Not Easy Being (Formerly) Green: The Kermit Saga Continues - NBC 7 San Diego

Not Easy Being (Formerly) Green: The Kermit Saga Continues

Accusations that puppeteer Steve Whitmire portrayed the beloved character as a depressive raises a troubling question: Was his frog a fraud?

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Kermit the Frog famously came to grips with the challenges of being green. But he apparently couldn't shake the blues.

    That's the bleak picture Cheryl Henson painted this week when she reportedly charged, via Facebook, that fired frog puppeteer Steve Whitmire portrayed her father's classic creation as a "bitter, angry, depressed victim."

    The blunt assessment marked the latest tough words to fly amid news that Disney sacked Whitmire with the blessing of the late Jim Henson's family. The feud, which rips away the felt facade of harmony, is enough to make fans ask a surprisingly unsettling question: Was the frog Whitmire voiced since Henson's sudden death 27 years ago a fraud?

    One thing is for certain: Kermit always has been a Muppet of many moods – most of them variations of upbeat. We’ve seen him as everything from the buoyant reporter of "Sesame Street" to the endlessly enthusiastic, if often exasperated producer of "The Muppet Show" to the bayou banjoist who sang longingly of forging a rainbow connection in "The Muppet Movie."

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    Those iconic portrayals reflected the multifaceted talents of Henson, who combined childlike wonder and energy with counterculture-fueled irreverence to build an enduring fantasy empire that captured the imaginations of children and adults across generations.

    Let's give Whitmire his due: The show went on when many thought it would end after Henson's death. Sure, the franchise endured some failures, among them “Muppets from Space” and the TV reboot “Muppets Tonight.” But the 2011 film "The Muppets" marked an uplifting return to form, with Kermit once again a big star.

    The momentum faltered last year with ABC’s adult-geared mockumentary (also called “The Muppets”) that portrayed Kermit as a cynical Hollywood producer running his now his ex-girlfriend Miss Piggy's talk show, a production staffed by a pathetic Fozzie Bear and an array of Muppet misfits. The show took lovable, optimistic eccentrics and turned them into losers unable to find the "fun" in "dysfunction."

    Was it the concept or Whitmire's morose Kermit that sunk the series? Was Whitmire a difficult employee, as Disney argues, or a victim, as he contends?

    Whatever the truth, it's more than fans of any age — especially those of us old enough to barely remember the debut of "Sesame Street" — want to think about.

    Now it's up to replacement puppeteer Matt Vogel to make it easy to root for Team Green again. He can start by giving us a new Kermit like the old Kermit: a sensitive, fun-loving force of life who put on a manic show behind the show – and left the dirty laundry in the dressing room.

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    Hester is Director of News Products and Projects at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is also the author of "Raising a Beatle Baby: How John, Paul, George and Ringo Helped us Come Together as a Family." Follow him on Twitter.