The Land of Gorch

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The Land of Gorch was a recurring skit in season one of ‘Saturday Night Live’ featuring Jim Henson’s Muppets. It was set on a swampy alien wasteland on an unnamed planet (which was claimed to also be named ‘Gorch’ in one sketch) ruled by the oafish King Ploobis who has different misadventures with his wife Queen Peuta, his right-hand man Scred, his servant Vazh, his son Wisss, and a carved-from-stone deity called The Mighty Favog.

The intro narrated by Don Pardo states: ‘Come with us now from the bubbling tar pits to the sulfurous wasteland, from the rotting forest to the stagnant mud flats, to the Land of Gorch.’ The segments dealt with a number of racy issues ranging from alcohol abuse, adultery, species extinction, drugs, and other ‘adult’ topics, though each was treated with the expected SNL irreverence.

Saturday Night Live’s writing staff disliked writing for the Muppets. Although the puppet designs were praised, the sketches themselves were generally not well received. The characters appeared in each of the first 10 episodes of the show; in the 11th episode, Scred makes a solo appearance only to be told by Gilda Radner that the sketch he was to appear in has been cancelled. After that, the characters appeared only sporadically (Chevy Chase also acted out one later ‘Gorch’ sketch in which none of the puppets actually appeared). Most of the segments were self-referential bits about how the sketch was unpopular, didn’t fit in with the rest of the show, and had been canceled. The last few sketches involved the Muppet characters trying to negotiate with various cast members and guest stars for revival and continuance.

On May 8, 1976, Scred and The Mighty Favog cut a deal with Chevy Chase stating that if he can get Lorne Michaels to revive their sketch, The Mighty Favog will get The Beatles to appear on ‘Saturday Night Live.’ Paul McCartney and John Lennon reportedly were watching this segment on the day it aired and considered going to Rockefeller Center to surprise the audience, but decided to stay in their apartment.

Television producer Alan Zweibel expressed his view on the topic: ‘Whoever drew the short straw that week had to write the Muppet sketch. The first time I met [Michael] O’Donoghue, I walked into Lorne’s office… and I look in a corner of the room and there’s a guy I learned was Michael O’Donoghue. What was he doing, you ask? He had taken a stuffed toy of Big Bird, and the cord from the venetian blinds, and he wrapped the cord around Big Bird’s neck. He was lynching Big Bird. And that’s how we all felt about the Muppets. Al Franken and Tom Davis and I were the rookie writers, and the others always rigged it so we were the ones who wrote the Muppet sketches. So I went over to Jim Henson’s townhouse on like Sixty-eighth Street with a sketch I had written. There was one character named Skred [sic], and I remember we’re reading the sketch, Jim Henson’s reading the pages, and he gets to a line and says, ‘Oh, Skred wouldn’t say this.’ And I look, and on a table over there is this cloth thing that is folded over like laundry, and it’s Skred. ‘Oh, but he wouldn’t say this.’ Oh, sorry.’

In 1983, Jim Henson commented on what happened behind the scenes at ‘Saturday Night Live’: ‘I saw what he (Lorne Michaels) was going for and I really liked it and wanted to be a part of it, but somehow what we were trying to do and what his writers could write for it never jelled. … When they were writing for us, I had the feeling they were writing normal sitcom stuff, which is really boring and bland. … Yeah, it just never jelled with the particular writers we were working with, but at no time did I ever lose my respect for the show. I always liked what they were doing.’

In 1999, Frank Oz also commented on the show: ‘There was good and bad. The bad unfortunately was that I think we didn’t really belong on ‘Saturday Night Live.’ I think our very explosive, more cartoony comedy didn’t jive with the kind of Second City casual laid-back comedy, so the writers had a lot of trouble writing for us. They weren’t used to that kind of Muppet writing. But the good part was that every Saturday was very exciting – going through rehearsal, then dress [rehearsal], then air – and meeting and seeing the beginnings of Andy Kaufman, and the great little films of Albert Brooks, and seeing John Belushi and Chevy Chase and Danny Aykroyd, the beginnings of all that. That was very, very exciting. A live show on Saturday night is always exciting. But it was good at the end of the year that ‘The Muppet Show’ was there for us, because it was just too difficult for them. We didn’t belong on that show anymore. But we had a great time.’

King Ploobis (performed by Jim Henson) was the greedy and decorative King of the Land of Gorch. He is married to Queen Peuta, but has been having an affair with his servant Vazh (the Queen in turn is having an affair with Scred, the King’s long suffering aide). King Ploobis is always seeking advice from The Mighty Favog (performed by Frank Oz), a living statue who serves as the deity of the Land of Gorch. He would offer his advice in exchange for sacrifices. The Mighty Favog’s name came from a nickname given by the Muppet Performers to the clock in the Green Room of ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’ where they would playfully pray to the clock that they wouldn’t get bumped if the show ran long. Favag was the brand name of synchronized clock systems, popular with broadcasters. The King and Queen have a son, Wisss, who is addicted to smoking craters.

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