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Muppet evolution

A timeline of key moments in Muppets history.

November 20, 2011

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1955: Jim Henson debuts Kermit the Frog on Washington, D.C.’s WRC-TV’s program “Sam and Friends,’’ in black and white. Henson goes on to perform Ernie, Rowlf the Dog, the Swedish Chef (Henson did the voice and Frank Oz did the hands), and Dr. Teeth.

1963: Frank Oz, age 19, is hired by Muppets Inc. His first role is playing right hand for Rowlf the Dog. Oz later is the voice and hand inside Bert, Grover, Cookie Monster, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Sam the Eagle, and Animal.

1969: Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) premieres “Sesame Street.’’ A generation learns to count and spell thanks to a giant yellow bird and a grumpy monster who lives in a garbage can.

1976: “It’s time to play the music, it’s time to light the lights’’; “The Muppet Show’’ debuts, running until 1981. Set in a fictitious vaudeville theater, the variety show totals 120 episodes, and features hundreds of guest stars and musical comedy sketches.

1979: “The Muppet Movie,’’ the first of seven Muppet theatrical films, opens in theaters. The soundtrack single, “The Rainbow Connection,’’ stays in radio’s Top 40 for seven weeks, eventually reaching number 25 on the Billboard Hot 100.

1980: Frank Oz performs as Yoda in “The Empire Strikes Back.’’ The voice is, essentially, Grover mixed with a little Gonzo. “Try not. Do. Or do not. There is no try’’ schools a generation of geeks.

1990: Jim Henson dies of bacterial pneumonia at age 53. Big Bird sings “It’s Not Easy Being Green’’ at Henson’s memorial service.

1999: The sixth feature film, “Muppets From Space,’’ is released, the first since Henson’s death with an original screenplay (1992’s “The Muppet Christmas Carol’’ and 1996’s “Muppet Treasure Island’’ were adaptations.)

2004: Excluding the “Sesame Street’’ characters, the intellectual property rights to all other Muppets are sold by Henson’s heirs to the Walt Disney Company. Children’s Television Workshop (now called Sesame Workshop) also loses rights to Kermit the Frog.

2009: The Muppets are featured in a hilarious parody of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,’’ proving their old “Muppet Show’’ mojo is still conjurable. The video attracts 23 million views on YouTube (and counting).

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