Following the unfolding drama of Steve Whitmire’s firing from The Muppets Studio has been increasingly difficult.
At first I was one hundred percent on Steve’s side… but as more information came to light from Disney and (importantly) the Henson family… I find myself increasingly conflicted.
I don’t know Steve personally, so I have no basis for my opinion other than distant observation; therefore, it’s difficult to say whether it truly was/is in his capacity to behave as horribly as the studio and the family claim he did. But is saddens me to admit that I’m not convinced he didn’t.
That being said… I don’t think Disney and the Studio ever made it absolutely plain to Steve that his behaviour could be career-ending. This may be due to Steve (and all the Muppet performers) being contract-players, so there was never really any guarantee that any of them would be continually hired to play their roles. Perhaps Disney felt the tenuous nature of these types of contracts was enough to infer to any performer that they could be replaced at any time.
This is why I think Steve probably did/does have an ego-problem… he felt as Kermit he was untouchable. He believed that they couldn’t fire him and so he dug his heels in and asked for things that he was in no real position to ask for.
At the end of the day, the person I trust the most in this whole debacle is Brian Henson. He says Steve needed to go and, painful as it is to hear, that he needed to go a long time ago.
I grew up with Jim as Kermit the first half of my childhood, and with Steve as Kermit the last half and into adulthood. The important thing is that Kermit, and all he stands for, endures – whomever is performing him. Matt Vogel (the veteran Muppet puppeteer now assigned the role) is a consummate performer and I am increasingly excited to see him take on the mantle of the frog.
Ultimately, no one looks good in this mess. Not Disney, not Steve and not even the Hensons… but I also have to look at who stirred the pot to cause this public debacle in the first place and it falls to one man – Steve. Because of this, I have to also lend some credence to Disney and the Henson’s claims of his arrogance and ego.
Steve’s time with The Muppets is done. No amount of groundswell support from outraged fans will change this.
It’s time to support Matt and the performers still working with the Studio and Disney. I have to trust that someone is trying to make the right decisions for The Muppets… there have been a LOT of errors in judgement, but the last portion of the cancelled sitcom proved that they could learn from mistakes and begin to course-correct. The live events that the Studio has been producing for The Muppets have been increasing in both scale and quality (and quantity) so it certainly feels like they’re heading in a more positive direction.
My wife and I will be attending one of these events in September – The Muppets at the Hollywood Bowl – and I am just as excited now as I was before all this mess.
While the lights dim on Steve Whitmire… it’s time to light them on Matt Vogel.
It’s time to get things started.