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Jim Hill reports: Jim Henson Company Up for Sale' MUPPETFEST This Weekend! & More!!!

Harry here with Jim Hill's report on the status of the Muppet World. The idea that the Muppets and the house that created them is up for sale... It boggles the mind, but in today's environment where everything has a price and can be bought, sold or taken over by bigger fish... It just is frightening. Personally, I'd want someone other than a studio to grab the Muppets. My dream wish would be that Steve Jobs acquires THE MUPPETS, that way when they break away from Disney (which is inevitable) they have a large stock of characters to supplement the Pixar Creations. Plus with the story sense and creativity over there, they could restore and bring back all the smarts and cleverness that the Muppets have lost since the passing of our holy father, Jim Henson. But that's just a dream. I know that Junior Mintz is going to this, apparently she's just wild about Gonzo and wants to explore the possibilities with that snoz... Here's Jim....

"It's time to play the music. It's time to light the lights ... "

Sell your car, Harry. See your kidneys. Do whatever you have to, Knowles, but just make sure you're in Santa Monica, CA. this coming weekend. Why for? Because you -- and everyone else who ever sat in front of a TV in the late 1970s -- don't want to miss out on the chance to attend the "most sensational, inspirational, celebrational, Muppetational" event this year: The First Annual MuppetFest!

What exactly is a "MuppetFest!," Harry? Well, it's this event that the Jim Henson Company and Creation Entertainment are staging at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium this coming Saturday and Sunday. What originally started out as a somewhat simple celebration of "The Muppet Show" 's 25th anniversary has now blossomed into a heartfelt tribute to the creative legacy of the company's founder (Not to mention a very clear indication to today's entertainment community that the Muppets are still a viable franchise, a core group of characters who are still capable of producing profitable programs for many years to come, should anyone with deep pockets be interested in acquiring Kermit & Co. Look for more on this angle of the event toward the bottom of the story ... )

So say you make your way out to LA this coming Saturday. And say you drive on out to Santa Monica and mosey on over to the Civic Auditorium. What are you going to get to see for your $16 - $56 admission fee? Some pretty amazing stuff, actually.

Like what? Well, let's start with a panel discussion on the history of "The Muppet Show" moderated by Jim's son (not to mention current President, Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of the Board of Jim Henson Productions), Brian Henson. Joining Brian will be veteran Muppeteers Jerry Nelson (AKA Robin the Frog & Sesame Street's the Count), David Goelz (AKA The Great Gonzo & Dr. Bunsen Honeydew) and Steve Whitmire (AKA Rizzo the Rat and the current voice for Kermit the Frog). These guys will share many great behind-the-scenes stories about what it was actually like to work with Jim Henson on such a on a fondly remembered TV program.

But MuppetFest! isn't going to restrict itself to mooning over the late, great "Muppet Show." No sir, Mr. Knowles. The folks at Henson have raided their corporate archives and come up with many rarely seen gems for attendees to see. These items include:

* "Time Piece" -- a wonderfully witty Muppet-free live action film that Jim produced back in the 1960s, which will be introduced by his daughter (And former president of Columbia Studios), Lisa Henson.

* A video presentation featuring numerous pre-Sesame Street Muppet performances (Not to mention some of the funnier TV commercials Jim Henson Productions has produced over the years), hosted by Jim's wife, Jane Henson.

All this plus a two part discussion on the 20 year history of the Jim Henson Creature Shop (Arguably one of the best special effects house currently operating in the industry today). Plus a video tribute to Jim Henson, introduced by current Jim Henson Company CEO Charles Rivkin. Plus meet-n-greet opportunities with Sweetums and the Bear in the Big Blue House.

This is just a sampling of the full slate of programs that will be presented at MuppetFest! this coming Saturday and Sunday. The event promises to be every Muppet fan's wet dream. An absolute "must see" for anyone who's ever been touched by the artistry of Jim Henson.

Of course, if you've got somewhat deeper pockets, there's an additional MuppetFest! event that sounds ... Well, just too cool to be believed. On this coming Sunday night at Hollywood's historic Palace Theater, the really-for-real Muppets are going to performing ... Live! That's right. The actual puppets on stage, being performed live by their actual puppeteers. Just like the original "Muppet Show," the program will feature performances by several guest stars. These include Paul Williams, Lionel Richie and Brooke Shields. It's a one time only kind of thing, Knowles ... And if I weren't trapped out here in the woods of New Hampshire by the onset of winter (Snow sucks, Harry!), I'd be out there in a heartbeat.

For further information about this coming weekend's MuppetFest! event, follow this link (MuppetFest!).

Now, I will admit that I obviously think that it's very cool that the Jim Henson Company is doing all to celebrate the 25th anniversary of "The Muppet Show." But I would also be remiss if I didn't mention that there's more going on here than meets the eye. The Jim Henson Company isn't just staging this event in order to honor the legacy of their founder. There's that too ... But there's also much larger things at stake here.

How so? Well, ... Have any of you media mavens out there noticed that the Muppets suddenly seem to be everywhere on the tube. They're doing guest appearances on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno," "Hollywood Squares," even "Family Feud."

So what's the deal with Kermit & Co. having such a high profile all of a sudden? It's simple, Harry. The Muppet Show anniversary hoopla -- along with all of these TV appearances -- are all because the Jim Henson Company is currently up for sale.

You may recall that a German entertainment company, EM.TV, paid $680 million for the Jim Henson Company. But then six months later, EM.TV's stock suddenly tanked. Desperate to dig themselves out of this huge financial hole, the German entertainment company was forced to begin selling off all unnecessary assets. Which evidently included Miss Piggy & pals.

Unofficially, the Muppets have been on the auction block since of April of this year. So far, Viacom, Warners and the Walt Disney Company have all expressed an interest in acquiring Kermit & Co. To date, however, none of these companies have been willing to put up the enormous wad of cash that EM.TV feels is necessary to complete this transaction. Which may explain why EM.TV recently postponed the sale of the Muppets, saying that the deal (which had been expected to be closed sometime later this month) now won't be concluded 'til at least December 2002.

This was great news for Jim Henson Company CEO Charles Rivkin. Why for? Because Rivkin's reportedly spearheading an effort for the Muppeteers themselves to buy back the company from the Germans. For months now, Charles has been quietly meeting with investment bankers -- trying to get someone (anyone!) to lend him the hundreds of millions of dollars necessary to buy the Jim Henson Company back from EM.TV.

Which brings us back to MuppetFest!, Harry. On the surface, this event may seem like just a jolly 25th anniversary celebration of the Muppet Show. But there's actually a clever plan at work. Rivkin deliberately had Creation stage this event just a short distance from Hollywood. Why for? So that all of the industry's movers and shakers -- people with incredibly deep pockets like Spielberg & Geffen -- could drive on out to Santa Monica and see for themselves the thousands of crazed Muppet fans who will be cramming into the Civic Auditorium this coming weekend.

And after they see those hordes of happy people gleefully forking over their dough (both for admission as well as the limited edition MuppetFest! merchandise that will be on sale at the event), maybe one of these guys will realize that people really do still love the Muppets & that Kermit & Co. remain a very viable (not to mention a potentially extremely lucrative) franchise. If that happens ... Maybe then one of these movers & shakers will finally open up their wallet and agree to underwrite Rivkin's attempt to regain financial control over the Jim Henson Company.

Here's hoping, anyway.

So please make a point of swinging on out to Santa Monica's Civic Auditorium and attending MuppetFest! You'll not only be getting in on one hell of a show, you may also help determine where Kermit the Frog next calls home.

Jim Hill

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