Watch the Pilot of Orson Welles’ Never-Aired Talk Show, Starring the Muppets (1979)

The Hen­son Rar­i­ties site on YouTube keeps giv­ing and giv­ing. Not only has it giv­en us access to some of Jim Henson’s ear­li­est (and delight­ful­ly vio­lent) com­mer­cials, but it has dis­cov­ered this: a pilot of The Orson Welles Show from 1979. The show was nev­er aired, and you might be able to dis­cern why from check­ing it out.

It’s the height of ‘70s excess with wide col­lars, poly­ester shirts, var­i­ous forms of pre-show indul­gences, and it’s all under­lit like a night­club, not a talk show set. Orson Welles doesn’t inter­view his first guest Burt Reynolds, but instead imme­di­ate­ly throws the ques­tions to the audi­ence, turn­ing the first half of the show into an ur-Actors Stu­dio episode. (An eagle eyed YouTube com­men­ta­tor points out a young–but unver­i­fied–Joe Dante in the audi­ence.) And the entire show has the feel­ing of very, very rough footage saved by edit­ing and heap­ing on table­spoons of canned laugh­ter.

Even­tu­al­ly Welles intro­duces “a lit­tle com­pa­ny of cloth head­ed come­di­ans” that was already in its third sea­son of the Mup­pet Show and about to pre­miere its first movie. (That first Mup­pet Movie, by the way, fea­tures Welles near the end as a movie exec­u­tive.)

Welles, who calls him­self a magi­cian more often than a direc­tor in this episode, no doubt loves the mag­ic behind the Mup­pets. Even when the lights are ful­ly upon Hen­son and his frog pup­pet, we nev­er ques­tion that Ker­mit is not real. In the 50th minute, Welles intro­duces both Hen­son (“pic­ture Rasputin as an Eagle Scout” says the direc­tor) and Frank Oz (“A man who tru­ly fits his name.”)

The show peters out with a mag­ic trick, an appear­ance by Ang­ie Dick­in­son (more tricks!) and a final Welles monolog, who reads Jen­ny Kissed Me by James Leigh Hunt. Like the poem, there’s a shad­ow of maudlin mor­tal­i­ty hang­ing over all of Welles’ lines through­out the show. Six years lat­er Welles would pass away with his final movie unfin­ished, still wait­ing for the cash that he hoped pro­grams like The Orson Welles Show would bring.

via @KirstinButler

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Hear Orson Welles Read Edgar Allan Poe on a Cult Clas­sic Album by The Alan Par­sons Project

Future Shock: Orson Welles Nar­rates a 1972 Film About the Per­ils of Tech­no­log­i­cal Change

Jim Henson’s Orig­i­nal, Spunky Pitch for The Mup­pet Show

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the FunkZone Pod­cast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, read his oth­er arts writ­ing at and/or watch his films here.

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