After the success of The Muppet Movie (go on and watch “Rainbow Connection,” I’ll wait), Jim Henson saw an opportunity to bring the Muppets to American screens on a regular basis, and with that, the idea for The Muppet Show was born. Part vaudeville-like production and part silly sketch comedy show, The Muppet Show was geared towards families, but Henson’s show didn’t sacrifice quality in the name of propriety, and they were never afraid to challenge their audience. There haven’t been many television programs quite like The Muppet Show since it came to an end in 1981, though ABC’s Muppets Tonight, which was made after Henson had passed away, came closest from 1996 to 1998 when it aired during TGIF. Like the original, the program had variety show elements, the occasional appetite for pushing its audience, and plenty of guest stars.
ABC’s latest felt venture, The Muppets, will stray from the variety show formula, choosing to instead adopt the mockumentary style popularized by The Office and Modern Family, but the show will have ample guest stars. To honor that great tradition and remember a happier time before this whole Miss Piggy/Kermit/Other Pig love triangle thing, here’s a look at some of the most surprising guest stars from both The Muppet Show and Muppets Tonight.
One of the greatest shock rockers of all-time, Alice Cooper is definitely not the first name to come to mind when planning a children’s show. However, Cooper appeared in the third season of The Muppet Show and performed three of his most popular songs: “Welcome to My Nightmare,” “You and Me,” and “School’s Out.” Cooper portrayed an agent of Satan on the show, offering the Muppets fame and fortune in exchange for their souls. Can you imagine the outrage that such Faustian hijinks would have inspired today?
The entire tone of Price’s episode of The Muppet Show was shaped around the horror icon’s famous persona, and that kind of special tailoring would become a trademark of the show as it went along. In Price’s case, this meant plenty of ghosts, ghouls, and other monsters, including a three-headed monster that tries out for the show. Kermit’s foray into vampirism is also apart of this episode.
After Rocky, but before First Blood, Sylvester Stallone didn’t exactly have a public cuddly side that would jive with The Muppet Show. However, his son Sage was a fan of the Muppets, so Stallone requested a guest appearance. His wish was granted, and he got to play a gladiator who “fights” a lion in the third season of the show.
Debbie Harry may have had an edge with Blondie, but that didn’t mean that she couldn’t put it aside for The Muppet Show. Harry helped Robin’s Frog Scout Troop earn their punk merit badges, which sounds way more awesome than the traditional Boy Scout route. While Harry performed her pop hits “One Way or Another” and “Call Me,” she also went a softer route and performed a sweet duet of “Rainbow Connection” with Kermit.
I mean, did you watch Behind the Candelabra? Liberace decided to bring his trademark flamboyant style to The Muppet Show stage in season three. On the show, Liberace has a growling pet piano and holds auditions for bird dancers for his act. When the second act of the episode evolves into a sort of concert, Liberace gets to show off his talent, as well as his good-natured approach to the silliness occurring on stage. He even promises Gonzo’s chickens a place in his Vegas show, complete with rhinestone bunny ears.
From a time when he was going by both a symbol and “The Artist Formerly Known As,” and when he was perhaps a bit less mystical and hidden from view, this Muppet’s Tonight Prince guest spot allowed the funky one to joke about his name beside Bobo the Bear and perform the song, “Starfish and Coffee” with the Muppets… well, some Muppets.
We’ve mentioned this before, but it bears repeating: Pierce Brosnan once blew fire while on Muppets Tonight and reportedly caused injury to his mouth, thus ending his fire-eating career. Pretty sure he also got Statler in the balcony with the flame, as well. #NoComplaints
O.J. Simpson trial prosecutor Chris Darden
Kermit takes the former L.A. Prosecutor Chris Darden and two cops on a tour of the studio, where he spies Rizzo and company trying to sneak Arsenio Hall’s body out in a rolled-up carpet. Waka Waka, this was a kids show.
It’s not that Coolio appeared on Muppets Tonight — it was the ’90s, and he was a star of that time — it’s the hilarious edits to his NSFTGIF hit, “1, 2, 3, 4 (Sumpin’ New)” that popped up during his performance of the song on the show, like when he swapped “class” in for “ass” and “Muppet” in place of the n-word.