Muppets for Sale

May 31, 2001 -- Wanted: Good home for cute green frog, sassy but sweet pig and their lovable friends. Call EM.TV to make offer.

The Muppets are on the selling block again. Troubled German media company EM.TV is looking for a buyer for Jim Henson Co., whose late founder and namesake created the childhood icons beginning in the late 1950s.

The Munich-based company acquired the Muppets last year for $680 million. But the company's stock has lost 95 percent of its value since last summer, forcing EM.TV to enlist New York investment bank Allen and Co. to help it decide how divest itself of all or a part of Henson.

The chief executive of Jim Henson Co., Charles Rivkin, was trying to put together a management buyout, according to published reports that said Rivkin was looking to raise the $200 million or more it might take to acquire the company.

Other companies possibly interested in the Muppets are Nickleodeon, a unit of Viacom Inc., and the Walt Disney Co., the parent company of this Web site. Neither Viacom nor Disney would comment on the matter.

An International Sensation

The Muppets became a household word in 1969, with the introduction of Sesame Street on public television. Henson and the Muppets were credited with the huge success of the program, which was designed to appeal to pre-schoolers and was targeted at inner-city kids.

Most of Henson's Muppets were animals, although some were humans or a combination of both, in various sizes and shapes. There was the curious Big Bird, the grouchy Oscar, the voracious Cookie Monster. Kermit, the philosophical frog, hosted television's The Muppet Show, starting in 1976. It became an international hit. The characters won viewers in some 100 countries.

The success of Sesame Street and The Muppet Show encouraged Henson to try his hand at films. The result was products like The Muppet Movie in 1979 and The Muppets Take Manhattan in 1984.

Henson died in 1990 at the age of 53 from an untreated bacterial infection.

A year before his death, Henson had considered a partnership with Disney as a way to introduce the Muppets to the company's theme parks. Although a deal was never struck, Disney worked with the Jim Henson Co. on several films, including Muppet Treasure Island in 1996, and had distributions rights for videos and CDs through the mid-'90s.

His production company was taken over by family members after Henson's death.