and singer/composer Paul Williams. The finale of the event was a group sing-a-long of Rainbow Connection, and not a dry eye was to be had as all of the fans and friends of the Muppets finished off this meaningful weekend.
MuppetFest! event coverage was a tremendous success with broadcast coverage from E! News Daily and the local ABC and NBC affiliates, as well as articles in Parade Magazine and USA Weekend and photo spreads in People Magazine, US Magazine, Hollywood Reporter, Variety, the Los Angeles Times, and a variety of wire syndicates. In sum, the campaign’s media exposure, both prior to and after the culmination of the event, reached an audience of more than 225 million people. Another important figure is the more than $50,000 that was raised for Save the Children from the “Evening with the Muppets” gala.
Most significantly, a variety of licensing and promotional deals have been secured in light of these 25th anniversary efforts, including Long John Silvers use of the Muppet character Pepe the King Prawn as a “spokesshrimp” for their commercials.
In addition, cross-promotional deals have also been secured with NASCAR to feature Muppet racecars in their nationally televised Tropicana 400 race, on a variety of co-branded NASCAR/Muppet products, and Kermit and Miss Piggy will be in a national Muppet/NASCAR/United Parcel Service ad campaign. Perhaps the most exciting news is that a deal is in the works to create a television special for a major network, and there is also talk of a new Muppet series. (Many television executives attended the live Muppet Show gala event.)
After the success of the MuppetFest! weekend, The Jim Henson Company’s television and marketing divisions are both fielding calls from a variety of prospective partners from the consumer products and broadcast industries. In addition, an East Coast version of MuppetFest! is being planned for the summer of 2002, and the Muppets are once again on their way to being top of mind with nostalgics and new Muppet fans, young and old alike, worldwide.