Brian M. Raftery
December 22, 2000 AT 05:00 AM EST

The next time you happen to see a puppeteer, give him a hand: He and his kind have had a busy 2000. From courts to Capitol Hill, our handheld friends were unavoidable, leading us to turn to Gonzo journalism and ask: Just who’s pulling the strings, anyway?

April 9
Proving himself to be the Alan Greenspan of the Muppet set, Kermit the Frog wades into the political pond, testifying at a congressional hearing to endorse a bill limiting exotic-pet ownership and to discuss increases in amphibian mutation. ”I now have uncles, aunts, and cousins with three and five legs,” says Kermit. Joining him are Bo Derek, Melanie Griffith, and her mom, The Birds star Tippi Hedren.

April 12 — home of the crooning canine Sock Puppet — files a defamation and trade-libel suit against Conan O’Brien pal Triumph the Insult Comic Dog. The now-defunct e-tailer claims the bawdy, barb-barking Triumph created ”an unsavory mental association” between itself and Sock Puppet. The suit, which is still pending, is the first in which a bow-tie-clad, cigar-chomping puppet defendant is cited for ”attacks of a sexual nature on female dogs.”

May 6
Arguments get under way in a Massachusetts federal court to settle a custody battle over what is believed to be the original Howdy Doody doll, with both the Detroit Institute of the Arts and the family of late Howdy handler Rufus Rose claiming ownership of the doll. The case is still being strung along — and has yet to reach a settlement. Meanwhile, the freckle-specked puppet itself languishes in a Connecticut safe-deposit box.

In the first use of the phrase ”Russian comedy” since the stand-up days of Yakov Smirnoff, Russian comedy show Kukly (translation: puppet) bows to Kremlin pressure and decides to pull a rubber rendition of President Vladimir Putin off the air. The move comes just after the arrest of a Russian media mogul raises concerns that the government is cracking down on free speech.

November 28
H.R. Pufnstuf creators Sid & Marty Krofft sue boy band ‘N Sync and their manager, Johnny Wright, for copyright infringement and breach of contract. Though the duo was contracted to create giant-size images of the group for their stage shows on the No Strings Attached tour, the Kroffts claim their merchandising royalties wound up in the land of the lost. In a statement, Wright says ‘N Sync ”has nothing to do with the situation.”

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