As The Felt Turns? Sesame Street 90210? 'Animal' Kingdom?
Only days after the surprise announcement that Kermit the Frog puppeteer Steve Whitmire would be parting ways with Muppets Studio after nearly three decades of voicing the character, he's taken to his personal blog to set the record straight. Whitmire writes that he was fired unexpectedly by Disney over two reasons that were never brought to his attention prior to his firing:
"As I am sure you can imagine, I have experienced every possible emotion since October 2016, when I received a phone call from The Muppets Studio's executives to say they were recasting. Through a new business representative, I have offered multiple remedies to their two stated issues which had never been mentioned to me prior to that phone call. I wish that we could have sat down, looked each other in the eye, and discussed what was on their minds before they took such a drastic action."
The news comes as a major surprise to fans, considering how long and closely Whitmire was associated with The Muppets, even taking over as the voice of Kermit and Ernie on Sesame Street following Jim Henson's death in 1990. Whitmire also served as the voice of Rizzo the Rat, Statler, and Beaker; and was the voice you heard in beloved movies such as The Muppet Christmas Carol, Muppets From Space and The Muppets.
For their part, neither Whitmire not Disney would elaborate on what those two reasons were exactly; and Disney would not comment on Whitmire's blog specifically, releasing the following statement:
"The Muppets Studio thanks Steve for his tremendous contributions to Kermit the Frog and The Muppets franchise. We wish him well in his future endeavors."
The voice of Kermit and other characters that Whitmire was responsible for will now be handled by Matt Vogel, who's worked with the Jim Henson Company and Muppets Studio since the 1990s. A puppeteer, director and singer, Vogel actually worked directly with Whitmire during their time together on Sesame Street. Disney confirmed that Vogel will debut as Kermit in a Muppets' Thought of the Week video next week.
Whitmire wanted to make sure that Muppets fans around the world knew that he would never voluntarily step down from an assignment he held near and dear to his heart:
"For me the Muppets are not just a job, or a career, or even a passion. I feel that I am at the top of my game, and I want all of you who love the Muppets to know that I would never consider abandoning Kermit or any of the others because to do so would be to forsake the assignment entrusted to me by Jim Henson, my friend and mentor, but even more, my hero."
Even with how things played out this week for him both personally and professionally, Whitmire still holds out hope that his days with the Muppets aren't quite over yet:
"I have remained silent the last nine months in hopes that the Disney company might reverse their course. Doing what is best for the Muppets is the lens through which all my interactions have been filtered. Given the opportunity I remain willing to do whatever is required to remedy their concerns because I feel my continued involvement with the characters is in the best interest of the Muppets."
After several interview requests made by a number of Bleeding Cool investigative reporters, Kermit the Frog finally issued a brief statement on the matter through his publicist:
"My friend Steve did a good job over the years. He was open, transparent and innocent. This is the greatest Witch Hunt in Muppets history. Sad! I told you it wasn't easy being green."