Before Jim Henson's Muppets became movie stars, they headlined their own sketch comedy series in The Muppet Show, which aired for five seasons (beginning in the mid-1970s). Since then, Kermit the Frog and company have been no strangers to the small screen, having appeared in such programs as Muppet Babies - a 1984 animated spinoff featuring the Muppets as infants - as well as Muppets Tonight, a show released back in the mid-1990s, that resurrected the Muppet Show variety entertainment format.
Walt Disney Pictures brought the Muppets back to theaters in 2011, with the aptly-titled The Muppets. As far as franchise relaunches go, it was a success, bringing in $165 million in grosses worldwide and earning strong reviews from critics, culminating with an Oscar win for Bret McKenzie's tune "Man or Muppet". A sequel released earlier this year in Muppets Most Wanted; it earned a cooler, yet still respectable critical reception (read our review), but its global box office returns so far total around $70 million - less than half of its predecessor's take.
Collider asked Nicholas Stoller - co-writer of the last two Muppet film installments - about Muppets Most Wanted under-performing at both the U.S. and foreign box office, during the press day for Stoller's next directorial feature, the raunch-com Neighbors. Here is what the filmmaker had to say, on that topic:
"Yeah, everyone was really surprised, myself included, because I love the way it came out, and I love the movie. Because honestly [co-writer/director James Bobin] and I set out to do something, which was to do kind of a great Muppet caper movie. And I literally have no idea. It was a more crowded marketplace than we realized. I think Peabody & Sherman stuck around for a little longer than we thought it would. Who knows? It’s too bad, but my hope is that it kind of lives on."
In fairness, Mr. Peabody & Sherman undoubtedly did affect Muppets Most Wanted's box office take, as the pair bid for attention from the family moviegoing demographic this past March. Thing is, though, whereas The Muppets was sold as being a must-see event - for nostalgic adults and young newcomers to the world of Muppets alike - trailers and TV spots for Muppets Most Wanted pitched the film as being an enjoyable, yet otherwise unremarkable Muppet offering. So, in that sense, the sequel's box office drop-off from its predecessor was somewhat predictable.
However, while the Muppets might be taking another prolonged break from the big screen following Muppets Most Wanted, Stoller informed Collider that the eponymous characters may well be on their way back to the small screen:
"I know they’re working on something to get them back on TV. I have no idea where it’s at, but I definitely think so. I mean, they’re such rich characters, and it’s very easy to pitch on stories for them, and think of ideas for them. They don’t feel used up…I think there’s a big opportunity for that kind of variety show. You could do it partially live. There are all these things you could do with Muppets that you can’t do with a lot of other things."
It would make sense for Disney - currently the proud owner of Marvel, Lucasfilm and the Muppets brand - to bring Kermit and his merry band of puppety-types back to their TV roots, now that the movies have started to run dry again, box office-wise. Some might argue the Muppets' irreverent humor is best fit for the episodic TV show format anyway, and that a new TV series would be the kind of Disney Channel entertainment that would actually have appeal for all members of the family. Which is to say: this sounds like a fine idea.
In fact, if the Muppets do wind up getting a brand-new TV show, then we already have 20 Great Celebrity Host Suggestions that the series may feel free to draw from (so long as we get executive producer credit, naturally).
We'll continue to keep you posted on all Muppet-related news as we hear it.