I was sent on an all-expense paid trip to Los Angeles, California courtesy of Disney to experience The Good Dinosaur, The Muppets, and a series of other adventures surrounding the movie. Regardless, all opinions expressed are still 100% my own.
Are you a fan of The Muppets? I grew up watching the Muppet Babies, not that I want to date myself, and then advanced into watching The Muppets as I grew older. Who wouldn’t love the storylines, the excitement, and fun characters like Miss Piggy, Kermit the Frog, and Gonzo? Don’t even get me started on the specials and movies! To date, The Muppet Christmas Carol is still my favorite Christmas movie and I make a point of watching it more times than I am able to count every December.
Needless to say, when I heard that Jim Henson’s loveable creation would be joining the ABC lineup this year, I was more than just a little excited. I watched the first episode and have to be honest in saying, I wasn’t a fan. I remember having this heated discussion with my husband, another Muppets enthusiast, about how inappropriate the show was for children and how MY Muppets wouldn’t be that way. He laughed, reminded me that there had always been adult humor when it came to The Muppets, and noted how much our daughter enjoyed the show. After watching some older shows, I agreed to watched the second episode and admit that I kinda sorta liked it. By the third episode, I was hooked!
While I admit, as a parent, there are jokes that I am thankful my six year old simply doesn’t “get” but overall, I am thrilled to have old friends back in my life, and I love sharing a piece of my past with my daughter. Memories in the making? Watching her eyes light up, her dance around, and the giggling … ABSOLUTELY!
While in Los Angeles for the Red Carpet Premiere of The Good Dinosaur a couple of weeks ago, we received a real treat when we were invited to visit the set of The Muppets. I totally screamed like a school girl when I found out we would be visiting. My husband was absolutely jealous and I think he even joked about divorcing me … at least, I think it was a joke. My daughter begged me to hug Miss Piggy for her. Unfortunately, I was not able to meet up with Miss Piggy for a selfie or hug but I still have hopes for the future AND I did send her a few fun pictures and brought home a treat or two!
While onset, we had the chance to sit down and chat with The Muppets executive producers Randall Einhorn (and director) and Bill Barretta (and performer). Here are a few things that I learned during the experience …
The Mechanics behind The Muppets
Have you ever watched The Muppets and thought … how in the world do they do it? We have the answer!
Bill Barretta explained that there are different types of puppets. For example,
Kermit, if you really look, you can almost see the knuckles of Steve Whitmire’s hand as they create facial manipulations. He’s a very malleable Puppet. He also has arm rods that go into his wrists so he’s what we call a Rod Puppet. A character like Fozzie, is usually operated by two people. It’s one person that’s doing the head and the behavior and the body of the character.
Bill shared that most characters are performed by six people. Think about the number of Muppets and then think about six people doing all the work. Now imagine the time it takes to create and shoot a scene if there are two characters in the same scene that are performed by the same person. One word, complicated!
Bill went on to explain that if they are doing a scene where two characters, performed by the same person, are in the scene then they will have someone that is familiar with the character, someone that understands the rhythms and timing of the character, step in and perform the character that isn’t driving the scene as much. Then the real perform will go back and dialogue the voice later.
Randall Einhorn said the other option is to film the scene one way and then turn around and do the other half; however, this is rather time consuming. Still, the goal is always a great performance so they do what is necessary to create a performance that is authentic and true to the characters.
Production ~ Preparation and Filming
Randall said it takes 5 days to prep an episode and then they shoot for 6 days. He said they try to work four 10 hour days and two 12 hour days or two 14 hour days depending on if they go on location. Are you keeping up with the math? I can up with 64 to 68 hours for ONE episode.
He said a lot of this is due to the time it takes for them to do the simplest things such as moving monitors or floors.
Have you ever wondered how they get everything perfect? Even down to the placement of the character’s eyes? Bill explained that they use television monitors so they can see what the camera sees. The monitors are placed in different places based on the scene and what is needed so they have to be moved for every scene that goes into an episode.
Randall noted that it takes at least 15 minutes to rehearse a scene, talk about it, and block it. It then takes 45 minutes to light the scene and do camera rehearsals for the scene. So, to break it down, if an episode has 28 scenes, in normal conditions it would take 28 hours of not shooting. For The Muppets, it takes double; it takes 2 hours to get the first shot off. So, we are talking 56 hours of not shooting, it takes them that long just to get to the point of their first shot. Going back to that 64 to 68 hour work week … now do you see where it all goes?
Bill noted that a good bit of their rehearsal occurs while they are shooting because they are learning where the characters are in the frame, what they need to do, and how they need to do things. He said in all reality, they are constantly in a state of rehearsal because they are working with the Puppets!
The Muppets ~ Then vs. Now
Bill said when this new project came about the writers took it upon themselves to do as much research as possible about The Muppets. He said the performers, including him, created a Character Bible that provides some background, history, and possibilities of places that the characters could go in the future; suggestions if you will. He said they armed the performers with as much material as they could but the fact of the matter is, the characters, like the rest of us, are always evolving.
“We’re still learning. Gonzo is not the same guy he was 30 years ago. He’s evolved and I think that’s because we as Performers and people evolve and so do the relationships between The Muppets and the relationships beneath the Puppets. We are always finding new things and new ways to deal with and work with each other.”
Casting Guest Stars
Believe it or not, most of the guest stars are cast by a phone call. Bill and Randall both agreed that they find their guest stars through texts and phone calls. There are a lot of people that are thrilled to be invited because they have worked with Bill and/or Randall in the past or they, like Dave Grohl, simply love The Muppets and want to be part of the show.
Bill explained that sometimes the script dictates who they need or the type of person they need and other times, they write specifically for certain people. Both agreed that there is a long list of people that they would love to see on the show, people that they think would be fun … to name a few, Jeffrey Tambor, Ringo, Sophia Vergara, Jimmy Stewart, and dare I say Sandra Bullock (hums Phenomenon).
I can confirm that Joseph Gordon Levitt and Mindy Kaling will be appearing in upcoming episodes and I can’t wait to see who will be joining the crew in episodes to come!
Randall touched on a really interesting topic and one that I clearly made note of (see above) … if the show is too “adult” and the audience. He shared that from what he remembers and from working with the guys that came before him, The Muppets have always been about making us laugh. He also noted that The Muppets were never geared towards any one group in particular.
“The Muppet Show and things that came after that was always meant to arc generations so that little kids could enjoy the characters and the colors and the fabrics and the fur and the silliness and the stories and the jokes could be another generation of people and then you have the more nostalgic levels.”
In our home, The Muppets have accomplished their goal. We all sit down, as a family, to watch and enjoy The Muppets every Tuesday. We are sharing something from our childhood with her daughter and I hope that when she grows up and has children of her own she will be able to share these loveable puppets with her little ones as well.
Join us as we tune in for another great episode of The Muppets, tonight at 8|7c on ABC!
THE GREAT GONZO RETURNS TO PERFORM A HIGH-FLYING STUNT, ON ABC’S “THE MUPPETS”
JOSEPH GORDON-LEVITT AND FOO FIGHTERS’ DAVE GROHL GUEST STAR
“Going, Going, Gonzo“– After a show-stopping duet with Miss Piggy on “Up Late with Miss Piggy,” Joseph Gordon-Levitt joins Scooter, Pepe and the gang for poker night; The Great Gonzo gears up to perform his dream stunt; and Dave Grohl challenges Animal to a drum-off, on “The Muppets,” TUESDAY, DECEMBER 1 (8:00-8:30 p.m., ET) on the ABC Television Network.
“The Muppets” stars Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, The Great Gonzo, Pepe the King Prawn, Rizzo, Scooter, Rowlf and The Electric Mayhem.
Guest starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt as himself and Dave Grohl as himself.
“Going, Going, Gonzo” story was written by Shane Kosakowski and Franklin Hardy, and the teleplay was written by Jordan Reddout and Gus Hickey. The episode was directed by Randall Einhorn.
“The Muppets” is co-created and executive-produced by Bill Prady (“The Big Bang Theory”) and Bob Kushell (“3rd Rock From the Sun”). Kristin Newman (“Galavant”), Randall Einhorn (“The Office”), Bill Barretta (“Muppets Most Wanted”), Debbie McClellan (The Muppets Studio) and Kyle Laughlin (The Muppets Studio) are also executive producers. “The Muppets” is produced by ABC Studios and The Muppets Studio.