Muppets Tonight was a TV series featuring The Muppets that originally ran from 1996 to 1998 as part of ABC's TGIF block. An update of the premise of The Muppet Show, it featured the Muppets producing a television variety show with the help (or otherwise) of the episode's guest star. Kermit the Frog was replaced as host by Clifford, a catfish-esque "humanoid" first seen on The Jim Henson Hour, but retained his role as producer. Pigs In Space, a recurring sketch from The Muppet Show, returned as Deep Dish Nine.The series introduced several new Muppets who went on to appear in subsequent productions such as Muppets from Space and the 2011 film, including lounge singer Johnny Fiama; Sal Manilla, Johnny's bodyguard; Bobo, the studio's security guard; voracious monster Big Mean Carl; and Pepe the King Prawn, the studio's elevator attendant who was desperate to break into showbiz, okay.
This series provides examples of:
Adam Westing: Many of the guest stars, to a greater or lesser extent.
Breakout Character: Pepe the King Prawn. Other new characters this series introduced either faded or had minor roles later on, but Pepe has had a steady major presence ever since. Bobo the Bear and Big Mean Carl have also made repeated appearances since Muppets Tonight ended, but neither to the degree of prominence that Pepe has achieved.
Breakup Breakout: Pepe went on to appear in many later Muppet productions. Seymour.. didn't.
Andy and Randy frequently exclaim "This job's too hard!!" Usually when anybody reaches step 2 of the very simple task they're putting before them.
Clifford (when he's hosting and something inevitably sidetracks him): "anywho..."
Bobo (as an inappropriately casual goodbye given whatever had just happened beforehand): "Have a good day sir."
Big Mean Carl: "Hi, I'm Carl!" and "Thank you!"
Celebrity Power: Cindy Crawford was shown to have heat vision, because she's a supermodel.
Chaste Puppets: Miss Piggy mysteriously acquires two nephews, Andy and Randy.
The Chew Toy: Clifford is frequently the subject of the show's cartoonish slapstick.
Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: With the exception of Pepe the King Prawn, Bobo the Bear and Big Mean Carl, many of the new Muppet characters that debuted on this show either made no further appearances in Muppet productions after the series ended or faded into the background. Examples include Seymour, Bill the Bubble Guy, Zippity-Zap, Nigel the Director, Mr. Poodlepants and others.
Johnny Fiama, Sal Minella and Dr. Phil van Neuter became core characters in post-Muppets Tonight Muppet productions for a few years, but fell victim to this trope after the mid-2000s.
Clark Kenting: Parodied, with a skit that featured Bobo the Bear & Clifford in a Buddy Cop Show parody - Upon Clifford asking him about his sunglasses, Bobo stated he was working undercover, prompting Clifford to point that it was a Paper-Thin Disguise & it wouldn't work... Only for several people who knew Bobo to fail to recognise him.
The Cameo: Happens a lot. One episode was nothing but cameos.
When Bobo is hired as a security guard, he prevents Clifford from getting to his office because his orders (As given by Clifford) stated that if a person's name wasn't on the list, they weren't to be allowed in the building. Clifford countered by saying: If my name's not on your paycheck, you don't get paid.
The first time Clifford and Rizzo get Garth Brooks to agree to do a country song, he sings "If I Were A Rich Man", which is a song from a musical about people living in the Russian countryside. Rizzo comments that Garth didn't mention which country.
Executive Meddling: Done in-universe when Earnst Staveros Grouper buys the station. Among the irrational changes he makes is changing Kermit the Frog into Virgil the Monkey.
Particularly the aforementioned Cindy Crawford "balloons" joke and Garth Brooks singing "It's Not Unusual" and inciting various Muppets including Bobo the Bear to throw their underwear onstage, including a teeny-tiny bra he seems inordinately fond of...
In the "Seinfeld Babies" sketch, they make a very unsubtle reference to "The Contest".
On Billy Crystal's episode, he re-enacts the Immodest Orgasm scene from When Harry Met Sally with Miss Piggy, in which she explains how easy it is for women to fake a sneeze to get out of a date.
During the credits of the Prince episode, Pepe kisses Seymour's butt for whatever reason.
Good Angel, Bad Angel: Seymour and Pepe pretending to be Jason Alexander's good and bad conscience in order to convince him to do an act with Gonzo.
Got Volunteered: How Clifford got to be the host. Kermit asked for someone to host the new show and everyone ran out the door. Except Clifford, who was in the corner talking to his girlfriend on his cell phone.
Hostile Show Takeover: In one episode, the lobsters from the "Rock Lobster" sketch take over the show. The day is saved by the guest star, Pierce Brosnan, who goes undercover as... James Prawn. In a gigantic lobster costume.
Clifford: When Heather Locklear agreed to guest star here on Muppets Tonight, she said she wanted to do something cultured and sophisticated. This is what we came up with. (cue Stylistic SuckB-Movie parody)
I Am Not Spock: Pierce Brosnan is mistaken for 007 at the beginning of his episode.
In one episode, the characters keep mentioning Istanbul and Constantinople as though they were two different places, and every time they do, a band of rats dressed up as Turks pop up from nowhere to sing the penultimate verse of "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)".
Another episode has a band of Muppets show up to sing "Whip It" every time someone says the word "whip."
Monkeys on a Typewriter: In one episode, we learn that the show's scripters are actual Muppet monkeys, mindlessly pounding at typewriters going "Ook-ack-ook!". Once they come up with a satisfactory script, Kermit lets them go touch the monolith.
Kermit: I'll never know what they see in that thing.
Notzilla: An episode featured Kermit as "Frogzilla".
On One Condition: Parodied in an episode in which the guest star's character will inherit a "fortune" of "eighty-five dollars" provided that he is married to a beautiful woman. Miss Piggy happens to walk in the door at that point... (And it turns out that she has more money than that already on her.)
Pretty much every Muppet performed by Frank Oz, thanks to Oz being too busy with his own project to perform them full-time. Piggy became a "special guest star" (such as in the Michelle Pfeiffer episode) while Fozzie, Sam and Animal were only used in the occasional skit or segment.
Kermit too had a reduced role compared to his days in The Muppet Show, since he was no longer the host, but as the "producer" of the show he still appeared in almost every episode and interacted a lot with the guest stars.
Overly-Long Gag: The show suffered a lot from this in the earlier episodes, especially during "Tales From The Vet."
In-Universe, where the monster of one sketch is played by Kermit.
"This is fun! I never get to play the bad guy."
The entire plot of the Garth Brooks episode was that Brooks didn't feel like performing Country/Western that night. By the time that Clifford finally convinced him to sing one of his own songs, he had already performed random bits of William Shakespeare, Tom Jones' "It's Not Unusual", "If I Were A Rich Man" from Fiddler on the Roof, and had been planning to participate in one of Gonzo's acts up until the moment he learned how painful the act was likely to be (the act consisted of flying upwards on jet packs, being stopped by bungee cords, and then recoiling back to Earth to crash into the unpadded studio floor).
Ret Gone: A bunch of new Muppets were introduced that took up a larger amount of screen time than the original ones, and were probably intended to be a "next-generation Muppet cast" to add to the originals. The majority of them have never appeared since.
They Changed It, Now It Sucks: the Garth Brooks episode was an In-Universe version of this when Garth decided he didn't want to do Country music anymore and did other things like a Tom Jones impersonation, while everyone else wanted Garth to go back to the way he was, so he closed the show with "We Shall Be Free".
This Is Going To Suck: Garth Brooks' opinion of Gonzo's rocket-boosted sub-orbital inverse bungee jumping act once he learns what will be stopping them (The floor). Fortunately, he learns this in time to safely back out.
John Goodman: Don't worry, I promise to get all of you home back in one piece. (a rat explodes and then comes back into view with his top torso separated from his bottom torso) John Goodman: Okay, maybe several pieces.
What Could Possibly Go Wrong?: At the start of the Whoopi Goldberg episode, Clifford is really optimistic about the show that night, and is cheerfully telling Kermit about the plans, until Bill the Bubble Guy walks past and adds, "What could possibly go wrong?" Cue Clifford's immediate paranoia and a phone call from Miss Piggy saying that she's flying back from a mall opening in Antarctica and might not make the closing number.