The latest word from behind the scenes of The Muppets franchise holds an explanation as to why longtime Kermit the Frog actor Steve Whitmire was fired last October following one season of the rebooted The Muppet Show on ABC. Ever since taking over the role of Kermit following the tragic death of the Muppets' creator, Jim Henson, in 1990, Whitmire has remained an integral cog in the working machinations of The Muppets Studio.
For those not in the know, The Muppets franchise and associated characters had their start on the Henson created television program Sam and Friends - which aired from 1955 to 1961 - before going on to star in their very own The Muppet Show - which aired from 1976 to 1981 - in addition to a string of feature length motion pictures starting with The Muppet Movie from 1979. And from the roster of the original Muppets characters - which famously includes such iconic puppets as Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, and Gonzo - Kermit the Frog has remained the classic face of Henson's iconic brand of felt-based friendly creatures. Though it would appear that former Kermit actor, Steve Whitmire, will be leaving the role on a bit of sad note.
According to THR, former Kermit the Frog actor Whitmire was reportedly fired from the role that he previously held for 27 years after being "disrespectful" towards his creative collaborators at Disney. After Disney picked up the rights to The Muppets franchise in 2004 - which resulted in two feature films from 2011 and 2014, as well as the The Muppet Show reboot on ABC from last year - Whitmire stayed on as Kermit, even though his influence was apparently not always welcome. According to the actor, his departure was determined based on two outstanding issues, which Whitmire explained as follows:
"The first issue was that they felt I had been 'disrespectful' in being outspoken on character issues with the small group of top creative people during the ABC series. I have been outspoken about what’s best for the Muppets since the Muppets came to Disney [in 2004], but the fact is I have respect for everyone who was involved in the creation of that series for their own particular contributions. At the same time, I also have insight into their limitations with respect to how well they know the Muppets.
The second issue was framed as 'refusing to work on a particular project’ some 15 months earlier. I happened to get caught in the middle of a dispute on a contract classification between SAG-AFTRA and Disney Labor Relations which occurred while I was in-flight to work on the project and the associated commercial. I did in fact shoot the commercial, but was unable to shoot the material for the project in order to comply with my obligations to the guild. Ironically in that situation, my rep had negotiated a special deal with the guild so that we could do the work within the budget parameters for the project."
By the sound of things, the decision to terminate Whitmire from the perspective of Disney was professionally and personally complicated, and Whitmire's opinion on the matter thusly comes weighted down by his own emotional attachment to the character and surrounding property. In the hopes of bringing further light to the problem, a spokesman for The Muppets Studio released the following statement:
"The role of Kermit the Frog is an iconic one that is beloved by fans and we take our responsibility to protect the integrity of that character very seriously. We raised concerns about Steve's repeated unacceptable business conduct over a period of many years and he consistently failed to address the feedback. The decision to part ways was a difficult one which was made in consultation with the Henson family and has their full support."
While it's a bit of a blow to fans of Whitmire's longstanding take on the iconic character, fans of Kermit the Frog and the rest of The Muppets can rest assured that Matt Vogel will replace Whitmire - with his first appearence forthcoming in a "Muppets Thought of the Week" video to be released this week - with the latter actor's blessing. Finally, speaking to one singular aspect of Kermit that particularly continues to reverberate and inspire, Whitmire spoke to the continuing magic of the character residing in, "The look he brings into the eyes of anyone of any age who meets him in person. I can’t take credit for that, but have been truly honored to keep Jim’s spirit intact." On that note, here's to hoping that Vogel can continue in that very special tradition as Kermit the Frog.
Screen Rant will keep you updated on The Muppets as more information becomes available.