Steve Whitmire, the Muppet veteran who voiced Kermit for 27 years, and the man chosen by Jim Henson personally to voice Kermit upon the event of his death, is no longer staying silent about his firing and replacement this week. That’s because Disney broke the silence accusing him of “unprofessional” conduct.
This is the second piece I’ve written this last week about the behind-the-scenes sausage-making (the first about Frank Darabont and The Walking Dead) that occurs between artists and the corporate producers/production team. And it is nothing if not nasty (Hollywood Reporter).
Like Darabont, Whitmire was accused of having a foul mouth at least more than once. But, over a period of 27 year, “more than at least once” is utterly meaningless.
Much more so than in the Darabont case, I feel at a loss for Whitmire. His response to Disney’s does-not-seem-to-hold-water explanation for his firing makes a hell of a lot more sense. He explains in detail that during ABC’s spectacular burning-shit-covered-tire-fire that they called “The Muppets”, he gave them notes about the character, his character, Kermit.
After being Kermit for nearly 30 years, and with Jim Henson’s company many years before that, Whitemire had the brains, the integrity, and the deepest understanding of probably anyone alive about Kermit’s nature, character, and how he should be handled in terms of story writing.
And Whitmire saw that they show was very out of character for Kermit (and most of the rest of the Muppets probably). I think that most people who watched the show, and knew these characters for the last several decades, would probably agree with him. The fact is that this show got cancelled, and there was good reason for it. It was not true to the Muppets. It didn’t work. It deserved to be canceled.
So someone has to pay, right?
Should it be the guy who actually went to all of the trouble by attempting to save the sinking ship? The guy who actually gave notes that could have saved the show? The guy who ended up risking his life-long career as Kermit to make turn around a crappy show and make it into a good one? To turn an absoulute failure of a show that was just a rip-off of “The Office” but starring the Muppets into a real “Muppet Show”, instead of a show that just happened to have Muppets as the characters in a half-hour mockumentary style sitcom?
I cry foul. Whitmire’s behavior was not out of the ordinary with exception of giving perhaps too many notes to production. He did it for a damn good reason, though, and if those notes had been taken into account, the show could have changed course into something good.
But someone has to pay, right?
It was not going to be ABC’s studio execs or their producers or anyone inside their business machine. If they got fired: I don’t know. I haven’t found any evidence that anyone behind the production or development of the new “The Muppets” show got canned and got canned publicly and assigned blame for their decisions and their “unprofessional” behavior.
So, someone has paid. Whitmire has been humiliated over the last week in the media by Disney’s handling of his firing. It makes it all the more tragic seeing that Whitmore wrote this about his replacement Matt Vogel:
“I’m actually responsible for Matt having become a part of the Disney Muppets,” Whitmire said. “The performers are my brothers, my family of choice. That includes Matt, and the hardest part of this is knowing we probably will never work together again. He’s very talented.
“My sadness is over knowing how important it is for the success of the Muppets to have the characters remain consistent and seeing the value of that ignored.”
Maybe I’m being harsh to Disney, but this doesn’t sound unprofessional in the least.
(Please read the article above-linked for more in-depth legal Disney-speak about his termination, and for more quotations: Disney Says It Fired Kermit the Frog Actor Over “Unacceptable Business Conduct”.)