The Swedish Chef was a favorite of Jim Henson and Frank Oz, as they both got to perform him. Henson was the head and voice, while Oz provided the hands. Frequently, one of the two would ad lib a line or bit of business, forcing the other one to keep up.
The Swedish Chef has been said to be inspired by the first and only television appearance of Lars Baeckmann. His appearance was a total failure, as he mumbled a strange mixture of English and Swedish while hectically preparing some sort of food. It was thought that the show's producers found it very funny and created the Swedish Chef in Baeckmann's likeness (including the thick mustache). However, show writer Jerry Juhl has refuted this statement and believes Baeckmann invented the rumor himself. Baeckmann, who presently earns his money with a traveling cooking show in Sweden, was paid $80 for the rights to the character. He is considered to be a good cook with a great sense of humor.
Initially, the producers had such difficulty casting guest stars that they had to call upon all their personal friends in the entertainment industry for help. This changed dramatically after Rudolf Nureyev agreed to appear. The publicity of a renowned ballet dancer appearing on such a bizarre show created such positive publicity that the show became popular and soon celebrities were lining up to appear on the show.
John Cleese was a big fan of the show and wrote much of the episode he appeared in, including the pirate sketch, his scene with Gonzo ("the ugly, disgusting one who catches cannonballs") and the finale.
In the episode with John Cleese, there is a skit in which he plays a pirate, complete with a nagging parrot/possible wife. Shortly before the end of the skit, he asks, "Do you want to be an EX-parrot?" and fires off his gun, missing the parrot. This is a reference to the infamous Parrot Sketch from Cleese's Monty Python's Flying Circus (1969). Also during the sketch, Cleese says to Capt. Link Hogthrob, "Of course I'm a pirate! What did you think I was? A management consultant?" In real life, Cleese has his own company that produces management consulting films.
Because they found the character so funny, extraneous members of the crew would often crowd into the studio to watch filming of skits with the Swedish Chef. Often, the laughter heard in the final sketch is not from a laugh track, but from members of the crew who couldn't contain themselves.
Originally, the producers intended to create Muppet versions of each guest star. These can be seen in the early episodes when the guest star takes his or her bow. The practice was scrapped after the third episode.
The episode featuring Milton Berle as the guest star opens with Timmy, the Muppet monster, hitting Berle in the face with a giant powder puff, while shouting, "Makeup!" This was an often-repeated gag on Berle's first TV show, Texaco Star Theatre (1948).
Floyd Pepper's name combined the name of the rock band Pink Floyd with the title of The Beatles's Sgt. Pepper album. Reflecting this was Floyd's pink color. The outfit and moustache he wore were similar to those worn by the Beatles in their Lonely Hearts Club Band persona.
Statler and Waldorf were named after two New York City hotels. Jim Henson based the two old men off of professors he had at the University of Maryland. Statler is the taller, thinner one. Waldorf has a round head and is shorter. Waldorf's wife is named Astoria, after the famous Waldorf - Astoria Hotel.
English television didn't have commercial interruptions during the programs, so many British telecasts feature scenes and musical numbers (mostly British music hall in nature) not seen in the US until Nickelodeon aired the show for a brief time in the spring and summer of 1994. Nickelodeon - a kids' channel - would edit out another sketch (mostly sketches that Nickelodeon thought shouldn't be seen by their audience) in favor of the usually less offensive UK sketches.
Originally, the producers thought they would only have enough story material for three seasons. However, the characters they developed during the run provided so much creative inspiration that two more seasons were possible.
When Peter Sellers was chosen to guest star on an episode, he requested that a skit known as "The Wall" not be done with him. In this skit, Kermit interviews the guest for a short period just as themselves, and Sellers' stated that he couldn't be himself. "I can be Queen Victoria, but I cannot be myself," he said. The writers replaced "The Wall" with a skit where Sellers played Queen Victoria.
The episode hosted by Steve Martin featured "auditions" of new acts for the show. It was actually a dumping ground for all of the ideas that hadn't quite formed into coherent scenes. Since there was no "audience", the laugh track wasn't used. Instead, the producers had a few stagehands provide the laughter. Because there is no audience track in this episode, it is thus the only episode in which the closing theme is audible for its entirety; in all other episodes the closing theme is obscured by canned applause and audience laughter.
Ruth Buzzi recently revealed that she was originally supposed to be the first guest on the show, but scheduling conflicts pushed her back to episode #4. The guest star on the first episode was Juliet Prowse.
Of all the musical numbers they cooked up for the show, the one the producers were most proud of was created from Harry Belafonte's request for a meaningful piece, which had the singer singing "Turn the World Around" with puppets made to resemble traditional African tribal masks.
One of the most persistent stories over the years is about Spike Milligan's T-shirt with Arabic lettering. Supposedly it was discovered that the Arabic lettering translated to "hashish" only after the show was aired. This was untrue. Milligan's T-shirt actually says "Kuwait", a reference to his own television series Q9 (1969), which had been renamed in various versions over the years to "Q8" in one of its incarnations. Kuwait = Q8.
The character of Miss Piggy was originally alternately played by Richard Hunt and Frank Oz. As the character grew in popularity, a hesitant Oz took on sole performer status. He once remarked that Piggy was such an intense and over-the-top woman, she could only be played by a man.
In February 2003, Disney purchased The Jim Henson Workshop. The deal includes characters such as Fozzie Bear and Dave Goelz, as well as the Bear in the Big Blue House franchise. Sesame Street characters such as Big Bird and Elmo are not included in the acquisition, as they are owned separately by the Sesame Workshop.
Señor Wences was originally booked as a guest star in the fourth season - he's even mentioned as a guest star in Scooter's "List of Guest Stars" song (tune of "Modern Major General") in the Phyllis George episode, in the middle of the fourth season - yet Señor Wences didn't appear on the show until the following year.
Many of the characters were redesigned early in the show's run. Miss Piggy's long hair and nose were replaced with shorter, curly hair and a shorter nose. Gonzo's nose was resized, and Fozzie had his wagging ears and drooping mouth removed because Frank Oz felt they were unnecessary to bring the character to life.
The first two episodes (featuring Juliet Prowse and Connie Stevens, respectively) were produced months before regular production began on the first season proper. They served as pilots to sell the series to TV stations.
During the course of The Muppet Show, Jim Henson wrote out a list of dream guests-and urged the writers and puppeteers to do the same. Among those potential guests on Henson's list were Bil Baird, Shari Lewis, Burr Tillstrom, Stan Freberg, Mae West, Mia Farrow, Princess Anne, Kim Novak, and Katharine Hepburn. The dream line up assembled by the Muppet performers and writing staff included such stars as Dustin Hoffman, David Bowie, Salvador Dali, Michael Caine, Robert De Niro, Frank Zappa, Meryl Streep, the entire Monty Python troupe, and The Beatles.
Three guest stars have lived to be 100 years old: (1) George Burns died on March 9, 1996 at the age of 100, (2) Señor Wences died on April 20, 1999 at the age of 103 and (3) Bob Hope died on July 27, 2003 at the age of 100.
Having been born on January 20, 1896, George Burns was the series' earliest born guest star. However, Señor Wences, who was born on April 17, 1896, was the oldest guest star at the time of his appearance, given that he was 84 when he appeared on the series in 1980.