NEW YORK — Much like the Muppets took Manhattan, they have taken the Web.
Since debuting last week, the Muppet parody of the classic music video of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" has been viewed more than 8.6 million times on YouTube. It's an exceptional hit for the first video posted on a new YouTube channel by the Muppets Studio, the Walt Disney Company subsidiary formed in 2004 after the Jim Henson Company sold the franchise.
A Twitter feed has also been launched. (It's mostly promotional; Kermit isn't blogging.) And a Facebook page has been started.
Muppets Studio general manager Lylle Breier said the online push for the Muppets was designed to help reboot the franchise and quickly get new content to fans.
"When the Muppets came into real popularity was the '70s. What was popular in the '70s? Variety shows — that's what `The Muppet Show' was," said Breier. "What's the Web? It's a giant variety show. That's why the Muppets fit so perfectly. Parody has always been at the heart of what the Muppets do."
Breier said the Muppets singing "Bohemian Rhapsody" had long been an idea on the back burner, but the project only recently came together.
Murder lyrics edited out
In it, just about every famous Muppet character makes a cameo: Gonzo and his chickens appear in silhouette; Ralph plays piano; Beaker supplies his normal "meep-meep-meep-meep"; Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem rock out.
Animal bangs on the drums and gets to channel Freddie Mercury, singing "Mama!" He repeats it instead of singing the full, child-unfriendly line "Mama just killed a man/ Put a gun against his head/ Pulled my trigger/ Now he's dead."
It's not the Muppets first foray into online video. Several videos were released last year, most notably including Beaker singing "Ode to Joy." More than 7 million have since watched Beaker's rendition.
Breier says more Web videos are on the way. A version of "Carol of the Bells" will be released for Christmas, and a handful of other videos will follow in 2010.
The purpose of the sudden Muppet expansion is partly promotional. The Muppets have also recently made appearances on ABC's "Dancing With the Stars" and at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Last year's holiday special, "A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa" has recently been released on DVD and will air again Friday on NBC.
What is more important, a new, much-anticipated theatrical film is in the works. Jason Segel ("Forgetting Sarah Marshall") and his writing partner Nicholas Stoller have been writing a new Muppets film expected to return the franchise to its more acclaimed past.
"It's all part of a plan for new creative content with online, television, a new theatrical movie," said Breier. "We're bringing the Muppets back."
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