Apparently, Miss Piggy and Kermit the Frog are not the only ones associated with The Muppets suffering from relationship problems. Deadline reports that executive producer and co-creator Bob Kushell is leaving the series after some conflicts with fellow producer Bill Prady. Kristin Newman is in negotiations to become Kushell’s replacement.
After starting off with strong ratings for its debut episode, The Muppets slipped significantly for the three installments that followed. According to TV Line, while 9 million people tuned in to see the iconic characters return to television, an average of only 4.4 million came back. One episode rang up a mere 1.4 million viewers. Despite the low numbers, it’s an improvement over the network’s last Tuesday night offering.
Prady and Kushell collaborated on the original Muppets idea. ABC chose Kushell as the showrunner because of Prady’s producing commitments on The Big Bang Theory. Both are listed as executive producers, but Prady only devotes two days a week to The Muppets. Deadline reported that the two producers had different ideas and different styles and the tension was made worse by the rushed addition of The Muppets to the ABC fall schedule, “before its concept, style and tone had been fully formed.”
Kushell was well-liked behind the scenes, according to Deadline, but the decision was made for him to leave. It was not a decision with which everyone who works on The Muppets agreed, but the behind-the-scenes turmoil was affecting the finished product.
But a sudden change in direction won’t mean things are too bleak for The Muppets. The plan is to finish out a 10-episode run this fall and then re-introduce the series with a further six episodes in the spring. It will be an unofficial reboot for program.
Newman was a supervising producer on That ’70s Show and co-executive producer on How I Met Your Mother.
The build-up for the new Muppets series included a clever marketing campaign that spread the “news” that long-time partners Miss Piggy and Kermit the Frog had broken up. In a conversation with The Hollywood Reporter after the season premiere, Prady responded to the backlash against the campaign — backlash rooted in the truth that the characters are not real people — by saying he liked that people were talking about a television series he was producing. He also said that “exercising in group make believe is kind of wonderful. As a viewer, I kind of like it.”
It turns out Miss Piggy and Kermit the Frog also “split” in 1990, but the publicity campaign was dropped as Muppets creator Jim Henson passed away soon after, according to Variety.
Prady told THR about the pressure inherent in reviving beloved characters for a new series.
“Everybody said to me when this ABC reboot was moving forward how happy they were about it — and then they’d say, ”The Muppets’ were important to me, don’t screw this up!’ I love these characters so much but one of the things I love about them came from Jim Henson: taking risks. The only way you can come to something good is to take a deep breath and take some risks. We’ve taken good risks. We’d like people to wait and see. That’s a reasonable thing to say.”
The Muppets airs Tuesday nights 8 p.m. on ABC.
[Main photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images Entertainment]