One of the interesting little things included with the first season of the Muppet Show DVD set is the pilot episode. I use the work interesting because, well, most of it’s value is historical.
This is not to say it is entirely devoid of entertainment… but it certainly feels more hit or miss than the actual series was. Hosted by Nigel, who spends a lot of time hanging out with Sam the Bald Eagle, the episode jumps around from sketch to sketch with no real transitions. Most of the sketches repeat themselves (on ongoing wrestling gag for instance). There is talk about a Seven Deadly pageant, and throughout the pilot the various sins show up. It ranges from boring to amusing. I think the sketch I liked the most was the bit with Mt. Rushmore telling jokes. The jokes themselves were very… Fozzy the Bear styled bad joke. I was mostly tickled by the portrayal of Washington as clueless/humorless.
It is the many differences in the pilot that make it stand out. Statler and Waldorff do not occupy their home in the balcony, rather they are sitting in a fancy library. They also are not the energetic scoffers, but rather to very tired old men. Kermit appears briefly, as does Miss Piggy (in a spoof of Planet of the Apes). But there is no Gonzo, Fozzy the Bear or Scooter.
And without these elements, it just feels like a mash-up lacking the cohesive unit of the ongoing series. Without these characters, the feel of a family of performers is severely lacking. It is kind of surprising to me that Dr. Teeth and his band the Electric Mayhem and the Swedish Chef (which made me chuckle due to Japanese Subtitles that appeared for no explained reason during the sketch) are the only bits that survived the transition to the final format. As pointed out Kermit and Miss Piggy were just random Muppets. Nigel was clearly the template that Kermit would follow, but it just seems odd not having Kermit directing things backstage.
In the end, I cannot say I laughed as hard or nearly as much as I did at later episodes (not unlike the Elaine-less Seinfeld Chronicles versus the regular series). But it is certainly an interesting historical document for the Muppets.