Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas (TV program)

Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas
Genre Family film
Television Special
Created by Henson Associates
Based on Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas by Russell Hoban and Lillian Hoban
Written by Jerry Juhl
Directed by Jim Henson
Starring Jim Henson
Frank Oz
Jerry Nelson
Richard Hunt
Dave Goelz
Eren Ozker
Marilyn Sokol
Theme music composer Paul Williams
Country of origin USA
Producer(s) Jim Henson
Running time 48 min.
Original network HBO
Original release December 17, 1978 (1978-12-17)

Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas is a TV special that is based on the children's story of the same name and was produced by The Jim Henson Company.


In 1977, Muppet creator Jim Henson produced a one-hour television adaptation of the story filmed in Toronto for HBO in the United States, and CBC in Canada. The special premiered on HBO on December 17, 1978.[1][2] The special later aired on ABC in 1980 and on Nickelodeon in the 1990s. The special features several original songs written by songwriter Paul Williams.

The special utilizes a number of different puppetry methods. The main puppets used are the usual Muppet hand puppets, but the characters are frequently represented by marionettes as well. It also utilizes the Bunraku and Black Theater techniques. This is also one of the first Muppet productions to use radio control puppet effects, designed by Faz Fazakas.

Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas also featured extensively platformed-up sets, all created with great attention to detail. Jim Henson explained:

Emmet Otter was the first time we had gotten into those kind of elaborate sets where we had floors in the interiors and we would take a wide-angle shot with characters coming up through holes in the floor. Or we'd cut into the set and remove the floor and have the characters moving through space in waist shots. That was the most elaborate production we had gotten into at that point. Frog Prince had been platformed-up and The Muppet Show was always platformed-up, but in Emmet Otter... we'd go right into a scene. We'd have the whole set in three dimensions... rigged so we could pop parts and come out through the openings, which is really time consuming...[3]

John J. O'Connor gave the special a very positive review in The New York Times on December 15, 1980 for its ABC airing: "Jim Henson and the Muppets are on a dazzling winning streak these days... Mr. Henson has produced and directed one of the most charming Christmas specials of the last several years... Once again, Mr. Henson's creations verge on the marvelous, perfectly capturing the Wind in the Willows aspects of Emmet Otter's story... These really are the nicest folk on the river – and on prime-time television."[4]

The original special was hosted by Kermit the Frog. However, later releases edited out the frog's narration due to legal issues. While The Jim Henson Company retained ownership of Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas, the company sold the rights to the Muppets (including Kermit) to The Walt Disney Company in 2004 (namely their branch in The Muppets Studio). When it aired on ABC Family (before it became Freeform) in 2015, they still used the parts with Kermit the Frog in it.


Following an introduction by Kermit the Frog, the story tells of Emmet Otter and his Ma, a widow who scrapes by on the small amount of money she gets from doing laundry and that Emmet gets from doing odd jobs around their home in the town of Frogtown Hollow despite both of them often being cheated. Some of the people who cheated them are Old Lady Possum and Gretchen Fox (the wife of Mayor Harrison Fox) of Waterville. As Christmas approaches, they hear of a talent contest in the nearby town of Waterville and separately decide to enter to buy nice presents for each other: a nice guitar for Emmet, or a piano for Ma. However, in a twist on The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry, they must sacrifice each other's livelihood for the talent contest. Ma hocks Emmet's tools for dress fabric while Emmet turns Ma's washtub into a washtub bass for a jug band.

Muppet performers


The special features several original songs written by songwriter Paul Williams. Paul Williams had previously worked with the Muppets on The Muppet Show and would go on to collaborate with the Muppets by writing all the songs for The Muppet Movie and The Muppet Christmas Carol. The song "Brothers In Our World" was later covered by My Morning Jacket for the special Muppets cover album Muppets: The Green Album.

List of songs
  • "The Bathing Suit That Grandma Otter Wore"
  • "There Ain't No Hole in the Washtub"
  • "When the River Meets the Sea"
  • "Bar-B-Que"
  • "Our World"
  • "Brothers"
  • "Riverbottom Nightmare Band"
  • "Brothers in Our World"





In 2005, Hit! Entertainment released "Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas: DVD Collector's Edition" featuring, a one-hour behind the scenes documentary and other all new bonus features. The 2005 Collector's Edition DVD also revealed a "lost" song that was recorded, but never actually used in the special. Called "I Was Born in the Trunk", the song was written for the talent show scene and was performed by the Waterville music store owner.

In 2007, to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the special, musician Matt Surowiec produced an officially licensed "tribute" album featuring all-new covers of Paul Williams' original songs from the special.[5]


Emmet Otter's Jug Band Christmas was nominated for four Emmy Awards in 1981:

Later appearances


  1. December 1978 HBO Program Guide, page 13
  2. HBO Soundtrack:The Muppets are coming! – November 1978 HBO Program Guide, page 22
  3. Jim Henson: The Works, p. 199, 202
  4. O'Connor, John J. The New York Times, December 15, 1980
  5. Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Tribute, August 21, 2007

External links

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