In 1983, Jim Henson unleashed a new kind of family entertainment on the world with Fraggle Rock. The series, which lasted for five seasons, told of a trio of species—the fun-loving Fraggles, the work-loving Doozers, and the oafish Gorgs—who dwelled in a series of interconnected, subterranean caves. The show, and the new world it created, were a global hit with silly creatures (that’s Fraggle-speak for “humans”). Here are 17 things you might not know about the beloved series and its cast of characters.
1. IT WAS HBO’S FIRST ORIGINAL SERIES.
Carrie Bradshaw, Tony Soprano, Nate Fisher, Jimmy McNulty, Selina Meyer, and Rust Cohle all owe a debt of gratitude to Red, Gobo, Wembley, Boober, Marjory the Trash Heap, and the rest of the Fraggle Rock cast. The show was HBO’s first foray into original programming, and as such was “critical to the network’s development,” according to the network’s executive vice president of corporate communications, Quentin Schaffer, who also worked on the original Fraggle Rock press team.
2. THE SHOW WAS DEVELOPED FOR THE INTERNATIONAL MARKET.
Though it was most definitely a Jim Henson production, from the get-go Fraggle Rock was intended to be viewed by a global audience. The series was one of television’s first international co-productions; it was developed by teams in New York and London, taped in Toronto, and broadcast in 90 countries and 13 languages.
3. IT WAS THE FIRST AMERICAN TV SHOW TO BE BROADCAST IN THE SOVIET UNION.
After spending time in Moscow in 1984 to shoot Jim Henson Presents with Russian puppeteer Sergey Obraztsov, Henson became very interested in bringing his programming to the Soviet Union. Following successful screenings of both The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth at the Moscow Film Festival, Henson was able to sell Fraggle Rock to Russian television, making it the first American series to be broadcast there. The fact that the Berlin Wall fell just 10 months later was not lost on Henson and company. “We always joke that Fraggle Rock led to the end of the Cold War,” shared Henson Company archivist Karen Falk. “By the end of the year, as the show’s lessons of tolerance and understanding wafted through the airwaves, the Berlin Wall came down.”
4. NOT EVERY COUNTRY SAW THE SAME HUMANS.
Whereas the bulk of Fraggle Rock viewers are familiar with Doc the inventor and his dog Sprocket, that wasn’t the case with every audience member. In order to connect with its specific audience, the “human” segments of Fraggle Rock changed with the show’s location. While viewers in America, Australia, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Ireland, Scandinavia, Spain, and Eastern Europe know Doc and Sprocket, British audiences got to know The Captain (a retired sailor played by Fulton Mackay) and Sprocket, who live in a lighthouse. In France, Doc is a chef with a dog named Croquette and the action takes place in a bakery.
5. MOST OF THE BRITISH EPISODES ARE MISSING.
Though the total number of missing episodes varies from source to source, the original recordings of many of the British segments with Fulton Mackay went missing years ago. Various media outlets and fans of the show have set about staging appeals to the public to share their VHS tapes of the original series so that the U.K. version of the show is not lost forever.
6. HENSON’S GOALS FOR THE SHOW WERE LOFTY.
“It was a kind of ecology,” Fraggle Rock writer Jocelyn Stevenson shared of the show’s environment. “These groups of characters were actually dependent on each other but didn’t know it.” Henson’s mandate for the show, according to Stevenson, was “to create a show that will stop war.” Still, “We weren’t in any way political. We were advocates for joy and people getting on.”
“For decades, those involved with Fraggle Rock have chuckled self-indulgently about its purported mission, which was, supposedly, ‘to save the world,’” adds producer Michael Frith. “But perhaps that’s not as ridiculous as it might at first blush sound … Fraggle Rock‘s simple ambition [was] to open kids’ eyes to the interconnectedness of all things and the unassailable fact that their own actions would have consequences.”
7. THE TARGET AUDIENCE WAS SOMEWHERE BETWEEN SESAME STREET AND PLAYBOY.
According to Frith: “The audience we were reaching for was one that we felt was, at least where television was concerned, massively underserved—the ‘mid-kid,’ beyond Sesame Street but not yet, as we so succinctly put it back then, ‘reading Playboy’; still able to become lost in the magic of fantasy and music and storytelling … all in an impossible world brought to life by brilliant puppetry.”
8. THE SHOW REALLY SPOKE TO CREATIVE TYPES.
Though the series spoke to “mid-kids” (and big kids) around the world, it really connected with creative types. “[It is special] because the show has this completely original world, and everything is interconnected in that world—and it has its own logic, but is alternative,” says Lisa Henson, Jim’s daughter and current CEO of The Jim Henson Company. “When people learn about Fraggle Rock, they leap in with both feet and immerse themselves in the lore. We feel that because the Fraggles have this special philosophy, and because they love music and resolve differences differently from humans, it in some ways appeals to artists and musicians; maybe more than even the other Henson characters. We have had musicians from every kind of band, from hip-hop to alternative and bluegrass, [say] the Fraggles were the characters that spoke to them.”
9. THE FRAGGLES WEREN’T ALWAYS FRAGGLES.
In early versions of the script, the Fraggles were referred to as Woozles. That name was abandoned when Henson and his team realized that Winnie the Pooh already had creatures known as Woozles. At one point the series was being developed under the title Fraggle Hill, but that was abandoned, too (for sounding “too British”).
10. TRAVELING MATT’S NAME IS A PUN.
Traveling Matt’s name is a play on “traveling matte,” the effects technique that was used to create his segments, wherein two or more images are combined into one. Gobo is another piece of film industry jargon; they’re devices used to control the shape of light emitted from a source.
11. THE THEME SONG WAS A HIT.
Sure, it’s catchy. But the Fraggle Rock theme song ended up becoming a bona fide hit—at least in England, where it reached number 33 on the British music charts. (Clap, clap.)
12. THE THEME SONG HAD SEVERAL DIFFERENT ENDINGS.
Though Boober’s ending line of “down at Fraggle Rock” is the best-known version of the theme song, five different endings were recorded—one with each of the main Fraggles delivering the final line, with the intention that the openings would rotate between episodes.
13. THE SHOW’S CREATORS WERE LOOKING TOWARD THE FUTURE.
Though the Internet wasn’t yet a feature in everyone’s home at the time of Fraggle Rock's premiere, the show's creators wanted to ensure that whatever media entered the entertainment realm in the near or far future, Fraggle Rock could be a part of it. “We very consciously did not invent Fraggle Rock just ‘as a television show,’” producer Michael Frith says. “Our intent was to create a many-layered and complex universe that would resonate in any medium. The hope was simply that wherever it emerged it would have some lasting impact.”
14. IT BEGAT AN ANIMATED SERIES.
Like so many other series before (and after) it, Fraggle Rock’s popularity eventually led to an animated version of the series—albeit a short-lived one. In 1987, NBC premiered a cartoon version of Fraggle Rock in its Saturday morning lineup. It lasted just one season
15. THE FRAGGLES ARE ROCK STARS.
In 2012, Ben Folds Five debuted their video for “Do It Anyway,” which featured Red, Gobo, Wembley, Boober, Mokey, and Traveling Matt in starring roles.
16. FRAGGLE ROCK LIVES ON FOR A NEW GENERATION.
In addition to the original series being available via DVD and streaming, on April 25, 2014, Hulu launched its first series for Hulu Kids: Doozers introduces a new cast of Doozers to the Fraggle Rock universe.
17. A FRAGGLE ROCK FEATURE HAS BEEN A DECADE IN THE MAKING.
In September 2005, The Jim Henson Company announced its plans to adapt Fraggle Rock into a feature film, with plans to release it in 2009. In the decade since, the project has gone through a series of ups and downs. But on the heels of the wildly successful new Muppet movies, it finally appears as if the Fraggles are headed for the big screen. In March, Variety announced that the Fraggle Rock movie is indeed happening, with Joseph Gordon-Levitt set to produce and star in it.
“The first screen personas I ever loved were Henson creations, first on Sesame Street and then on Fraggle Rock,” Gordon-Levitt said. “Jim Henson’s characters make you laugh and sing, but they’re also layered, surprising, and wise. From Oscar the Grouch, to Yoda, to the Fraggles. I’ve never stopped loving his work, even as a young frisky man, and on into adulthood. Collaborating with Lisa Henson makes me confident we can do something that Jim would have loved."