Back in prime time: ABC raises the curtain on the famous puppet crew in 'The Muppets'

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Kyla Brewer / TV Media
Kermit the Frog and Gonzo the Great in “The Muppets”

Kermit the Frog and Gonzo the Great in “The Muppets”

It's time to get things started. Fans of Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy and the rest of The Muppets have been anxiously awaiting their return since ABC greenlit a new series about the beloved Jim Henson creations in May. They officially return to prime time in "The Muppets," premiering Tuesday, Sept. 22, on ABC.

Filmed in a documentary style, "The Muppets" follows the characters at work and at home. Kermit is now the executive producer of Miss Piggy's late-night talk show "Up Late With Miss Piggy." Fozzie is Piggy's on-air sidekick, while Gonzo serves as head writer, working alongside fellow writers Pepe and Rizzo. Scooter is the talent coordinator and -- in a thinly veiled inside joke -- Sam Eagle is the head of broadcast standards for the network. Plenty of other Muppets make appearances in the series too.

“The real interesting thing for us in this project is we all know The Muppets and we’ve all known them for three decades, but there are whole aspects of their personal lives that we don’t know," said co-creator and executive producer Bill Prady at this year's San Diego Comic-Con. "We’re trying to construct personal lives for them that match the stuff we do know.”

In keeping with current prime-time trends, the latest Muppet project takes an intimate look at their day-to-day lives. Piggy and Kermit have broken up, which makes working together difficult. Fozzie's dating a human whose parents don't approve of their relationship, and Gonzo takes a stab at online dating. Audiences are proverbial "flies on the wall," thanks to the camera work of director Randall Einhorn, who is famous for his work as the "documentarian" of NBC’s now defunct comedy "The Office."

Judging by the network's extensive, star-studded promotion of the show thus far, ABC has a lot of faith in Kermit and friends. Plenty of ABC stars have appeared in promos to welcome the characters to the fold, including Patricia Heaton ("The Middle"), Nathan Fillion ("Castle"), Clark Gregg ("Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.") and Kerry Washington ("Scandal"). The Muppets have a long history of calling in famous guest stars in their TV shows and movies, so viewers can likely expect plenty of elbow-rubbing on Piggy's late-night show, too.

"The Muppets" has been a labor of love for co-creator and executive producer Prady, also co-creator of the hit CBS comedy "The Big Bang Theory." Prady, who incidentally got his start writing for Jim Henson, has been trying to get The Muppets back on the air for 10 years.

During the show's highly anticipated presentation at this year's San Diego Comic-Con, he explained his vision for the series: “The trick to the show, if it works, is to make it feel for the first time that you’re seeing The Muppets in our world -- that there’s no barrier between the world they’re in and the world we’re in. And in order to do that, it’s a magic trick.”

Bill Prady and Bob Kushell write and executive produce for “The Muppets”

Bill Prady and Bob Kushell write and executive produce for “The Muppets”

Presenting the Muppets in our world is tricky, indeed. Co-creator and executive producer Bob Kushell, Einhorn and Muppet performers Bill Barretta, Dave Goelz (Gonzo, Bunsen Honeydew), Steve Whitmire (Kermit, Rizzo, etc.) and Eric Jacobson (Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, etc.) also took part in the Comic-Con panel to shed some light on the challenges involved in filming "The Muppets." They explained that producing the show requires building sets four and a half feet off the ground to make room for the Muppet performers. Not only that, all of the sets have to have moveable platforms so Muppets can walk next to humans and interact with the world around them in a realistic way. Even opening a door and walking through can be difficult to co-ordinate.

Luckily, The Muppets are veteran performers. In the late 1970s and early '80s, millions of TV viewers tuned in to watch The Muppets in a vaudeville-style variety show in the original "The Muppet Show," a formula that was recreated in the short-lived revival "Muppets Tonight" in the late '90s. They've made eight big-screen movies, beginning with 1979's iconic "The Muppet Movie" and ending recently with 2014's "Muppets Most Wanted." Countless TV movies and specials have followed, but none have offered viewers the kind of exclusive content "The Muppets" will.

The industry is buzzing with anticipation for the return of Kermit and the gang, but only time will tell if this new incarnation of the franchise will woo prime-time viewers. Unlike their daytime "Sesame Street" compatriots, who are unquestionably targeted at kids, The Muppets have always danced that line between kid-humor and grown-up humor, sending mature jokes whizzing over the heads of little ones.

ABC promises the series "will have something for kids of all ages." Hopefully, it won't fizzle like one of Fozzie's jokes. Watch as "The Muppets" gets things started Tuesday, Sept. 22, on ABC.