Any television production requires a lot of help, but it’s only a few that have been brave enough to rely on puppets as the face of the show. Whether they were made of socks, wood, rubber, foam, or felt, puppets have enjoyed a steady presence on the small screen ever since the medium was introduced. Puppets were actually introduced to television before humans. The first-ever televised image was one of Stooky Bill, broadcast in 1925 from a London department store basement.
In network television’s earlier days, after WW11, puppets began to appear in a number of different shows. Children’s television has been the most popular domain for puppetry. Howdy Doody, for example, was popular entertainment for those just arriving home from school in the 1950s. Then there were such puppets-led shows as H.R. Pufnstuff from Marty and Sid Krofft. Of course, Captain Kangaroo and Mr Rogers had puppet friends, and then came the phenomenon that still is Sesame Street. Here, though, are those rare puppets that made primetime. While no end of puppets have appeared on Saturday morning television, it’s only a small number that have “worked” with actors in primetime network sitcoms. Here is a selection of TV shows that offered first-rate puppetry entertainment for evening viewers.
Kukla, Fran and Ollie (1947-57)
Being made of wood, earlier television sets looked like something you might expect to see at a Punch and Judy show. It made sense then for broadcasters at the time to bring puppetry to TV. This beloved show paid tribute to the tradition of puppetry with Ollie and Kukla, along with Fran, their human “sidekick”. The entire show was ad-libbed, and that included stage shows extending into the 1980s.
The Adventures of Lucky Pup (1948–51)
One of CBS Network’s earlier shows, the show ran every weekday at 6:30 PM. The title eventually transitioned into Foodini after the pooch puppet’s popularity gave way to that of a magician in the show. There were even Foodini comic books, as well as magic sets, toys, greeting cards, and records. The comic books were called Pinhead and Foodini, Adventures of Foodini the Great, and The Great Foodini.
Johnny Jupiter (1953–54)
A show from the now-defunct DuMont network that has been overlooked, Johnny Jupiter was the era of such old science fiction spectacles as Captain Video. Broadcast every Saturday on ABC, the story revolved around a janitor at a TV studio called E.P. Duckweather who had an uncanny ability to tune into a broadcast from Jupiter. He talks and gets to know the aliens, played by two puppets named B-12 and Johnny Jupiter.
Madame’s Place (1982-83)
Madame was created in the mid-1960s by a puppeteer by the name of Wayland Flowers. The Madame puppet, an old, sassy movie star, even became popular on variety and talk shows. Someone eventually came up with an idea to give madame her own sitcom. The concept of the show was similar to that of Mama’s Family or The Beverly Hillbillies, with the exception being that a puppet was the star. Corey Feldman was the irritating child neighbour.