In the past several years, the company has been struggling to get back on track. In 1999, the Jim Henson Company was bought by the German corporation EM.TV, and found almost immediately that they were financially unable to really support the Muppets. In 2003, the Henson children regained control of the company, only to sell it again to Disney—fulfilling a deal that Jim himself had been working on at the time of his death.

When Nelson and I initially spoke, the Henson Corporation was still in a state of flux between EM TV and the family’s repurchase. At this point, “A Very Merry Muppet Christmas” had just been completed, but had not yet aired.

“It’s a different company now, but it’s a different world now,” Nelson said. “With people like Bill Baretta, who I think is a major force major in the company now—I think he has so much talent and is able to function in so many directions at the same time, I think with people like that in the company that the company will do fine. The thing that essentially changed for me within the company is that we had a core of performers that were together all the time. We worked together all the time. So we knew each other pretty well. There weren’t too many sharp edges for people to bump up against. I think you can only find the kind of ensemble playing that we did by having a core group of people who work together all the time. Right now, I think that’s lacking. You have a large group who don’t see each other and then come together only to do something. I think that it possibly could develop again. I don’t think that it’s out of the question for it to come together and happen for everyone working together a lot. Therefore knowing everyone well enough to do that dance you do when there are five, six, seven, eight performers involved in a piece and have everyone to focus. “Sesame Street” still has that in a way with the performers, because they’re all performers who have worked together for many years. Even though the format of “Sesame Street” has changed somewhat in these more recent years. I think that basically, the projects I’ve seen are doing fine and are just as entertaining.”

Nelson, however, seems content that the Muppets continue on with less involvement on his part. It’s still up in the air what role he will play—if any, in the just-announced first Disney-owed Henson production of the Muppet TV-movie version of “The Wizard of Oz”. “I’m very happy with my life now,” he says with a laugh. “I’ve worked very hard for the better part of my life, so I enjoy now just being involved in minor ways. Sometimes I’ll see a project where I think ‘oh, that would be a fun one to work on.’ But I don’t think that physically I could do that kind of work any more. Maybe consulting. That always appealed to me. ‘Put your hand inside the puppet! Inside!’ That’s something I could do easily. (laughs)”

All in all, Nelson has few complaints. Being part of the Muppets has been one of the defining points of his life, and something he would never trade. “It’s the kind of thing, if you put me on the spot I wouldn’t be able to say ‘this was a good …’ There were just tons of things like that. The memories come out at times, like when we were all together at the Muppet Fest Convention (in 2002) in California. The memories would come out in bits and pieces and put together by everyone that was involved. Overall I feel blessed to have been part of this whole team and part of the company, to have worked with and known Jim. It’s as if you wrote your own script, you couldn’t do better.”
More Muppet flashbacks in Mike Watt’s interview with Karen Prell.


Mike Watt attempts to explore all the things that make Geek culture great, as well as pointing out all the things that make Geeks genetically superior to all other humans. During the course of this exploration, he may undoubtedly have to reveal horrid truths about Hollywood and Mainstream Cinema, as they compare to the riches of independent filmmaking. Ultimately, he hopes to bring higher awareness of and respect to Geek Culture, as well as secure a hefty book deal and the accolades of his (richer) peers. Feel free to lavish him with affection (or bitch at him) at

Posted on March 24, 2004 in Features by


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