On February 19, 2021, all five seasons of The Muppet Show will make their streaming debut on Disney Plus, as reported by Entertainment Weekly. While the first three seasons of the iconic puppet sketch show have been publicly available via home video since the 2000’s, the Disney Plus premiere will reportedly mark the first commercial redistribution of seasons four and five, according to Variety.
Questions about the potential changes the Disney corporation might make to the material have already cropped up on social media. Brian Jay Jones (George Lucas: A Life), author of Jim Henson: The Biography, reported via Twitter that the visual integrity of the original episodes has allegedly been maintained during the digital transfer, although he too has been left in the dark about the possibility of content alterations.
My DMs are lighting up, so here’s what I know: not much. I know they’ve used some high-quality source material to make the eps look GREAT. As for music rights, UK segments, the Chris Langham episode, etc….I don’t know. I’m as much on the edge of my seat as all of you! pic.twitter.com/xSCHDr6i7x
— Brian Jay Jones (@brianjayjones) January 19, 2021
The reference to music rights in Jones’s tweet serves to highlight a key concern of fans of The Muppet Show, one which the author had previously dismissed. Special guests from the program’s last two seasons included popular musicians such as Kenny Rogers (The Gambler: The Adventure Continues), Diana Ross (Lady Sings the Blues), Johnny Cash (Columbo) and Blondie front-woman Debbie Harry (Forever, Lulu), all of whom perform famous songs from their repertoire during their respective episodes. In a March 2020 interview with Vanity Fair, Jones demonstrated disbelief in rumors that streaming opportunities for The Muppet Show were hindered by questions surrounding music licensing fees: “I would think that the cost of clearing the music for The Muppet Show at this point, when you’re the Disney conglomerate, would be the equivalent of a rounding error.”
Music clearance issues that remain a prohibitive measure for home video releases similarly plague distribution in the streaming era. The Muppet Show‘s fellow variety sketch show Saturday Night Live has run into similar predicaments with the rebroadcast of both sketches with copyrighted music and musical performances from a majority of the show’s network run. Other shows that have had their public availability compromised by music copyright dilemmas include The Adventures of Pete and Pete and Beavis and Butt-Head.
No news has yet emerged concerning a streaming release for the Muppet Show follow-up Muppets Tonight, which aired in the late 1990’s. Unlike The Muppet Show, the series has never received a wide home video release and was broadcast across two Disney-owned channels, albeit with low ratings.