Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Nostalgia Bomb! - A Muppet Family Christmas

What was it?

A Muppet Family Christmas is a holiday special produced for ABC by the Jim Henson Company. The show features characters from all of Henson's TV efforts to that point: The Muppet Show, Sesame Street, Fraggle Rock, and Muppet Babies.

When was it available?

The special first aired on December 16th, 1987 and ran in an hour-long time slot. ABC ran the special again the following year on December 2nd, 1988 before the show was re-edited for licensing issues and aired on NBC in 1989 as a part of The Magical World of Disney anthology series. After that it surprisingly aired on Nickelodeon as late as 1997!

What about today?

Today, well... you're out of luck! There have been several VHS releases of the special since around 1990 and even a DVD was produced as late as 2003, but due to licensing issues with several of the songs used, as well as ownership rights over the different Muppet brands, there hasn't been a home video release or broadcast of A Muppet Family Christmas in many, many years. Home video releases of the show fetch upwards of $200 CDN as of writing this.

Why do I remember it?

It's difficult to forget A Muppet Family Christmas once you've seen it! It has to be one of the most ambitious television programs ever produced.

The Jim Henson Company was certainly riding high in the '80s. They had a major success with The Muppet Show in the '70s and then rolled that into three feature films by 1984, and by '87 there were several popular TV shows being produced in joint all over the globe. A Muppet Family Christmas wasn't happy just taking their stock Muppets from The Muppet Show and creating a family-friendly Christmas special, so they went out and dragged in Sesame Street, Fraggle Rock, and even created real Muppets for Muppet Babies, which was a cartoon series!

It's interesting to note that this wasn't the first time they brought all these franchises together - technically The Muppets: A Celebration of 30 Years gets that honour - but I think the more adored special is A Muppet Family Christmas.

With all these characters and story-lines intermixed the special really moves. There is zero downtime to speak of. Characters transition from scene to song to scene quickly to make sure everyone gets their limelight in this 45 minute show.

The main gist of the special is that Doc and Sprocket from most of the iterations of Fraggle Rock - these characters were only featured in wraparound segments of the show and were sometimes changed regionally - are renting Emily Bear's home for a quiet country Christmas, while she intends to go to sunnier climates on holiday. Unexpectedly, her son Fozzie and the rest of The Muppet Show gang turn up to surprise her for Christmas! The only Muppet missing is Ms. Piggy, who was finishing some business and intends to make a later appearance, but is caught in a bad snowstorm en route.

Some of the subplots include Fozzie's snowman coming to life and becoming his new comedy partner, the Sesame Street gang stumbling upon the country farmhouse while they're out caroling, Swedish Chef trying to cook a turkey for Christmas dinner, Kermit and his nephew discovering a Fraggle hole in the basement of Emily Bear's house, and Scooter finding an old film reel of the Muppet Babies in a closet!

Outside of the multitude of stories the songs are certainly the biggest feature of the special. There are 12 songs in total in the original edit, which includes some holiday classics, a few original tunes, and a massive medley to round out the program. Seriously, I have no idea how they found that many puppeteers. Outside of the medley there are several standout songs, but I have to say getting to hear Swedish Chef and Big Bird sing a duet of "Merry Christmas To You" is the highlight, in my opinion.

Swedish Chef and Big Bird may seem like a weird combination, but it works with the story. Some other mash-ups get teased, like Oscar the Grouch and Rizzo the Rat or Cookie Monster and Animal, but because of the breadth of the special they aren't explored.

The cherry on top of the whole thing is a small scene at the very end of the special where Jim Henson is enjoying seeing all his creations celebrating together before opting to clean the dishes with the help of Sprocket. It's sad to think he'd pass just three short years after this special aired.

All-in-all, A Muppet Family Christmas is one of the best holiday specials out there and one my most cherished. We didn't have Nickelodeon in Canada when I was a kid, so I would've only had the opportunity to watch the show a few times in the late-80s/early-90s, but it left an indelible mark. It's just so cozy and comfortable! Like most of the specials that I feature on the site it's really sad this isn't broadcast each year, but at least in this case the licensing issues are pretty clear: Disney bought out The Muppets brand in 2004, but the Sesame Street characters is still owned by Sesame Workshop, for instance.

You can still find it to stream in a few corners of the Internet, however. There's a pretty nice copy on YouTube that you can easily search out. I - being a total nostalgia nerd - opted to watch a really poorly recorded copy with the original commercials on I've linked it so you can check it out, but if you're not that jazzed to see old ads for Ritz and Legos... well, actually, what are you even doing here!?

A Muppet Family Christmas is as true holiday classic that still resonates today and that's why it's a blast from the past!

Hope you enjoyed,

Friday, November 8, 2019

Memory, Blog: The MacPherson Tape

A while back I wrote about an alien TV show that scared the pants off me as a kid, Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County. In that post I mentioned that in the UPN special the producers featured "experts" in the fields of Ufology - as well as skeptics - to speak about the as-presented "real" UFO abduction tape.

The interesting thing is that the so-called "experts" weren't really talking about the video that was aired that night.

You see, Paramount (UPN stands for United Paramount Network, by the way) did indeed pay to have Alien Abduction made, but it started out as a movie by filmmaker Dean Alioto under the title The MacPherson Tape and had a fairly different story than what was aired on television.

The basics were there: it featured a family get-together for Thanksgiving, in which the MacPhersons are beset by creatures from another planet, but the producers of the UPN special changed things up.

I actually had no idea about The MacPherson Tape until a few years ago. I was searching for a way to watch Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County on the web, because my folks either taped over or threw out my old recording. I found a copy to download, but when I started watching I realized fairly quickly that it wasn't the show I remembered. There were no title bumpers and no announcer. It looked nothing like a TV show! This was a legit shot-on-video movie.

The original cut runs for an hour and a half, so it's really a feature-length film. The hour long special had a runtime of 45 minutes, which was cut with interviews and recaps, so you can tell that a lot hit the cutting room floor.

Oddly enough, it wasn't just dissected for time, but the beats of the film were all changed, as well. The "ending" of Alien Abduction (seen above), where Tommy is abducted by a dimly lit creature in his bedroom (/me shudders), is actually a scene from the middle of The MacPherson Tape, where he runs to his room to change his pants, is frozen by an alien for a few moments, and then returns to his family unaware of what just transpired.

So, it would appear that this film, The MacPherson Tape, is actually what was presented to the "experts", which makes sense as this version is a fully-fledged found footage film (take that, aliteration!). It's much more impressive than the clips you see hodge-podged together for the TV cut. It sort of seems like an under-handed thing. Some of the individuals that spoke to the film on the TV special were highly-lauded scientists and debunkers. They likely wouldn't have involved themselves with the tape if they knew for certain that it was an out-and-out scam, so it kind of makes the whole thing seem greasy, but who knows? Maybe everyone made a nice cut of the profits and all was well!

I actually still prefer the TV version over the film. It's not just the nostalgia talking, but the ending with Tommy getting abducted in his bedroom is the better edit, in my opinion.

What's also interesting is that The MacPherson Tape predates The Blair Witch Project by a whole year! I know the found footage concept wasn't entirely new when The Blair Witch Project came out, but it's cool to note. The MacPherson Tape doesn't even come close to the quality of The Blair Witch Project, by the way. We're talkin' two different leagues.

Even more interesting is that the film's creator, Dean Alioto, actually got the UPN gig because of a very similar film he made way back in 1989 called UFO Abduction, which predates The Blair Witch Project by a full ten years! But that story is for another time (I promise, I'll at least try to stop typing that).

I hope you got some kind of enjoyment out of all this silly alien TV stuff!