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Why the Kermit and Miss Piggy breakup made headlines

Kermit and Miss Piggy in happier times.
Kermit and Miss Piggy in happier times.
Paul Morigi/Getty Images

Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy's relationship is no more. In the buildup to the duo's new TV show, The Muppets, arriving September 22 on ABC, the two have revealed they've broken up. What's more, Kermit's new main squeeze, also a pig, was revealed in an exclusive item broken by People.

Truly, this is the Brad Pitt/Jennifer Aniston breakup of our time.

But as you might be aware, Kermit and Piggy are puppets — and completely fictional characters. Why on Earth is their breakup, which by its very nature has to be scripted, making news? The easy answer is that it's early September, one of the slow periods in the entertainment news cycle.

But this is also about how we in the entertainment press cover movie and TV news in 2015 — and how marketers and publicists do their very best to control that process. Most of us are aware that Kermit and Piggy's breakup is a carefully stage-managed bit of publicity. What makes it funny is how easy it is to suspect that everything else in Hollywood is exactly the same way.

But first, a memory of what was.

This isn't the first time People has announced the breakup of Kermit and Piggy

The Muppets. Kermit and Denise are in love.

Kermit (right), with his new squeeze, Denise.

ABC

Though the two have dated, off and on, since The Muppet Show launched in 1976, they've never made things official. Officially, according to Muppets Studio (which is owned by Disney), all of the many on-screen weddings (including the "pig and froggy wedding" of Muppets Take Manhattan fame) and/or glimpses of their married life are fictional — or at least somehow more fictional than Kermit and Piggy themselves.

However, this isn't the first time People magazine has played a role in the split between pig and frog. In 1990, just days before Muppets creator Jim Henson died, People published a gossip item. It read in part:

"Moi has devoted my life to making Kermit happy and never received anything in return, except a Cubic Zirconia ring he bought from the Home Shopping Network. It has been tres difficult for moi but la vie goes on. I need to talk to my publicist." Will Her Pigness ever date another frog? "I don't think so. Frogs have cute senses of humor, but they also have a lack of ability to commit, lack of consideration and appalling table manners. I don't know about my future. Perhaps I'll direct a movie or run for public office. But right now, I just want to be alone."

This was all part of a proposed marketing campaign called "The Pig of the Nineties," about how Miss Piggy was taking control of her life, starting with ditching her longtime frog companion. The campaign became instantly doomed when Henson passed away. (For more on the prospective campaign, go here.)

The breakup between Kermit and Piggy, in both 1990 and 2015, is about something even deeper than their once seemingly eternal love: the inability of Muppets Studio to revitalize interest in the characters in a post–Muppets Take Manhattan world.

That 1984 film was the last time the beloved felt characters were pop culture titans in the way they had been in the late '70s, when their variety show was on the air. After that release, Henson moved on to other interests, including making darker fantasy films and more sophisticated TV shows. And in the wake of Henson's death, the Muppets struggled to regain their peak popularity for decades, and arguably still haven't.

We've known about the breakup for months

At the very least, essentially anyone with an internet connection and a working knowledge of YouTube has been able to watch the trailer that announced it since May. And both that trailer and the later pilot presentation (a short "pitch reel" created to sell a network on a show's concept) revealed (or strongly hinted) that Kermit was dating another pig. Considering the presentation screened to rapturous reception at Comic-Con, then appeared on YouTube itself, there's been very little that's secret about this.

That hasn't stopped both ABC and other publicists behind the show from playing the whole thing to the hilt. At the show's Television Critics Association summer press tour session, both Kermit and Piggy addressed the "rumors" that they had split, with a mostly amused press largely playing along. (It's very hard to take your job seriously when interviewing Muppets.)

"Piggy and I have gone our separate ways romantically," Kermit said. "It can be tough to work with your ex. It can be tough to be the executive producer on your ex’s late-night TV show, especially when your ex is a pig."

"Any kind of attention is good publicity. So sure, I’m proud we’re broken up," Piggy later added.

During the session, Muppets producer Bill Prady also said Kermit was dating a new pig named Denise (who was in "ABC marketing"). The frog talked with Access Hollywood at TCA about the whole situation.

So when People "announced" the identity of Kermit's new piggy love, essentially everybody involved knew they were playing an elaborate marketing game, and that allowed for an opportunity to goof on the usual celebrity news cycle. Jezebel, for instance, playfully tweaked the heightened language of the internet gossip machine with the headline "I'm Sorry, but Who the Fuck Does This Homewrecking Pig Think She Is?"

In a weird way, all of this is in keeping with the spirit of the Muppets, who have always been about tweaking Hollywood traditions and forms, usually with a playful zest. Getting really angry about Kermit and Piggy's breakup is a safe way to play around with the idea that all celebrity relationships are stage-managed. And even if it's easy to suspect we're all being used to promote a TV show — and set up the premise of future storylines on said TV show — hey, who can hate the Muppets that much?

This is ultimately about how TV shows and movies are marketed to us now

The Millennium Falcon in the new Star Wars.

Just look at how Star Wars news is being carefully released in bits and pieces to see how the modern entertainment press works.

Lucasfilm/Disney

Essentially every publication that covers Hollywood's product online is part of an elaborate game that's heavily managed by publicists and other marketing types. A celebrity might have an unfiltered moment on a talk show or in a profile, but everything in the show business marketing complex is about making sure that when those unfiltered moments happen, they're on the best of terms for the celebrity in question. The profile writer is carefully chosen. The talk show host is the one the star is most comfortable with.

If there's gossip to be leaked, that gossip is carefully massaged to make all parties look their best. Of course, this rarely works as well as the publicity machine would like. See also: Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner's separation. The Kermit/Piggy split is playing off this dichotomy — generously worded statements sent to the press, coupled with angrier personal statements in interviews or press conferences. In many ways, it's uncanny.

But it's also about hyping an upcoming television show. After all, Kermit and Piggy are still fictional characters. (Or, as Kermit cracked at the TCA session, like most big stars, they're "wholly owned subsidiaries" of an entertainment conglomerate.) None of what's happening is "real" — and all of it is about teasing an upcoming storyline on their TV show by leaking dribs and drabs of it over a period of months. That keeps the Muppets — and The Muppets — in the headlines.

Think, for instance, of how the entertainment press has covered another upcoming Disney property — the new Star Wars film. First, there was the photo of the cast gathered for the first script reading. Then there were videos and images from the set, tantalizing in what they didn't reveal. Short trailers followed, as did more behind-the-scenes videos, Comic-Con panels, Instagram footage, and all manner of other things.

Most sites — including this one — wrote about a few of these things. Many wrote about all of them. And it's easy to see why — a constant stream of headlines for an upcoming project readers are excited about draws in more readers. Yes, on some level, all of these publications know they're doing free marketing, but the quid pro quo relationship between press and what's being publicized ultimately benefits both entities.

But there's still anxiety about what happens to the larger film and TV discourse when the press is essentially another arm of a marketing campaign. (This anxiety has existed as long as the entertainment press has. It is not an invention of the internet.) The Kermit and Miss Piggy news, then, has caused such a blow-up because it allows everybody involved to blow off some steam and acknowledge the extreme artificiality of most entertainment news. Yes, it's a largely silly way to pass the time. But underneath it all, it's about how strange working within the constraints of the online entertainment press can be.