The Jim Henson Company (also known at various times as Muppets, Inc., Henson Associates, Inc., and Jim Henson Productions, Inc.) is an American entertainment company, a leading producer of children's and family entertainment (despite some of the company's works containing mature content), and best known as the creators of the renowned Muppets characters.
Founded in 1958 by puppeteer Jim Henson and performing partner and wife Jane Henson, the company is independently owned and operated by the children of its founders. Henson has produced many successful television series, including The Muppet Show (later owned by Disney), Fraggle Rock, Dinosaurs, Bear in the Big Blue House and Farscape and created the Muppet characters for the long-running PBS children's television series, Sesame Street.
The studio has also produced many theatrical films, including The Muppet Movie (1979), The Dark Crystal (1982) and Labyrinth (1986). Henson also operates Jim Henson's Creature Shop, a puppet, animatronics and visual effects workshop, which has created characters and effects for Henson productions, as well as outside producers. In 1989, the company entered merger negotiations with The Walt Disney Company, but the deal fell through following Jim Henson's unexpected death in 1990.
Following Henson's death and the calling off of the Disney merger, the company was taken over by Henson's children, Lisa, Cheryl, Brian, John, and Heather, with Brian at the helm. In 2000 Henson was sold to EM.TV & Merchandising AG, a German media company, but by the end of that year, EM.TV's stock collapsed, and the company was sold back to the Henson family in 2003. (EM.TV had in the interim sold the rights to the Sesame Street Muppets to Sesame Workshop in 2001.)
In 2004, Henson sold the rights to the Muppets and Bear in the Big Blue House to The Walt Disney Company, but retains the rights to the rest of its characters, program library, and assets. As of 2014, Brian, Lisa, Cheryl, and Heather Henson run the company (sibling and fellow co-owner John Henson died in February 2014).
Brian Henson serves as chairman, while Lisa Henson serves as CEO. Since 2000, The Jim Henson Company has been headquartered at the Jim Henson Company Lot, the historic former Charlie Chaplin Studios, in Hollywood, California.
1958 to 1990
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 work that the company had until 1969 involved creating characters for various commercials, variety-show appearances, and a few meeting films for various companies (the company would produce its own meeting films from 1965 to 1996). In 1968, the company started creating characters and more than 20 short films for the popular children's show Sesame Street, which would debut on public television in November 1969.
One of the company's first characters to appear regularly on television, Rowlf the Dog, originated with commercials for Purina Dog Chow and soon became famous when he became a regular character on The Jimmy Dean Show from 1963 to 1966. During this time the show's host, Jimmy Dean, turned down the opportunity to own forty percent of the company because he didn't feel that he had earned it. For many years, Jim Henson had tried to sell several different shows to the major American networks, all of which turned them down. Some ideas (such as "Tales of The Tinkerdee") were made as unaired pilots, and some (such as "The Zoocus") were never produced.
Then, in 1976, British media-mogul Lew Grade approached Jim Henson to produce a weekly show based in England, which became The Muppet Show broadcast on ATV. The success of The Muppet Show led to many movies, specials, videos, and more. The British company ITC originally owned The Muppet Show, among other Henson productions, but Jim Henson later purchased the rights to all productions originally distributed by ITC. In the early 1980s, Jim Henson also formed Jim Henson's Creature Shop, which would go on to provide characters for shows such as The Storyteller, Farscape, and Dinosaurs; and movies such as The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth.
During the 1980s Jim Henson produced new television series such as Fraggle Rock and The Jim Henson Hour. In August 1989, Jim Henson and Disney CEO Michael Eisnerannounced a deal in which Henson would merge his company with The Walt Disney Company. The deal, reportedly valued at $150 million, 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 the Children's Television 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, while still negotiating with Disney, Jim Henson died suddenly. Under the changed circumstances, the two sides could not come to an accord. Negotiations officially ended in December 1990, and Henson would remain an independent company.
1991 to 1999
The Henson family took over management of the company, and Brian Henson was named president, chairman, and CEO in January 1991. Over the next few years, Henson signed deals with several companies, including television rights to the Henson library with Disney Channel and Nickelodeon, a record label with BMG Kidz, and granting Disney's Buena Vista Home Video, the home video distribution rights to the entire Henson Productions library up to that time. In 1995, Henson signed a deal with Capital Cities/ABC to produce primetime television series, a deal which led to Muppets Tonight and Aliens in the Family.
And after producing The Muppet Christmas Carol and Muppet Treasure Island with Walt Disney Pictures, Henson formed Jim Henson Pictures with Sony Pictures Entertainment. By 1999, The Jim Henson Company held partial interests in two cable channels: The Kermit Channel (broadcasting in Asia) and Odyssey Network (broadcasting in the United States). Hallmark Entertainment also co-owned these networks. After Hallmark (through Crown Media Holdings) took full control of these networks, the Kermit Channel was taken off the air and Odyssey was renamed The Hallmark Channel.
2000 to 2004
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, the Henson Company itself was put up 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 fell through, blamed on financing issues on Valentine's part. In May 2003, EM.TV was reportedly nearing an agreement to sell Henson to a partnership between Classic Media and Sesame Workshop (with financing from Sony Pictures Entertainment), until the Henson family stepped in and bought back the company for a closing price of $84 million.
In 2004, almost one year after ownership of the Henson company was returned to the family's hands, the Jim Henson Company sold the rights to The Muppets and Bear in the Big Blue House characters to the Walt Disney Company, who now control the Muppets through the wholly owned subsidiary, The Muppets Studio. Disney now owns all Muppet-related trademarks, including the word "Muppet" (though Sesame Workshop still has permission to use the term for its Sesame Street characters through a license from Disney). In the teaser for "Stuffed and Unstrung", a post-Muppet Henson production, the characters of Bobby Vegan and Samson Knight made it clear that they weren't "Muppets."
2004 to present
On April 1, 2004, the company and HIT Entertainment agreed to a five-year global distribution and production deal which included distribution of 440 hours of the company's remaining family library include Fraggle Rock, Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas, The Hoobs and Jim Henson's Mother Goose Stories. After that deal expired, Henson signed on with Lionsgate Home Entertainment, then subsequently, Gaiam Vivendi Entertainment. Following the sale of the Muppets and Bear in the Big Blue House franchises, the company started to become involved with computer animated projects, including the direct-to-video Unstable Fables series and the television shows Sid the Science Kid, Dinosaur Train, and Splash and Bubbles, as well as the traditional puppetry series, Pajanimals.
The company formed Henson Alternative, which made adult puppetry shows, including the live puppet improv shows known alternatively as Puppet Improv, Puppet Up, and Stuffed and Unstrung. For years, the company had been trying to get a Dark Crystal prequel and a Fraggle Rock movie made. In recent years, the Fraggles have been making a number of new appearances, usually at special events. The Fraggles appeared with Ben Folds Five in the music video "Do It Anyway", and in 2013, Gobo and Red Fraggle hosted a Fraggle Rock marathon on the Hub Network.
- Jim Henson (1936–1990) – Founder of The Jim Henson Company.
- Brian Henson – Chairman of The Jim Henson Company.
- Lisa Henson – CEO of The Jim Henson Company.
- Cheryl Henson – Board of Directors member, President of The Jim Henson Foundation. Formerly a liaison to Sesame Workshop from 1992–2000.
- John Henson (1965–2014) – Board of Directors member.
- Heather Henson – Board of Directors member.
- Peter Schube – President and COO of The Jim Henson Company.
- Lori Don – Executive Vice President and CFO of The Jim Henson Company.
- Richard Goldsmith – Executive Vice President, Global Distribution, and International Consumer Projects.
- Joe Henderson – Executive Vice President, Worldwide Administration.
- Stephanie Schroeder – Executive Vice President, Business Affairs & Legal.
- Halle Stanford – Executive Vice President of Children's Entertainment.
- Nicole Goldman – Senior Vice President, Marketing and Publicity.
- Karen Lee Arbeeny – Vice President, Business Operations, Global Distribution.
- Faryal Ganjehei – Vice President and Studio Operations at the Henson Recording Studio.
- Anna Jordan Douglass – Vice President, Digital Development & Interactive Media.
- Howard Sharp – Vice President of Administration.
- Peter Brooke – Creative Supervisor at Jim Henson's Creature Shop.
Other staff members
- Karen Falk – Historian and archivist.
- Time Piece (1965)
- The Cube (1969)
- The Muppet Movie (1979)
- The Great Muppet Caper (1981)
- The Dark Crystal (1982)
- The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984)
- Labyrinth (1986)
- The Witches (1990)
- The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
- Muppet Treasure Island (1996)
- Buddy (1997)
- Muppets from Space (1999)
- The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland (1999)
- Rat (2000)
- Good Boy! (2003)
- Five Children and It (2004)
- MirrorMask (2005)
- Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (2014)
- The Star (2017)
- Bear in the Big Blue House: The Movie (2020)
- Flight of the Navigator (TBA)
- Fraggle Rock: The Movie (TBA)
- Untitled Labyrinth sequel (TBA)
From 1969 to 2001, Jim Henson Productions was contracted to create and provide Muppet characters for Sesame Street. With the exception of occasional appearances in The Muppets franchise, the characters were used exclusively for Sesame Street, but The Jim Henson Company legally owned the characters they created. In 2001, Sesame Workshop bought the rights to all Muppets used on Sesame Street, except Kermit the Frog. Because Henson had not created Kermit for exclusive use on Sesame Street (as he created Kermit 14 years before the show began) and Kermit is also the lead character of The Muppets franchise, the character required a special agreement. Sesame Workshop owns all footage of Kermit on Sesame Street, and Sesame Workshop can continue to use that footage.
The deal ended any direct affiliation between The Muppets and Sesame Street, although Sesame Street may still use the term "Muppet" by arrangement with The Walt Disney Company, who holds the legal trademark to the term. Many of the same puppeteers also continue to perform with both The Muppets and Sesame Street franchises. While no longer owning the characters used on the show, The Jim Henson Company continues to design and build Muppet characters for Sesame Street in their New York workshop. This list excludes pre-2001 Sesame Street co-productions outside the United States.
- Sam and Friends (1955–61)
- The Great Santa Claus Switch (1970)
- The Frog Prince (1971)
- Out to Lunch (1974)
- "The Land of Gorch" segments on Saturday Night Live (1975)
- The Muppet Show (1976–81)
- Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas (1977)
- John Denver & the Muppets (1979)
- Rocky Mountain Holiday (1983)
- Fraggle Rock (1983–87)
- Muppet Babies (1984–91)
- Little Muppet Monsters (1985)
- The Muppets: A Celebration of 30 Years (1986)
- The Tale of the Bunny Picnic (1986)
- The Christmas Toy (1986)
- Fraggle Rock: The Animated Series (1987)
- A Muppet Family Christmas (1987)
- The Storyteller (1988, 1990)
- The Jim Henson Hour (1989–90)
- Miss Piggy's Hollywood (1989)
- Secrets of the Muppets (1992)
- The Ghost of Faffner Hall (1989)
- Jim Henson's Mother Goose Stories (1990)
- The Muppets at Walt Disney World (1990)
- The Muppets Celebrate Jim Henson (1990)
- Dinosaurs (1991–94)
- Dog City (1992–95)
- CityKids (1993–94)
- The Secret Life of Toys (1993)
- Jim Henson's Animal Show (1994–97)
- Mr. Willowby's Christmas Tree (1995)
- Muppets Tonight (1996–98)
- Muppet Treasure Island (1996)
- Gulliver's Travels (1996)
- The Wubbulous World of Dr. Seuss (1996–98)
- Bear in the Big Blue House (1997–2006)
- Brats of the Lost Nebula (1998)
- Mopatop's Shop (1999–2005)
- Construction Site (1999–2002)
- Farscape (1999–2003)
- The Fearing Mind (2000–01)
- The Hoobs (2001–03)
- Telling Stories with Tomie dePaola (2000–01)
- Jack and the Beanstalk: The Real Story (2001)
- It's a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie (2002)
- Animal Jam (2003)
- Farscape: The Peacekeeper Wars (2004)
- The Muppets' Wizard of Oz (2005)
- Five Minutes More (2006)
- Frances (2006)
- Sid the Science Kid (2008–13)
- Jim Henson's Pajanimals (2008–13)
- Dinosaur Train (2009–17)
- Jim Henson's The Possibility Shop (2009–11)
- Me and My Monsters (2010)
- Wilson & Ditch: Dinning America (2010)
- The High Fructose Adventures of Annoying Orange (2012–14)
- The Doozers (2013–14)
- That Puppet Game Show (2013–14)
- Jim Henson's Creature Shop Challenge (2014)
- Hi Opie! (2014–16)
- Lily the Unicorn (2015)
- Turkey Hollow (2015)
- Dot. (2016–present)
- Splash and Bubbles (2016–present)
- Word Party (2016–17)
- Julie's Greenroom (2017)
- Top Puppet (TBA)
- The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance (TBA)
Direct to video
- Jim Henson Play-Along Video (1988)
- Hey, You're As Funny as Fozzie Bear: A Comedy Show Starring Fozzie Bear and You.
- Sing-Along, Dance-Along, Do-Along: Rowlf teaches kids about musical styles.
- Wow, You're a Cartoonist!
- Neat Stuff... To Know and Do
- Jim Henson's Mother Goose Stories (1987–90)
- Peek-A-Boo, A Big Surprise for Little People
- Muppet Sing Alongs
- Billy Bunny's Animal Songs (1993)
- "It's Not Easy Being Green"
- "Muppet Treasure Island Sing Alongs"
- "Things That Fly"
- Muppet Classic Theater (1994)
- "Jim Henson's Preschool Collection"
- "Muppets on Wheels" (1995)
- "Yes, I Can Learn" (1995)
- "Yes, I Can Help" (1995)
- Kermit's Swamp Years (2002)
- Unstable Fables trilogy (2008)
- Jim Henson's Muppet*Vision 3D (1991)
- The Skrumps (2007)
- The Sam Plenty Cavalcade of Action Show Plus Singing! (2008)
This list contains the mature projects of The Jim Henson Company under its Henson Alternative banner:
- Puppet Up! (2006–present)
- Late Night Buffet with Augie and Del (2006)
- Tinseltown (2007)
- Alt/Reality (2008)
- Late Night Liars (2010)
- Simian Undercover Detective Squad (2012)
- Neil's Puppet Dreams (2012–13)
- No, You Shut Up! (2013–16)
- Good Morning Today (2013–14)
- The Happytime Murders (2018)
- The Curious Creations of Christine McConnell (2018)
- The puppet segments of the Nintendo Digital Event, shown during E3 (2015).
- A Star Fox Zero commercial (2016).
- The Muppets Studio
- Sesame Workshop