Fall TV Preview
Muppets Million Moms Scandal

Muppets Under Fire: EP Insists 'Adult' Jokes Will Always 'Work on Two Levels'

A brewing brouhaha asks: Has the The Muppets’ very fabric changed?

When ABC first unveiled the 10-minute preview (embedded below) for its new comedy — which brings Kermit, Piggy et al back to life via the production of a late-night talk show — one of the few lines to possibly raise a stitched eyebrow had the frog alluding to Animal and the band always being happy, but now “legally.”

The Muppets‘ promotional campaign, including gossipy “news” items, have toed a similar line — Piggy’s new Tinder profile urges someone to “put this pig in a blanket,” while one promo shows Castle star Nathan Fillion doing an early-morning “walk of shame” from the porcine prima donna’s trailer — to the point that the One Million Moms organization has called for a boycott of what they call a “perverted” and “sexually charged” reimagining of familiar, kid-oriented creatures.

The new Muppets series was described at the TCA press tour by Kermit himself as more “adult,” though executive producer Bill Prady has since countered that “grown-up” is perhaps a better adjective. Sensing that such a hullabaloo was on the horizon, TVLine at press tour invited EP Bob Kushell to shine a light on where exactly the line lies as the felt-and-buttons figures reveal their personal lives to parent-and-child audiences.

“Jokes can work on two levels,” Kushell said when presented specifically with the band/drugs reference. “That’s a joke where the adults in the audience get to put two and two together,” whereas any rugrat in the room “has no idea” to what Kermit is alluding.

As the Muppets scribes dive deeper into this world, Kushell said, “Yes, there will be jokes that are pitched that are a little too risque, and then we have to find a way to make it more clever, I guess you would say, so that it works on two levels. That’s the fun challenge of what we do.”

At the time we spoke, Kushell said that “already, the writers are thinking in a way where you don’t go to the more racy joke first, you go to the clever way to say the racy joke. It’s becoming second nature very quickly.”

Though the Million Moms campaign aims to suggest that ABC’s The Muppets will not only cross questionable lines but do so on a weekly basis — somehow, they even hint that abortion will be a topic for the 8 o’clock family comedy — their formal complaint cites no specific examples of any such betrayal of the compact with the audience.

“Part of the excitement of doing this show,” Kushell said last month, “is to see where we can push the envelope but never push it so far that the adults feel embarrassed to watch it in front of their kids. That will never happen.”

“We know our audience is going to be families watching, adults watching with their children, so we’re not pitching stories or thinking of stories that are, like, Norman Lear stories from the 1970s,” he added. “[This show] not going to be that.”