While in Los Angeles for The Good Dinosaur premiere event, I had the opportunity to visit the set of The Muppets on the Disney Studios Lot and speak with Executive Producer and Actor Bill Barretta and Executive Producer and Director Randall Einhorn. You can’t believe how fascinating it was to hear how The Muppets is created. Read on…
I’ve been in love with The Muppets ever since Kermit strummed The Rainbow Connection in 1979. One of my favorite shows on TV at that time was The Muppet Show. And while I didn’t always get the humor (as I was young, y’all), the Muppet characters left an endearing mark on me.
As a mom, I tried to get my kids interested in all the old Muppet movies and even watched some episodes of the show with them. But it wasn’t until the most recent movies, The Muppets and Muppets Most Wanted were released, that they picked up an interest in them.
“Up Late With Miss Piggy” Set Visit
The new show, The Muppets, is based on the behind-the-scenes lives of the Muppets who work at “Up Late With Miss Piggy” – the talk show that she stars in and Kermit the Frog produces. Many of the characters we grew up with are a part of the show – Kermit, Fozzie, Gonzo, and of course Miss Piggy, who is as feisty as ever. Each week, A-list celebrities show up in the episodes, which is personally my favorite part. Watching Kristin Chenoweth, Reece Witherspoon, & Josh Groban interact with Miss Piggy has been AWESOME.
The newest episode of The Muppets – the one that is airing tonight – Tuesday, December 1, 2015 at 8/7 c on ABC is really funny – “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. We see a return of the Great Gonzo – will he get to perform his dream stunt? And one of my favorite parts of the episode – Dave Grohl challenges Animal to a drum-off.
Q&A with Bill Barretta & Randall Einhorn
Ready for an interview with Executive Producer and Actor Bill Barretta and Executive Producer and Director Randall Einhorn, I had all my “professional” questions ready. But all those flew out the window when I realized that I was about to hear how The Muppets is actually created and all those years of wondering – yes, I really did try to figure it out as a kid! – were about to end.
Not only is Bill Barretta an executive producer, but he is also the actor of “Pepe,” “Dr. Teeth,” “Rowlf,” “Bobo the Bear,” “Swedish Chef,” and he knows first hand what it’s like to be a Muppet.
Different Types of Puppets
So we all know that by looking at Kermit you can see that he is a puppet. Barretta explained to us how we can almost see the knuckles of Steve Whitmire’s hand and how they create Kermit’s facial manipulations. Kermit is a Rod Puppet as he has arm rods that go into his wrists.
A character like Fozzie is usually operated by two people. One person does the head and the other person does the behavior and the body of the character, like picking up something with his hands. There is a whole collaboration between Puppeteers as all the different characters operate in different ways.
Shooting The Muppets
It was fascinating to learn that most of the Characters are performed by six people. As many of the actors perform more than one of the characters, many scenes have to be performed multiple times if they are in the same shot together. For example, Fozzie & Miss Piggy are performed by Eric Jacobson. To get great performances from both Miss Piggy & Fozzie that feel authentic and true to those characters, Director Randall Einhorn needs to take into consideration the time and how to shoot this. Typically, Jacobson starts with Miss Piggy while having somebody standing in for Fozzie.
But really, how do they do it?
Without revealing too many secrets, one of the biggest a-ha’s came when they showed us how they open up the floor and have the actors beneath the stage, holding up the character at eye level with the human guest star. And to do this, the character actors are looking at monitors to see exactly what their shot looks like. This enables them to perform their character’s facial movements and behaviors in response to the human actor. So cool!
Up Late with Miss Piggy
The set of the new show takes place behind the scenes at Up Late with Miss Piggy – a late night talk show. Producing a show is not unfamiliar to the Muppets, as you will recall the original show revolved around a variety show of sorts. Having a female host a late night talk is original and it gives Miss Piggy a place to be a Diva. And that she is week after week, making everything about her.
The Muppets Guest Stars
Another winning element of The Muppets is the long list of amazing guest stars they host each week. I didn’t think it could get much better than Josh Groban having a thing for Miss Piggy, but then there is tonight’s episode with Foo Fighter’s Dave Grohl, who according to Barretta, “really wanted to do it.”
According to Einhorn, many guest stars are eager to come on the show and many are booked by just calling them on the phone. Sometimes the script is written around a particular guest host and other times, they luck into booking one. Apparently, Kristen Chenowith was available when someone else wasn’t and both Barretta and Einhorn said they couldn’t have imagined the episode without her.
Who are their “dream guests”?
Both admit to having a list of guests they would like to see on the show, including Jeffrey Tambor, and Ringo. Barretta admitted that Pepe would REALLY like to work with Sophia Vergara again. I’m sure HE would.
Make sure you catch tonight’s episode of The Muppets on ABC at 8/7 central.
Check out more of the fun we had on the #GoodDinoEvent press trip:
Making of Disney Junior’s The Lion Guard: Return of the Roar
LIVE Taping of Dancing with the Stars
Creation of The Good Dinosaur with Director Peter Sohn
The Good Dinosaur Red Carpet Movie Premiere
The Good Dinosaur Toys & Disney Infinity 3.0
4 Things You Will Learn from Disney Pixar’s The Good Dinosaur
Disclaimer: Disney sent me to Los Angeles on an all-expenses paid press trip, in exchange for my coverage of The Muppets set visit. All opinions are my own.