Late Night Liars…

Late Night Liars (game show opinion) after the break…

Late Night Liars…

It is said that no franchise survives the death of it’s founder. While a franchise might “survive” in the legal sense that the intellectual property is still used, the decisions made after the founder has departed irreversibly alters the franchise into an almost entirely different entity.

Examples, of course, are numerous in justifying how franchises are altered after their founder has left – The Walt Disney corporation went through over two decades of floundering results with it’s movies before a late 80’s-early 90’s renaissance (Including such contemporary classics like “The Beauty and the Beast,” “Aladdin” & “The Little Mermaid”) revitalized the brand. In one of it’s few brilliant decisions, post-founder, Walt Disney bought the CGI firm Pixar and it’s highly successful film properties. It remains to be seen if infusing the Pixar culture into the entirety of the Walt Diseny business reverses the hyper-capitalist corporate culture that has poisoned that company or merely delays the inevitable.

Sometimes, a franchise prospers in spite of it’s founder. Bill Finger is unknown to most casual comic book fans but he was instrumental with infusing many of the iconic characteristics that would form one of the most well-recognized superheroes of all time, Batman. However, Bob Kane, to this day, continues to receive sole official credit for the character.

Occasionally, a property excels after it’s initial talent leaves. The Comedy Central show “The Daily Show” was, admittedly, a success in it’s early years, with Craig Kilborn as it’s host & Liz Winstead as it’s co-creator. When both left and were replaced by host and comedian Jon Stewart, the show went from being merely a basic cable sized success to becoming a cultural fixture for a generation of young Americans and ushering in the age of sarcastic, ironic journalism that has since seeped into mainstream journalism.

So, where exactly does the Muppet franchise fall? It has been many years since the Muppet franchise was truly united – The Sesame Street Muppets were long sold off to the Children’s Television Workshop; The Walt Disney corporation bought the “The Muppet Show” Muppets with “The Jim Henson Company” keeping most of the rest. The children’s show, “Sesame Street,” long an icon of Public Broadcasting, has kept it’s Muppets busy throughout the turbulence of change since Jim Henson passed away in 1990. Not until recently has the Disney corporation made any significant effort with it’s Muppets but, with the financial and marketing muscle that Disney possesses, it is quickly making up lost ground.

Ironically, of the three “Baby Bells” (or should that be “Baby Hensons”?), the company that has the least to show for it’s efforts is “The Jim Henson Company,” the place where the Muppets originated. Despite a few independent projects and other properties stuck in the quagmire of Hollywood development, “The Jim Henson Company” has embarked on a risky gamble with a majority of it’s puppet properties: R-Rated comedy. Someone, somewhere in the bowels of “The Jim Henson Company,” is truly enamored with the success that projects like “Crank Yankers” and “Avenue Q” enjoyed and is obsessed with duplicating it.

“Late Night Liars” is a game show from a division of The Jim Henson Company called “Henson Alternative,” the “mature” division of that company and the one that has been most successful thus far in producing original content.

“Late Night Liars” is modeled after your classic 10 AM, mid-1970’s half-hour game shows: A host pits two contestants against a panel of liars to see which contestant can determine who is telling the truth and who isn’t. The “catch” is that most of the staff is made of puppets – The liars and the host’s “sidekick” are all puppets. Larry Miller, the contestants and the audience are all quite human.

The puppets aren’t anonymous; Each has their own unique personality based upon a Hollywood celebrity stereotype. One puppet is an aging “madam” who’s name dropping is equaled only by her knowledge of gossip. Another puppet is the stereotypical effeminate male sophisticate (the closet of choice for so many in 1960’s-70’s Hollywood), complete with ascot and martini glass prop.

It’s not fair to review an entire game show after just one episode but one episode was all I had to watch. Given what was seen, I am neither enthused by the premise or the execution of the game show.

I have never been a fan or advocate of foul-mouthed puppets. I just don’t understand the appeal of puppets addressing R-rated material even if they attempt such conversations with thinly-veiled double entendres. Whomever the target audience for this game show is, after one episode, I’ve decided that I’m not it.

To be fair, I appreciated the rather novel charm of seeing puppets interact with humans in real time and unscripted. In a world where facial tics can give away even the best lie, these contestants can no longer rely upon the telltale signs of the human face to see if a person is lying to them. Puppets, quite honestly, don’t have the most expressive of faces unless they are designed that way and none of these puppets are.

Larry Miller, admittedly, appeared game in interacting with the puppets as any professional would be but one can only wonder how long the novelty of puppets and risque dialog can last before the charm disappears. The “charm” of watching human panelists engage in the same conversations were that we were watching actual Hollywood personalities with their sleeves rolled up, their collars and ties loosened as though we were invited to an exclusive party where we could really hear what they had to think. Not so with puppet personalities created for this endeavor; This isn’t Kermit or Fozzie after hours revealing a slightly more jaded personality then their on-screen personas.

The format can be salvaged if the dialog and categories are cleaned up; No, not to “Sunday School” standards that would please even the most stringent Mother Superior but simply to erase all traces of R- and PG-13 material that simply shouldn’t be there.

Jim Henson didn’t want to create G-rated material exclusively for his puppets; He created quite sophisticated fare such as the movie “The Dark Crystal” and the recurring series “The Storyteller.” However, one must wonder why he was never tempted to pull obscenities and innuendos out of his bag of tricks for his puppets to use. Did he simply run out of time or did he already know something that his current company has yet to learn? I’m leaning towards the latter.

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4 Responses to “Late Night Liars…”

  1. Drew Says:

    I liked your article, and while I agree with you about using muppets for “adult entertainment”, like making Bert and Ernie gay, on Family guy. These puppets were made specifically for this show, and have no history as beloved children’s icons to be ruined. Also, I don’t know if you know this, but all four panelists, are based on real people. The “madam” is Joan Rivers ( {Shelley] Oceans= Rivers). The “effeminate guy” while correct is specifically Paul Lynde. He is the iconic comedian who chaired the center square on the original Hollywood Squares of the 70’s (the puppets name , William A. Mummy, isn’t pun as far as I can tell). The other two are Cashmere Ramada (the poodle) who is Paris Hilton and the ape (Sir Simian) is Simon Cowell. Just my two cents worth. Keep up the good work.

    • Lutonaut Says:

      I’m glad that you liked the post. I will have to politely disagree about using puppets for risque / obscene material – I just don’t understand the appeal regardless of whether it’s a famous muppet like Kermit or a newly-minted puppet.

      The more I think about the show, the less it appeals to me. The main appeal is “puppets talking dirty” with a secondary appeal being, perhaps, watching Larry Miller receive a paycheck (albeit probably a quite minimal one). The game show game play mechanics are strictly off-the-shelf and something that anyone who lived through the 1970’s has seen before.

      I have no idea if I watched the pilot or if it was first production-run episode but I’ll probably watch an episode or two just to see if they maintain the direction set in the first aired episode. If they stay the course, then that’ll be the end of the show for me.

      Thanks for reading the blog.

  2. normajean Says:

    Lutonaut
    To be honest, I have not watched this ridiculous show. I have seen the asinine previews a thousand times. I love GSN and watch it almost exclusively, so I have to have this ignorant thing thrown in my face a hundred times a day.
    I totally agree with you that it shoud get boring very quickly, and that the more I think about it, the more it bothers me also.
    I also hope it does not last, because I truly hope this is not what most people really consider humor. Just because of, like you say ,dirty talking puppets.
    I was very upset when they put it in in place of Regis and Pyramid.(a few times)
    Thank you for letting me vent about LNLs

  3. Lutonaut Says:

    Thank you for your comments, normajean, and thank you for reading the blog.

    One of my concerns about the game show is the use of puppetry. Quite simply, I’m not sure that the “gimmick” (panelists as dirty talking puppets) really suits the puppet medium. I’m just not sure how best to utilize puppets in a game show format – Replacing humans with puppets just doesn’t seem very novel. Perhaps have audience members try their hand (no pun intended) at puppetry? Or even a simple twist of using puppets from other productions as panelists in order to “promote” independent puppet productions (such as Transylvania TV, another “dirty puppet” effort) with a Henson puppet as host. How many independent puppet productions would LOVE to get some airtime, even if it is GSN at night… Any publicity for those efforts would be far more then they would otherwise receive outside of the puppet enthusiast crowd. I’m just not sure.

    Anyway, thank you again for your comments and thank you for reading the blog.

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