May 04, 1989 12:00 PM

He’s television’s unlikeliest hero. For starters, he’s short. He’s green. He has no lips, his eyes don’t move, and his tongue only comes in handy when there are flies around. His feet are, well, webbed, and some say he married a pig.

Nevertheless, Kermit the Frog, the first creation of Jim Henson’s Muppet empire, has outlasted nearly every pretty boy in the TV pond. Since 1969, Kermit and his Muppet pals—the Cookie Monster, Grover, Bert and Ernie, Big Bird, the Count and Snuffleupagus—have given an entire generation of Sesame Street children their loving, slightly lunatic lessons. Maybe it takes furry hunks of foam that look like animals to be really human. The first time a 2-year-old learns about the color green, he’s usually listening to Kermit sing his signature song. Big Bird shows kids about honesty and respect. Bert and Ernie demonstrate friendship, the Count counts, and Grover, like all children, tries hard and means well. The lessons are heard around the globe. Sesame Street is shown in 84 countries and 13 foreign language adaptations. Kermit’s evening program, The Muppet Show, which ran from 1976 to 1981, was the most popular syndicated series in TV history, seen in more than 100 countries by some 235 million people.

Miss Piggy might squeal, but it is Kermit who owns kids’ hearts and stays in their minds. He is Henson’s favorite too. “He’s been around the longest,” says Henson. “Miss Piggy is heavy and hard to lift. Kermit is the lightest of all the Muppets. That’s an important factor.”

Kermit and his pals have brought the world to children, especially inner-city kids whose only open Sesame may be TV. The show daily goes miles beyond the next letter to touch on music (conductor Seiji Ozawa with the All Animal Orchestra), dance (ballerina Suzanne Farrell doing leg beats to Kermit’s count) and art (nobody paints a better sunset than Big Bird). “We try to project a positive view of life,” Henson says. “We try to surround [kids] with the right kind of thinking so they can function in the world, and we try to do it without getting preachy.” Kermit, preachy? “Gee, I don’t know, “he says. “I’m just your average, everyday talking frog.”

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