Okay, so The Jim Henson Hour was a bust, but one Muppet emerged unscathed: Clifford the... Clifford. And it was evident that Clifford was supposed to be the next big Muppet, a signature Muppet for Kevin Clash to perform. Yes, Clash had Elmo, but Elmo was stuck on Sesame Street (and he eventually ruled it with an iron fist). Clifford was going to be laid-back and cool and non-ambiguously African American.
He is the only Muppet with dreadlocks to this day.
Clearly, Henson was priming Clash to be a crucial member of the Muppet team and he had made plans for Clifford to be the host and star of the next version of The Muppet Show. Unfortunately, Henson passed away shortly after appearing on The Arsenio Hall Show alongside Clash and Clifford.
Although Kermit appeared, Clifford was the focal point of the interview. It appeared as if Henson were passing the torch to Clash and Clifford to be the next face/phase of the Muppets. But with his untimely death, the plans for the next Muppet Show were put on hold. It wasn't until six years later that the next show premiered.
Muppets Tonight seemed to be a step in the right direction. Clifford was ready to take the lead. But there was one vital change made that Kevin Clash believes killed the character: they removed his sunglasses!!!
The better to see you with.
Clifford was supposed to be cool. And you can't visually convey that a character is cool in the '90s without sunglasses!
Catch ya on the flip side, dudemeisters! NOT!
Although the glasses seems trivial, it was true. Clifford lost his vibe. He had no more edge.
In order to stay true to the character, Clifford gets the hosting gig in the very first episode by accident. Kermit, who is running the Muppet television network KMUP, finds himself with an unfilled 30-min slot in his primetime lineup.
Just imagine: a whole channel with nothing but Muppet shows. It boggles the mind.
Kermit decides to throw together a show at the last minute and asks for volunteers for the hosting gig. Clifford, who was on his cellular phone ('90s!) with his girlfriend misses the conversation and doesn't get a chance to escape with the rest of the familiar Muppets. And so, this once mellow dude becomes high-strung and frantic as he scrambles to put a show together
I'm going crazier than my tie!
Clifford became a bit snarkier due to his position of responsibility, and he always maintained a vague sense of self-awareness as to his role as a Muppet. The character whose motto was once "Chill out, man" was now tortured and tormented by the Muppets he was in charge of (much as Kermit was before him).
Muppets Tonight lasted a season longer than The Jim Henson Hour, but it still did poorly in the ratings and thus was met with a premature cancellation. It's hard to judge what exactly killed the show, but Clifford the worrywart wasn't helping matters.
Clifford the dancer, however, was a wonderful delight!
In future Muppet productions, Clash put his foot down, refusing to perform Clifford again unless he had his shades back. Those glasses were crucial to his character. Like the legendary bad-haircut-victim Samson before him, Clifford lost his mojo once his signature appearance was altered. These glasses were a necessary accessory.
It all goes to show that you should always hold on to what makes you unique.
Or, in this case, exaggeratingly cliché.