There is a behind the scenes shakeup on ABC’s freshman comedy series The Muppets. Gone is co-creator, executive producer and showrunner Bob Kushell. Kristin Newman (Galavant) is in negotiations to succeed him as new showrunner under her overall deal at ABC Studios, the studio that produces The Muppets. The move is part of a creative overhaul of the freshman comedy, which is expected to take a hiatus after finishing Episode 10 for a reboot. ABC recently ordered 3 more episodes, bringing The Muppets‘ first season to 16 episodes — 10 to air in the fall and the other 6 in midseason after a winter hiatus. The spring run will likely be treated as a relaunch.
Kushell co-wrote the original Muppets presentation with The Big Bang Theory co-creator/executive producer Bill Prady. Because of Prady’s commitment to the hit CBS comedy, Kushell was tapped as solo showrunner on The Muppets, with Brady coming in two days a week.
The Muppets was rushed to air by broadcast TV standards, filming a last-minute presentation in April and getting a slot on the fall schedule just a couple of weeks later — before its concept, style and tone had been fully formed. That added tension to the already stressed environment on the show, which faced a tight production schedule and a complicated shoot because of the seamless mix of real actors and puppets.
Because it marked the TV return of beloved characters, there were high expectations for the series, which was launched with a big marketing campaign that employed ABC’s biggest stars plugging the Muppets’ comeback comedy. But after a highly-rated premiere, ratings dropped. The Muppets has done an OK job opening Tuesday night for ABC at 8 PM, with its numbers on par with lead-out Fresh Off The Boat, but because of its marquee title, The Muppets has been held to a different standard, so its performance has been considered somewhat disappointing, and there has been a concern about its creative direction.
Behind the scenes, I hear there was a clash in styles and vision for the show between Kushell and Prady, which was exacerbated by Prady’s part-time participation, leading to swings in direction on scripts that had been already in progress. I hear Kushell was well-liked among the cast, crew and the producers, but the discord proved too taxing on everyone and was starting to show on the screen. It was getting harder for the show to go on with both Prady and Kushell, and a decision was made to let Kushell go, though I hear many wanted him to stay.
The Muppets follows Kermit the Frog and the rest of the Muppet gang as they produce a late-night talk show, Up Late With Miss Piggy. The series stars Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, The Great Gonzo, Pepé the King Prawn, Rizzo the Rat, Scooter, Rowlf and the Electric Mayhem.
Season-to-date, The Muppets still ranks as Tuesday’s highest-rated new TV show among Adults 18-49 (2.6). On average, the freshman show is improving its half-hour for ABC by 69% in Total Viewers (7.6 million) and by 86% in Adults 18-49 (2.6), standing as the net’s strongest performing Tuesday comedy in 4 years. In its most recent airing last night, The Muppets matched its delivery from last week, a 1.4 in 18-49 (Live+same day). Fresh Off The Boat did a 1.5.
Newman had a fast start in TV writing. She landed her first staff job in 2000 on That ’70s Show, rising to supervising producer. Following the end of the Fox sitcom in 2006, Newman got her first overall deal at 20th TV where she joined another long-running young ensemble comedy, How I Met Your Mother, as co-executive producer. Newman, repped by UTA and Hansen Jacobson, also worked on the NBC/WBTV dramedy Chuck, created the ABC/ABC Studios comedy Single With Parents and served as co-executive producer on ABC/ABCS’ The Neighbors and Galavant and as executive producer/showrunner on ABC/ABCS’ comedy pilot Delores and Jermaine this past season.
Newman would executive produce The Muppets alongside Prady, Randall Einhorn, Bill Barretta, Debbie McClellan and Kyle Laughlin for ABC Studios and The Muppets Studio.