|Formerly||Muppets, Inc. (1958–1976)|
Henson Associates, Inc. (1976–1990)
Jim Henson Productions, Inc. (1990–1998)
|Founded||November 20, 1958|
|Founders||Jim and Jane Henson|
|Headquarters||Jim Henson Company Lot,|
(President & CEO)
|Products||Puppetry, Animation, Computer graphics, Digital puppetry, Entertainment|
EM.TV & Merchandising AG
|Divisions||Jim Henson's Creature Shop|
Henson Recording Studios
The Jim Henson Company (formerly known as Muppets, Inc., Henson Associates, Inc., and Jim Henson Productions, Inc.; commonly referred to as Henson) is an American entertainment company located in Los Angeles, California. The company is known for its innovations in the field of puppetry, particularly through the creation of Kermit the Frog and the Muppets characters. Brian Henson serves as chairman, while Lisa Henson serves as CEO. Since 2000, The Jim Henson Company is headquartered at the Jim Henson Company Lot, the historic former Charlie Chaplin Studios, in Hollywood.
The company was established in 1958 by puppeteers Jim and Jane Henson, and is currently independently owned and operated by their children. Henson has produced many successful television series, including The Muppet Show, Fraggle Rock, and Bear in the Big Blue House; as well, the company designed the Muppet characters for the long-running Sesame Street.
The company has also produced theatrical films, including The Muppet Movie (1979), The Dark Crystal (1982) and Labyrinth (1986). Henson also operates Jim Henson's Creature Shop, an animatronics and visual effects studio which has created characters and effects for both Henson productions and outside projects. In 1989, the company entered merger negotiations with The Walt Disney Company, which were canceled following Jim Henson's death in 1990.
Subsequently, control of the company was assumed by Henson's children: Lisa, Cheryl, Brian, John, and Heather. In 2000, Henson was sold to German media company EM.TV & Merchandising AG; by the end of that year, however, EM.TV's stock collapsed, and the Henson family re-acquired the company in 2003.
In the interim, EM.TV sold the rights to the Sesame Street Muppets to Sesame Workshop in 2001, following a December 2000 announcement. In 2004, Henson sold The Muppets, and the associated trademarks, as well as the series Bear in the Big Blue House to Disney, but retains the remainder of the other characters, program library, and assets.
As of 2021[update], Brian, Lisa, Cheryl, and Heather Henson maintain control of the company. Jane Henson died in April 2013, and John Henson died in February 2014.
Jim and Jane Henson officially founded Muppets, Inc. on November 20, 1958, three years after Sam and Friends debuted on WRC-TV in Washington, D.C. Aside from Sam and Friends, the majority of its work until 1969 was in advertising; appearances on late-night talk shows; and short “meeting films” primarily for enterprise use, produced from 1965 to 1996. In 1968, the company began designing characters and producing short films for the fledgling Sesame Street, which premiered on NET (succeeded by PBS) in November 1969.
One of the company's first characters to appear regularly on television, Rowlf the Dog, originated in commercials for Purina Dog Chow and became a regular character on The Jimmy Dean Show from 1963 to 1966. During this time, the show's host, Jimmy Dean, refused an opportunity to own 40% of the company, assuming that he did not attain that right. Jim Henson also pitched several different projects to the major American television networks, to little avail. Some ideas became unaired pilots, while others were never produced.
In 1976, producer Lew Grade approached Henson to produce a weekly series in Grade's native United Kingdom; this series became The Muppet Show, produced by Associated Television (ATV) for the ITV network. The success of The Muppet Show led to the Muppets becoming an enduring media franchise. Another company controlled by Grade, ITC Entertainment, originally owned The Muppet Show, among other Henson productions, but Henson acquired the rights to these productions in the 1980s. During this time, Henson formed Jim Henson's Creature Shop, a special effects studio partially responsible for the films The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth; and television series The Storyteller, Farscape, and Dinosaurs.
Later in his life, Henson produced Fraggle Rock and The Jim Henson Hour. In August 1989, Henson and Disney CEO Michael Eisner began merger discussions reportedly valued at $150 million, which also included a fifteen-year contract for Henson's personal "creative services." However, the deal did not include the rights to the Sesame Street characters, which were owned by Henson, although merchandising revenue was split between Henson and Sesame Workshop.
Also during the negotiations, management of the company's Henson International Television distribution unit based in the UK purchased their unit from the company, leading to the establishment of HIT Entertainment. On May 16, 1990, as negotiations continued, Jim Henson died of toxic shock syndrome. Following Henson's death, neither Disney nor Jim Henson Productions could come to an accord. Negotiations officially ended in December 1990, and Henson remained an independent company.
The Henson family assumed management of the company, and Brian Henson was named president, chairman, and CEO in January 1991. In the following years, Henson entered into deals with several companies, including television rights to the Henson library with Disney Channel and Nickelodeon; a record label with BMG Kidz; and a home media label with Buena Vista Home Video. In 1995, Henson entered into an agreement with ABC to produce primetime television series, leading to Muppets Tonight and Aliens in the Family.
Following the releases of The Muppet Christmas Carol and Muppet Treasure Island by Walt Disney Pictures, Henson formed Jim Henson Pictures with Sony Pictures Entertainment. By 1999, Henson held partial interests in two cable channels: The Kermit Channel (broadcasting in Asia) and Odyssey Network (broadcasting in the United States), both jointly owned with Hallmark Entertainment. After Hallmark (through Crown Media Holdings) assumed full ownership of these networks, the Kermit Channel was discontinued and Odyssey was renamed the Hallmark Channel.
In 2000, the Henson family sold the company to the German media company EM.TV & Merchandising AG, for $680 million. That summer, EM.TV sold Henson's stakes in the Odyssey and Kermit cable channels in exchange for an 8.2% stake in Hallmark-controlled Crown Media Holdings. By the end of 2000, after EM.TV subsequently experienced major financial problems, EM.TV sold the company's ownership of the Sesame Street Muppets and Henson's small interest in the Noggin television network to Sesame Workshop, and by early 2001, Henson itself was marked for sale. The Walt Disney Company, Viacom, HIT Entertainment, Aol Time Warner, Haim Saban, Classic Media, as well as Henson management, among others, were all parties reportedly interested in acquiring the company.
In December 2002, a deal was announced in which EM.TV would sell a 49.9% stake in Henson to an investment group led by Dean Valentine, a former executive at Disney and UPN. However, in March 2003, the deal was canceled, citing financial issues on Valentine's part. In May 2003, EM.TV was reportedly nearing an agreement to sell Henson to a consortium between Classic Media and Sesame Workshop (with financing from Sony Pictures Entertainment), until the Henson family re-acquired the company for a closing price of $84 million.
In February 2004, Henson sold the Muppets and Bear in the Big Blue House to The Walt Disney Company, who subsequently formed The Muppets Studio (known at that time as The Muppets Holding Company). The term “Muppet”, likewise, became a legal trademark of Disney; Sesame Workshop retains permission to use the term for its Sesame Street characters under a license from Disney.
On April 1, 2004, Henson and HIT Entertainment agreed to a five-year global distribution and production deal which included distribution of 440 hours of the company's remaining library including Fraggle Rock, Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas, The Hoobs and Jim Henson's Mother Goose Stories. In addition, the agreement also included the production of new properties, including Frances, in which both companies co-produced and also both co-own the copyright to the series. After that deal expired, Henson entered similar agreements with Lionsgate Home Entertainment and Gaiam Vivendi Entertainment. As well, the company became involved with computer animated projects, including the direct-to-video Unstable Fables series; Sid the Science Kid; Dinosaur Train; and Splash and Bubbles, as well as the puppet series Pajanimals.
Henson later formed Henson Alternative, which specializes in adult content, including the live shows known alternatively as Puppet Improv, Puppet Up!, and Stuffed and Unstrung. In recent years, the Fraggle Rock characters have made several appearances, usually at special events. The characters appeared with Ben Folds Five in the music video for "Do It Anyway"; and in 2013, Gobo and Red Fraggle hosted a Fraggle Rock marathon on the Hub Network.
In 2019, The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, a prequel to The Dark Crystal, premiered on Netflix.
|As Muppets Inc.|
|Time Piece||1965||N/A||Pathé Contemporary Films|
|As Henson Associates|
|The Muppet Movie||1979||ITC Entertainment||Associated Film Distribution[a]|
|The Great Muppet Caper||1981||Universal Pictures[b]|
|The Dark Crystal||1982||Universal Pictures[c]|
|The Muppets Take Manhattan||1984||N/A||TriStar Pictures|
|Sesame Street Presents Follow That Bird||1985||Children's Television Workshop||Warner Bros.|
|Labyrinth||1986||Lucasfilm Ltd.||TriStar Pictures|
|As Jim Henson Productions|
|The Witches||1990||Lorimar Film Entertainment||Warner Bros.|
|The Muppet Christmas Carol||1992||Walt Disney Pictures||Buena Vista Pictures Distribution|
|Muppet Treasure Island||1996|
|As Jim Henson Pictures|
|Buddy||1997||Sony Pictures Releasing|
|Muppets from Space||1999||Columbia Pictures|
|The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland||1999|
|Rat||2000||Universal Focus||Universal Pictures|
|Good Boy!||2003||Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer||MGM Distribution Co.|
|As The Jim Henson Company|
|Five Children and It||2004||Isle of Man Film Commission
UK Film Council
|MirrorMask||2005||Destination Films||Samuel Goldwyn Films (USA)|
Tartan Films (UK)
|Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day||2014||Walt Disney Pictures
21 Laps Entertainment
|Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures|
|The Star||2017||Columbia Pictures
Sony Pictures Animation
|Sony Pictures Releasing|
Double Dare You Productions
|Untitled Labyrinth spin-off sequel||TBA||TriStar Pictures
|Sony Pictures Releasing|
From 1969 to 2001, Henson was contracted to design and create Muppet characters for Sesame Street. With the exception of occasional appearances in the Muppets franchise, the characters were used exclusively for Sesame Street, but Henson legally owned these characters prior to their acquisition by Sesame Workshop. The only exception was Kermit the Frog, who was featured in other projects prior to Sesame Street. Sesame Workshop retains the rights to use any Sesame Street footage featuring the character.
The sale ended any direct affiliation between The Muppets and Sesame Street, although the series retains use of the term "Muppet" under license from Disney. Many of the puppeteers continue to perform with both The Muppets and Sesame Street franchises. While no longer owning the Sesame Street characters, Henson continues to design them. This list excludes pre-2001 Sesame Street co-productions outside the United States.
The following list contains projects of The Jim Henson Company under its Henson Alternative banner: