The Muppets are a group of puppet characters known for an absurdist, burlesque and self-referential style of variety-sketch comedy. Created in 1955 by Jim Henson, they are the namesake for the Disney media franchise that encompasses films, television series, music recordings, print publications, and other media associated with The Muppet Show characters.
Henson once stated that the term "Muppet" had been created as a portmanteau of the words "marionette" and "puppet", but also claimed that it was actually a word he had coined. The Muppets debuted on the television program Sam and Friends, which aired locally on WRC-TV in Washington, D.C. from 1955 to 1961. After appearing on skits in several late night talk shows and advertising commercials during the 1960s, Henson's Muppets began appearing on Sesame Street when that show debuted in 1969. The Muppets then became the stars of multiple television series and films, including; The Muppet Show (1976–1981), The Muppet Movie (1979), The Great Muppet Caper (1981), The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984), and The Jim Henson Hour (1989). After Henson's death in 1990, The Muppets continued their presence in television and cinema with Muppets Tonight (1996–1998), a series continuation of The Muppet Show, and three films, The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992), Muppet Treasure Island (1996), Muppets from Space (1999); the former two were co-produced with Disney, who sought to acquire the characters since the late 1980s. In 2004, The Walt Disney Company purchased the rights to The Muppets (except for the Sesame Street characters, which were sold separately to Sesame Workshop), and later formed The Muppets Studio; a division created specifically for managing The Muppets franchise.
Disney underwent an extensive re-branding of the franchise beginning in 2008, in anticipation of the seventh film; The Muppets. The film, written by Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller and directed by James Bobin, was released by Walt Disney Pictures on November 23, 2011, and met with critical acclaim and commercial success. An eighth film, Muppets Most Wanted, will be released on March 21, 2014.