Jim Henson was a highly eccentric genius. Though his "muppet" creations started out as advertising mascots and had their first influence in educational television with Sesame Street, Henson and his motley crew were the kinds of people who reacted to being put in a literal storage closet full of exposed plumbing pipes as a green room by using paint and puppet-making supplies to turn knob and tube and copper piping into a whimsical garden of creations NBC decided to keep.
Educational television having constraints, Henson decided to create a variety show with his muppets - giving him the ability to create a gigantic cast and do sketch comedy. The idea didn't catch on in the USA so he went to England and negotiated with ITV to create the show, which became an enduring hit.
Only Kermit the Frog, one of Henson's oldest characters, made the "jump" from Sesame Street to the new show. As the emcee and general manager of the show, it was his job to introduce the "acts" as well as be the familiar lynchpin that tried to bring some semblance of order to what's just simply chaos. It takes place in an old school vaudeville style theater with multiple live acts.
There's a house band, the Electric Mayhem, comprised of Dr. Teeth, the keyboardist, Floyd Pepper, the bassist, Zoot the saxophonist, Janice the backup singer and tambourine player, and Animal the barely restrained drummer.
The magic of the Muppet Show is that Kermit considers his acts as much friends as performers, and he keeps them employed week after week even though some of them are absolutely awful at their jobs. Fozzie bear is a terribly weak, unfunny comedian with no skill at responding to hecklers. Gonzo the Great is, well, deranged and in no way capable of entertaining an audience (though the audience at home loved him). Miss Piggy, the resident actress/diva is overweight, pretentious and a terrible singer. The theme tune literally contains the lines "It's like a kind of torture, to have to watch this show".
And it just spirals from there. Scooter, the stage hand, is naivete personified in a satin jacket. And some of the acts are one-offs you're happy to see again: Lew Zealand, whose trick is that he throws "boomerang fish". The Swedish Chef does cooking demonstrations that go comically awry, while murmuring in gibberish with the exception of "bort! bort! bort!" yelled when he throws things haphazardly ("bort!" is Swedish for "away"!) The Muppet Labs segments feature the mad scientist Dr. Bunsen Honeydew with his meeping assistant Beaker, showing off inventions nobody really needs but that don't really work anyway and almost always injure or nearly injure his poor assistant. (The "banana sharpener" is a particularly weird one). There's a Muppet newsreader who does breaking news, usually really bizarre headlines that come comically true within seconds.
But part of the magic is that every week there was a "special guest star", a human being playing same, the only human amongst all these insanely bizarre goings-on. And the beauty of that decision is that we're brought into their world by proxy and immersed in it. Mark Hamill (I love your outfit! Who's your tailor?), Spike Milligan, John Cleese and Alice Cooper showed up to interact with a madcap collection of anarchic larger than life personalities.
Musical numbers, special effects, and recurring gags peppered the show. As well as the aforementioned routines above, the show also featured a ballroom dancing sequence involving random muppets coming into shot and making a humorous remark, the space opera serial "Pigs in Space" (with an all pig cast), and a hospital drama where the surgeon (Rowlf the Dog) does nothing but tell jokes.
But nothing can prepare you for just how anarchic the show could get. A gag involving Zoot the saxophonist being asked to play a musical number consisting of one note every 4 bars, while the manic creature from "Mahna Mahna" bangs on first a triangle, then Zoot's sax and eventually Zoot himself ends when Zoot has had enough and blows a note that literally causes an explosion out of the bell of his sax, launching his tormentor into the wings.
At one point a quiet, introspective number illustrating a Walt Whitman poem is interrupted by Gonzo and a flock of chickens mariachi dancing while being shooed away multiple times.
In addition to front-of-house point of view, we were taken backstage for intrigue and backstage interviews with the special guest. Many a time a show had a running story that was interrupted with the front of house numbers, and seeing the madness behind the madness was much more fun.
It ran for a few seasons, and gave us a myriad of lovable characters who would later be seen in movies as well as multiple spinoff shows. It gave us Meet the Feebles, an X-rated pastiche of the show, and millions of dollars to Henson and then Disney, who acquired the property decades later. It also gave Jim Henson the financial and artistic capital to launch into filmmaking and gave us The Dark Crystal and the eventual wizardry seen in Lucasfilms' Star Wars trilogy.