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Joseph Scarbrough launched what he called "The Scarblog" as a way of cataloging his work over the years, as well as going into greater detail of things on his mind (known as "Unfinished Thoughts").

Friday, July 21, 2017

My Final Thoughts on Steve Whitmire

Could it be? The first time in the history of since I started this Scarblog, I actually finish my thoughts?

At any rate, I'm sure you have read my previous post about Steve Whitmire's termination with Disney/Muppets Studio . . . much more has come forward since then, and while it looks like the situation has pretty much plateaued at this point, here are my final thoughts:

Disney/Muppets Studios, Cheryl Henson, Lisa Henson, Brian Henson, and Rick Lyon have all come forward with the same, or very similar stories regarding Steve Whitmire and his business conduct over the years, and through it all, Steve has defended himself in the wake of each new accusation. As this progresses, it's honestly becoming harder and harder for me to sympathize with Steve. I'm not saying that I think he got what he deserved, or that he shouldn't have fought for the integrity of the Muppets - I actually agree with him on several different points, as you have read in my previous post - but with multiple people coming forward and saying the same thing, there has to be some truth to it, which makes me wonder if perhaps Steve isn't being entirely honest himself.

Monday, July 17, 2017

My Unfinished Thoughts on Steve Whitmire

Boy, the world of the Muppets just can't seem to catch a break these days, can it? 2012 saw the loss of performers Jerry Nelson and Kevin Clash - Jerry having passed away in August after battling COPD in the final years of his life, and Kevin resigning from SESAME STREET in November after an unfortunate scandal tarnished his reputation. 2013 saw the loss of Jim Henson's wife and original performing partner, Jane, after quietly battling cancer. 2014 saw the loss of Jim and Jane's second son and fellow performer, John, who suffered a sudden heart attack. In 2016, performer and writer Joey Mazzarino left SESAME STREET (this after rising to the rank of head writer for Season 40 in 2009) over creative differences with Sesame Workshop's new staff. And now, in 2017, performer Steve Whitmire, who had notably took over Kermit the Frog after Jim's untimely death in 1990, has been let go by Disney.

I'm sure that a majority of the people who read Scarblog (if anybody even still reads this thing, since blogging has pretty much died in recent years) are either fellow Muppet Freaks or fellow puppetry aficionados, and as such, you're probably already familiar with this situation that's been in the news all week long, so I'm not going to waste any body's time and repeat all of the known sordid details, because you've probably already read about it yourself from various different sources. What you can do, however, is see Steve Whitmire's statements for yourself, as he has recently started his own blog to share his experiences with fans and friends across the globe:
Note: It's been speculated that this may not actually be the real Steve Whitmire behind this blog, so take it however you will.

What I am going to do, however, is offer up my own two-cents worth on why the Muppets seem to be struggling so much lately. . . . Actually, the Muppets haven't been struggling so much lately, rather, they've kind of struggled since Jim Henson's sudden death in 1990 - the struggle has just gotten more and more apparent in recent years because of the things that have transpired, and more. Since Jim's death, the Muppets have been in multiple hands over the past two-and-a-half decades: the Jim Henson Company retained them up until the late 90s when they sold the characters to German media company EM-TV, and when that failing company began going under in 2003, the Jim Henson Company bought back the Muppets, only to sell them again a year later to Disney, where they have remained ever since. This isn't the first time Disney has had their hands in the Muppets: Jim was already in negotiations to sell his company and all of its properties (minus the Sesame Street Muppets, which Jim promised to leave with what was still known as the Children's Television Workshop at the time) to Disney before his death, but because the deal was never finalized in writing (as Jim always prefered to do business with a handshake), the Jim Henson Company continued to own the characters and properties, while Disney distributed certain titles like THE MUPPET CHRISTMAS CAROL and MUPPET TREASURE ISLAND.

Bad concept.
Still, Disney didn't finally get complete control over the Muppets until 2004, and since they were so eager to get their hands on the Muppets, what did they do with them? Nothing. At first. Well, that's not entirely true: they did give us a TV movie in 2005 with THE MUPPETS' WIZARD OF OZ, and a TV special in 2008 with LETTERS TO SANTA, but other than that, Disney pretty much did nothing else with them. Years later, actor/filmmaker Jason Segel sought to remedy that, and shopped a script to Disney that eventually lead to the Muppets' first theatrical movie in over a decade in 2011: THE MUPPETS. THE MUPPETS, while met with mixed reaction from fans and critics, did well enough to garner a sequel in 2014, MUPPETS MOST WANTED; with the Muppets back in the public eye, Disney felt like they were ready to blow the dust off a new Muppet show they had previously shelved several years prior - a Muppet version of THE OFFICE, known as, well, THE MUPPETS . . . and the show failed, thus getting canceled after a single season. Meanwhile, there's certainly been some creative differences within the Muppet world: although he had long retired from the Muppets, Frank Oz strongly disliked the 2011 movie, feeling is was disrespectful to the characters and failed to capture the spirit of what made the Muppets so unique and wonderful in the first place. Not only that, but based on information that's floating around, it seems that Steve Whitmire has also not been entirely pleased with the way Disney has been handling the Muppets all this time, and this is supposedly what lead to his termination.

As I said, after two lukewarm theatrical movies and a failed TV show, it seems as though the Muppets are facing new struggles right now - why? Well, before we get into that, let's take a look at something else: In 2015, longtime Henson/Muppet rivals, Sid & Marty Krofft, made a triumphant return with a new preschool show on Nick Jr. - MUTT & STUFF - co-produced with Cesar Milan; the series became a smash hit, and after enjoying an inaugural season of 40 episodes (impressive, when you consider most Krofft shows from decades past generally lasted 17 episodes), it was renewed for a second season with another generous amount of episodes: something that seldom happened to previous Krofft shows. That same year, Nickelodeon also began airing ALVINNN!!! AND THE CHIPMUNKS; initially produced for just two seasons, this series also became an unexpected hit for the orange network, that it's since been renewed for an additional third and fourth season (the third just began airing this summer). Like the Muppets, these others have also been around for decades: the Kroffts practically dominated Saturday Morning television in the 70s and into the 80s with a string of psychedelic kids shows like H.R. PUFNSTUF, THE BUGALOOS, LIDSVILLE, SIGMUND AND THE SEA MONSTERS, LAND OF THE LOST, THE LOST SAUCER, FAR OUT SPACE NUTS, and several others; meanwhile, the Chipmunks have been putting out squeaky albums and singles since their creation in the late 50s, and they've also successfully starred in a number of TV shows, TV specials, and movies.

With success like that, how is it the Muppets aren't really enjoying that same level of success in this modern age of entertainment? What is the big difference here? I think it all lies in the handling of these properties. Sid & Marty Krofft have the creative freedom to make MUTT & STUFF the way they want to, without a lot of interference from Nickelodeon, and likewise Bagdasarian Productions has complete creative control over ALVINNN!!! AND THE CHIPMUNKS as well (this after they had very little input with the string of live-action/CGI movies that Twentieth Century Fox had control over); MUTT & STUFF has the Krofft charm that their previous shows had, and the Chipmunks certainly sound and act more like the way we knew and loved them than they ever did in those Fox movies. In short: the creative forces behind these shows are in control . . . this isn't happening with the Muppets, and in fact, just the opposite has been happening. With the exception of THE MUPPETS' WIZARD OF OZ and LETTERS TO SANTA being directed by Muppet director Kirk Thatcher, Disney seems to be going out of its way to avoid bringing in actual Muppet writers or directors to handle new Muppet titles: aside from Jason Segel and his writing partner Nick Stoller doing the screenplay for THE MUPPETS (Nick also wrote MUPPETS MOST WANTED), Disney also brought in FLIGHT OF THE CONCORDS director James Bobin to direct both of their theatrical movies; as for the 2015 series, Disney brought in writers from shows like THE BIG BANG THEORY, THE OFFICE, and MODERN FAMILY. It seems to me that Disney feels the need to try to bring in people from other successful mainstream shows to try and give the Muppets more of a mainstream appeal, in hopes they'll achieve mainstream success, but that isn't what the Muppets are about at all (why do you think ALVINNN!!! on Nick is doing better than those terrible Fox movies?): a new Muppet show would have been most excellent if it didn't try so hard to be "The Big Muppet Modern Office Family Theory" - I mean, really, the mockumentary format has overstayed its welcome; not all sitcoms have to follow that format. The Muppets have never been about trying to follow the zeitgeist of what mainstream entertainment is, so why try to conform them to that? Jim Henson was a one-of-a-kind creative genius who always did his own thing in his own way; Sid & Marty Krofft are a dynamite duo who always did things their own way; Ross Bagdasarian & Janice Karman are a power couple who try their hardest to ensure the Chipmunk franchise retains its integrity.

That's right kids, if you're not careful, the evil people from the
networks and major studios will take your creations away from
Why can't Disney take a hint and realize that perhaps the key to the Muppets' success is to just let the Muppets do their own thing in their own way? Because Disney is what Lloyd Kaufman would refer to as a Devil-Worshipping International Media Conglomerate (and ironically, so is Viacom, and they own Nickelodeon, which has been letting Krofft and Bagdasarian do their own thing in their own way, so go figure), and what's the main objective for Devil-Worshipping International Media Conglomerates? Money. Matter of fact, this is what almost all of Hollywood has been reduced to: money-making machines. Why do you think so many movies are turned into franchises and become infected with sequelitis? Money. If entertainment properties don't bring in a satisfying amount of profit or revenue, then it will pretty much just be discarded. Again, THE MUPPETS 2015 series did poorly in the ratings, and as such, it got canceled and was not renewed for another season . . . and why did it do so poorly? Because this wasn't the Muppets as we know them, this was the Muppets trying too hard to be something they're not. Hollywood thought it was doing itself a favor by assuming all creative control over shows and movies themselves, but that has ended up with just the opposite results. Why has MUTT & STUFF been so successful? Because Sid & Marty Krofft have creative control over their own show. Why has ALVINNN!!! AND THE CHIPMUNKS been so successful? Because Bagdasarian Productions has creative control over their own show. So, again, this begs the question: why can't Disney take a hint from one of its rivals, and perhaps start letting the Muppets just do their own thing? The results could very well be surprising.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

My First (and Ideally Last) Political Cartoon

I'm not normally a political person. Politics are usually something I like to try to avoid - in fact, I was something of a draft dodger this past year when local campaign offices kept calling me up to go out and ring doorbells with them: I politely declined each time, but in all honesty, I had no intention of wasting my time, or other people's time, making a nuisance of myself by randomly ringing people's doorbells to talk politics with strangers I don't even know and who could probably care less about the candidate I've been roped into campaigning for (and mainly because I don't even know who any of these candidates are either)!

That being said, however, the political landscape has really been frustrating me these past several months, so what's a good way to relieve frustration? Why, art of course! I must admit that I have had a few ideas for political cartoons based on observations I've had over these past several months, but I've been really cautious about doing them . . . as I said, politics are not me, and I kind of felt like doing political cartoons would perhaps cheapen myself quite a bit (not that I'm not already cheap). Not to mention, while I could certainly take a swipe at a certain side of the political spectrum that's really giving the red, white, and blue a black eye, I felt that wouldn't be fair to any friends, loved ones, followers, fans, what have you that may actually be on that side of the political spectrum.

Then, I was hit with a realization: what's one thing that both sides of the aisle have been complaining about for a long, long time? The media! And what's one thing that both sides of the aisle have been throwing around almost carelessly for a long. long time? Accusations of fake news! Rewind back to the 1980s: THE GREAT SPACE COASTER was a hit in syndication, and who doesn't remember Gary Gnu and his famous "No G'News is Good G'News Show"? Gary always closed his no-g'newscasts with his catchphrase, "No g'news is good g'news with Gary Gnu!" It struck me how not only has what Gary been saying for over thirty years stood the test of time, but it rings even more true today when people on all sides complain about so-called fake news being reported by the so-called lying media. With that, I tried my hand at my first political cartoon, that doesn't take sides, and really drives home Gary's point:
I also shared this with Jim Martin, co-creator of THE GREAT SPACE COASTER (and performer of Gary Gnu), and I'm thrilled to say that he loved it so much that he shared it on their official Facebook page as well.

Oh, Gary Gnu; decades ahead of his time.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

What the Hell, FCC?

This isn't my first time writing about the FCC, and in fact, this isn't my second time either, but what absolutely floors me is that for an organization that seemingly doesn't do its job, it sure was quick to jump on something a lot less severe than most of what's seen on television today.

When I last wrote about the FCC, it was regarding the excessive use of inappropriate, raunchy, and vulgar content that's seen on television in this day and age, where reckless, selfish, and irresponsible sexual behavior is somehow the main focus point of any TV series today - isn't it the FCC's job to monitor and control this kind of content? Evidently now, considering when I contacted them about this inquiry, they just simply denied responsibility and said that had no control over what we see, that it's up to individual networks to decide what to broadcast.

If that's the case, then why do we even have the FCC if it doesn't do anything? Well, apparently, it does whenever Donald Trump is involved:
So the entire Republican party and Donald Trump are upset about Stephen Colbert's opening monologue from his show (more specifically toward the end, where he uses some colorful language), and so now, the FCC is actually investigating Colbert as a result. You know what's ironic? The last time I wrote about the FCC, I actually used a graphic of Colbert doing a head-desk:

So, let me get this straight: the Federal Communications Commission's job is to monitor and control the content we see and hear on television . . . and apparently, when it comes to excessive sexual content, that's none of their concern . . . but when somebody says something about Donald Trump, suddenly they snap to attention and launch a full-blown investigation? What in the name of all that is holy. . . .?

All kidding aside, if this isn't evidence that America is turning into a dictatorship, I don't know what is. For eight years, Obama dealt with this kind of criticism heaped on him all the time by the exact same people who are crying over Colbert's monologue, but you know what? Obama would simply brush it all off, because he happened to possess charactertistics that Trump never did and never will: maturity, integrity, class, thick skin, and the ability to take the high road like a bigger man. Trump on the other hand? He flocks to Twitter and cries like a little man baby and declares you public enemy number one if you say anything that hurts his delicate feelings. And heck, if it was Obama that Colbert was joking about in this monologue, I guarantee you there'd be no FCC investigation, and instead of backlash, the public would be praising him for telling it like it is (which is essentially what he's doing, except that it's Trump, so that means he did a bad thing).

If nothing else, Trump does this exact same thing to people all the time - and this was long before he even started running for Office - so, in a sense, Colbert's kind of giving him a taste of his own medicine, but this just proves that while Trump can dish it out, he sure can't take it himself.

The only way that can best sum this all up are the pearls of wisdom from Nostalgia Critic:

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

My Unfinished Thoughts on Julia

Sesame Street's newest resident
SESAME STREET has always managed to pull off Very Special Episodes that address rather heavy, sensitive, or true-to-life subjects in ways that make it easy for its preschool audience to grasp and comprehend. In 1983, they tackled the subject of Mr. Hooper's death after the passing of cast member Will Lee; in 2001, we saw a week-long story arc involving the destruction and rebuilding of Big Bird's nest after a hurricane blows through - which continues to be rebroadcast today in the wake of particularly devastating hurricanes such as Katrina or Sandy; in 2002, Hooper's Store caught fire in response to the September 11 terrorist attacks; and lest we forget the series of TALK, LISTEN, CONNECT and LITTLE CHILDREN, BIG CHALLENGES videos that cover such topics as parents in prison, parents in the military, and food pantries. I had no doubts that the introduction of the street's newest resident would be handled well, and it was. However, Julia's origins can be traced quite a ways back before we got to see her as a full-fledged Muppet on our screens. . . .

Lexi, Julia's ancestor
Several years ago, Sesame fan Alexandra created a fan-character named Lexi, an adorable and playful little Muppet girl who enjoys drawing, singing, dancing, and being a detective much like her hero, Sherlock Hemlock. Lexi also happens to have Asperger's Syndrome, a form of Mild Autism, of which Alexandra also has; taking notice of SESAME STREET's lack of Autism Awareness, she contacted Sesame Workshop about the possibility of incorporating Lexi into the show as an actual Muppet character to help bring more awareness of Autism to the world's most famous street, and to help educate kids more about what Autism is, and how it's dealt with by those who have it, and those who know people who have it, which resulted in the following:

For legal reasons, Lexi could not actually be used in Sesame material, however, after taking initiative, a new character was eventually developed specifically to do just as Alexandra wrote about: to help teach children about Autism and to understand more about it and symptoms they may see in Autistic kids. Enter Julia!

Julia was initially created for exclusive web material, such as the above-linked online storybook, WE'RE AMAZING, 1,2,3! Through the storybook, we learn that Julia likes to do a lot of the same things as her friend Elmo, just a little differently; we also learn that she may not respond to someone right away, and that it helps to repeat yourself a few times. We also see some of the symptoms often associated with Autism, such as Julia's hand flapping when she's excited, or the mild panic attack she has when her sensitive ears hear sounds that bother her. The online storybook and other web material featuring Julia went over well enough that it only made sense that she would eventually become an actual Muppet on the show, and it finally happened:

It's interesting that SESAME STREET hasn't tried doing this before now, considering other children's shows out there have incorporated such characters long ago, with ARTHUR being a good example. ARTHUR has three prominent disabled characters that are featured on the show on a recurring basis: Marina Datillo, an independent blind girl; Lydia Fox, a wheelchair-bound girl who excels at basketball; and Carl Gould, a train aficionado with Asperger's. Each of these characters are depicted in ways that shows that despite having limitations due to their respective disabilities, they are still able to do things for themselves and are not at all helpless - in short, they can pretty much do whatever their friends can, just differently. In fact, when speaking of Julia's Autism, it's explained that she just does things, "In a Julia sort of way." Julia's debut episode aired on both PBS and HBO April 10, 2017, but for the time being, it is available for viewing on YouTube . . . so rather than me typing up a summary, you can just see it for yourself:

There really are no words for me to describe just how precious this episode is. As always, SESAME STREET handled the subject in an easy to understand, yet straight-forward and to-the-point manner that didn't sugar-coat or water-down the subject to the point of making it sappy or maudlin. This is why a show like SESAME STREET continues to be one of the most endearing and enduring children's shows for forty-seven seasons - despite what some naysayers or old, jaded, and cynical fuddy-duddies may say, SESAME STREET never talks down to kids, but presents their specific educational subjects with humor and heart. Through Big Bird, we learn that Julia may do things differently than other people he or we may know, but that doesn't mean that they can't be friends, and it's certainly heartwarming to see that both Big Bird and Julia are able to make new friends with each other. My personal favorite moment from the episode is Julia's case of the giggles as she sees how small Big Bird looks from up on the roof of the community center.

Again, there's really no words I can use to describe the excellent job they did - you just have to see this episode for yourself. I certainly hope that not only will Julia continue to be seen on the street, and be utilized in other ways to show just how capable she is of doing a lot of the same things as her friends, just in her own Julia sort of way, but that this may help pave the way for further Muppets with disabilities to populate the street.