The Jim Henson Company (previously known as Muppets, Inc., Henson Associates, and Jim Henson Productions; colloquial: Henson) is an American entertainment company located in Los Angeles, California. The company is known for its innovations in the field of puppetry, particularly though the creation of the renowned Muppets characters; and is a leading producer of children’s and family entertainment.
The company was established in 1958 by puppeteers Jim and Jane Henson, and is presently independently owned and operated by their children. Henson has produced many successful television series, including The Muppet Show, Fraggle Rock, Dinosaurs, Bear in the Big Blue House, and Farscape; 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 dropped 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 EM.TV & Merchandising AG, a German media company; by the end of that year, however, EM.TV's stock collapsed, and Henson family re-acquired the company 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 remainder 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 is headquartered at the Jim Henson Company Lot, the historic former Charlie Chaplin Studios, in Hollywood.
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 began creating characters and more than 20 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 soon 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 40% of the company because he believed that he never earned it. Jim Henson also pitched several different projects to the major American television networks, to no avail. Some ideas were made as 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 the series 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 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, as negotiations with Disney 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.
1991 to 1999
The Henson family assumed 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 a label with Buena Vista Home Video. In 1995, Henson entered into a deal 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.
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, 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 financing 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” subsequently became a legal trademark of Disney; Sesame Workshop retains permission to use the term for its Sesame Street characters under license.
2004 to present
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 include Fraggle Rock, Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas, The Hoobs and Jim Henson's Mother Goose Stories. 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 traditional puppetry series, Pajanimals.
Henson later formed Henson Alternative, which specializes in adult content, including the live puppet improv shows known alternatively as Puppet Improv, Puppet Up!, and Stuffed and Unstrung. Current projects in development include The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, a prequel to The Dark Crystal; and a Fraggle Rock film. In recent years, the Fraggle Rock characters have made several 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)
- Flight of the Navigator (TBA)
- Fraggle Rock: The Movie (TBA)
- Untitled Labyrinth sequel (TBA)
- Pinocchio (TBA)
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 The Walt Disney Comapny. 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.
- 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)
- Bambaloo (2003–07)
- 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)
- The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance (2019)
- The Storyteller (TBA)
- Top Puppet (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)
The following list contains 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).
- Star Fox Zero commercial (2016).