The Land of Gorch sketches failed on SNL, but creator Jim Henson learned from the failure when he later created The Muppet Show and The Dark Crystal.
Before The Muppet Show, the now iconic Muppets had a failed run in Saturday night live, but Jim Henson was able to apply the ideas of the sketch to future work such as The dark crystal. Henson spent years developing his puppet characters before his great success in Sesame Street Y The Muppet Show. Beginning with commercials and local television in the 1950s, Henson experimented with how puppets could be represented on camera. He built the original Muppets with flexible faces and limbs on rods to allow for greater variety of expression and movement. Henson’s creations were more realistic and attractive to look at than the marionettes and ventriloquist figures typically seen on television at the time. The energetic nature of the Muppets’ early performances clearly struck a chord with audiences, and they became familiar guests on shows like The Ed Sullivan Show.
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By 1969 Jim Henson was already making waves in the entertainment world. The Children’s Television Workshop approached him to work on Sesame Street and he enthusiastically seized the opportunity to leave commercial production behind. Conceptualized as a children’s television show that would entertain children as much as it would educate them, Sesame Street introduced the world to Big Bird, Grover, Oscar the Grouch and a host of new Muppet characters. Sesame Street it was a success, but Henson was still not satisfied. Initially, he set out to make “entertainment for all,” but became increasingly concerned about being pigeonholed solely as a children’s entertainer. As such, he conceived The Land of Gorch, a Muppet cast created for adults-only humor. Threw it to Saturday night live Henson’s producer and established fan, Lorne Michaels, and the sketch debuted on the first episode of SNL in 1975.
Despite Henson’s best efforts, The Land of Gorch just didn’t work out. SNL ‘The s writers did not fit in well with the caricatured Muppets, and the incongruity was obvious. The sketches were set on a faraway planet and focused on his hedonistic royal family, headed by the greedy King Ploobis. Unlike the colorful characters in Sesame Street, the Muppets from Gorch’s Land were grotesque, profane, and too strangely adult to Saturday night liveaudience to hold onto. The sketches relied heavily on jokes about sex, drugs, and alcohol, which often fell through because the writers’ hearts simply weren’t in it. The characters went through 11 sketches before being completely removed from SNL and were never seen again.
After the failure of Gorch’s Land, Henson was already hard at work on his next creative adventure, but some of Gorch’s concepts weren’t completely dead in the water. He still wanted to fulfill his mission of “entertainment for all” and was working on SNL provided valuable lessons in navigating the fast-paced world of television. Unfazed by the misfire, Henson reframed his vision into something that wasn’t strictly for kids or adults. The following year, he produced The Muppet Show. It had a good part of the esoteric humor that Henson loved, but it had more in common with the classic Vaudeville parodies than with the comic styles of Saturday night live. The colorful characters mixed well with the timeless humor, and when paired with their regular guest stars, The Muppet Show became a hit.
The legacy of the Land of Gorch did not end with The Muppet Show. It represented Jim Henson’s first foray into designing more realistic puppet characters, such as the creatures that appeared in projects like Dinosaurs Y Labyrinth. The Land of Gorch was particularly influential in The dark crystal in his depiction of a disgusting but spiritual royal family, which would later inspire the villain Skeksis. Henson’s perseverance and willingness to learn from his mistakes were what made him an entertainment innovator, and this is especially evident in the journey from Gorch’s Land to The Muppet Show.
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