“I just wanna bring up something that hasn’t been brought up yet. I really hope there’s no bad blood between you and Matt Vogel. I hope you and Matt are still very good friends”….comment by Anthony Thompson on July 12, 2017 at 7:23 PM
I am going back to this question from Anthony because I think it’s one of the most relevant topics to clarify.
I don’t consider myself an accomplished writer. When I do write things like this, I usually try and sum up my feelings along with the point of the note in the final paragraph. But for this, I want to sum up a point right here before I go any further:
I sincerely love Matt Vogel.
I became aware of Matt from Caroll Spinney, who had agreed to allow Matt to begin taking on some of the load as Big Bird. As Caroll and I discussed the issue of multiple performers for established individual Muppet characters, he expressed to me his trust for Matt because Matt would always speak with him about any request from producers before agreeing to perform in Caroll’s stead. It was from that level of respect for Caroll I perceived Matt to be a principled gentleman who understood the depth of the Muppets.
After working together on Sesame Street, I suggested to The Muppets Studio that we begin including Matt in our Muppet work, a hard sell with executives who didn’t immediately see the value of paying to bring a guy they didn’t know to Los Angeles, and paying him to assist when there are talented puppeteers in L.A. That’s true, of course, but it seemed to me that wasn’t the point. With Matt, I had a feeling he would be a good fit within our core group as he had already been working with both Eric and I for years on Sesame Street.
At first, Matt’s working with us was conditioned upon him having to pay his own way to Los Angeles. That’s a pricey proposition for a guy with a family the size of a ball team to feed, and what does it say about how he is being valued? I advised him not to do it, and, thanks to the efforts of Debbie McClellan, there was eventually an opportunity (big enough budget) where Matt could join us for a number of projects while being treated from the start with the kind of respect inherent within the Muppets.
In my opinion, after having lost Richard Hunt, and with Jerry Nelson’s retirement, a longtime issue plaguing the quality of our work was the passing around of most of their characters to pretty much any puppeteer who had been hired for the particular project. The understudy (multi-casting) initiative only seems to have focused on understudies for Kermit, Piggy, Fozzie, Gonzo and Animal unless I missed something on the video.
Essentially treated as background, great characters like Floyd, Robin, Scooter, and Janice were hardly used at all, or had become shallow impressions of the originals, often way off the mark and left to be reinterpreted for every appearance by well-meaning puppeteers who had no idea who the characters were. That’s because many of those performers had no tangible connection to the original performers of those characters.
It was clear to me that if those characters were to continue to evolve and to once again be viable, it was vital for them to be permanently recast and assigned to a singular individual performer. Not just any performer, but the right performer, indefinitely.
As I’ve said before, I firmly stand by the notion that what is best for the Muppets is to treat them like a lineage tradition in which direct interaction with an originator allows for the tradition to continue progressively. Otherwise, it’s likely to end up being stale impersonations.
After abandoning the multi-casting initiative in 2006, recasting Richard and Jerry’s characters was not a high priority for executives as we had no significant work projects slated. In February 2008, Debbie and I coordinated a trip to NY to meet with Jerry Nelson, two possible candidates who had worked with Jerry for years, and David Rudman who Jerry and I both agreed would have been Richard’s choice for Scooter. This session gave him a chance to read as Janice to Jerry’s Floyd. It worked!
We don’t have a well produced video of that event. I hauled my own personal video camera to New York on my smaller private jet (Delta MD-88) with 148 of my close personal friends and I outrageously demanded a hotel room for the night so that I did not have to wander the streets…We all volunteered our time to get this right, once and for all, because it matters.
The key factor in all of this was the inclusion of Jerry Nelson to make the final choice as to who would continue the characters he originated. I’m proud that with Debbie’s help we were able to facilitate this casting session and I was able to give Jerry the gift of choosing his heir apparent before we lost him.
…to be continued…